The New York Times’ crack reporting team, which once spent nearly two full years exhaustively covering every conceivable angle of Hillary Clinton’s email use, is finally committing some attention to reports that former President Donald Trump illegally removed protected federal records from the White House during the presidential transition.
On Tuesday, Times reporters Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman co-authored their newspaper’s first attempt to define the contours of bombshell news by The Washington Post about the National Archives and Records Administration recovering documents illegally removed from the White House by Trump and his staff and stored at his private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
According to the Times, Trump was forced to return “15 boxes of documents, letters, gifts and mementos,” which “he had been legally required to leave in the custody of the federal government” before leaving office. The article explained the materials were handed over to the National Archives “after several months of back and forth” with Trump's legal team, and that those items may not represent the full extent of federal records still held in secret by the Trump estate. As per the Times’ sources, the “hasty” removal of federal records wasn’t driven by a desire to commit a crime, but instead was just the “latest example of [Trump’s] lack of strict adherence … to the laws intended to preserve government documents and shield classified information from foreign enemies.” Indeed, according to reporting from the Times, this was an honest mistake because White House staffers were too distracted by Trump attempting to overthrow the United States government.
The article also included the following paragraph, which should stand out to readers familiar with the newspaper’s coverage of politics before Trump’s rise to power:
Despite his criticism of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign for using a private email server while she was secretary of state, Mr. Trump was notorious for tearing up White House documents and leaving them in the trash or on the floor. Politico reported in 2018 that some administration officials even had to tape back together shredded documents to ensure the White House complied with federal record keeping laws.
If you remember, it wasn’t just Trump criticizing Clinton “for using a private email server.” That pretend scandal was created nearly seven years ago by the Times itself, and the journalist responsible for forcing the story upon the public was Michael S. Schmidt.
Contrary to Schmidt’s deferential treatment of the Trump administration flagrantly violating federal law by removing and destroying protected federal records, his original story on Clinton’s emails openly accused her, and her staff, of committing crimes in its first two paragraphs:
Hillary Rodham Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, State Department officials said, and may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.
Mrs. Clinton did not have a government email address during her four-year tenure at the State Department. Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.
In fact, Clinton did not violate federal laws: She did not abuse any regulations or ignore any guidance with her use of a private email. Her staff did not ignore preservation requirements — they had provided 55,000 pages of physical copies to the government in accordance with State Department policy. The entire supposed bombshell, which was really part of a Republican influence operation, was built on a lie — a lie that the Times’ coverage elevated to a national media narrative.
Compare how prominently the Times featured its first, deeply flawed story about Clinton’s emails versus how the same newspaper buried today’s coverage of the actual violation committed by Trump. Clinton's story occupied headline column space; Trump's was in the fine print and continued on page A-12.
The Times’ decision to lead that morning edition with a scandalous portrayal of Clinton and her email protocols set the tone for the entire 2016 presidential campaign. Stories about Clinton’s emails completely drowned out coverage of her policy agenda, overwhelmed coverage of the election itself, and even outweighed all combined stories relating to Trump. These stories even dominated the news when the story was that there was no story.
Meanwhile, Trump was notorious for physically destroying federal records during his time in office, ripping documents to shreds after handling them. He and his staff routinely used unsecured devices to conduct confidential government business and violated security protocols with classified information. He may have even broken federal law when he altered a hurricane forecast with a black marker in 2019. (The so-called “Sharpie map” was also one of the documents illegally taken to Mar-a-Lago.) And, of course, Trump’s senior staff used private emails to conduct government business, a scandal that received comparatively little attention from the mainstream press.
The newspaper most responsible for dragging America through two years of coverage of Clinton’s emails — a story which amounted to nothing — must be held to a higher standard when reporting Trump’s actual criminal behavior. This is a story deserving of front page headlines and a yearslong pursuit of the facts. It remains to be seen if Schmidt and the Times are up to the task.