From an employee selling 71 signed presidential pardons to a White House national security adviser illegally sneaking out documents stuffed in his socks, the National Archives and Records Administration has been at the center of some of America’s most unusual, headline-grabbing cases.
Now the little-known agency, which houses everything from the Declaration of Independence to Michael Jackson’s moonwalking shoes, again finds itself in the news.
The FBI raid at former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home is said to be linked to 15 boxes of presidential records that allegedly contained “classified national security information. Those boxes were supposed to be sent to the National Archives at the end of Mr. Trump’s term.
After determining the boxes had been improperly removed from the White House and moved to Mar-a-Lago in violation of the Presidential Records Act, a 1978 law that requires presidential administrations to preserve documents, the National Archives asked the Justice Department to investigate.
That probe allegedly spurred the FBI raid, but neither the Justice Department nor the FBI has confirmed if it was connected to the mishandling of documents
While Mr. Trump has not been charged with a crime and has emphatically denied wrongdoing, it has conjured memories of other cases tied to the National Archives, which has been a prime target for pilfering.
Perhaps most notably, former President Clinton’s national security adviser Sandy Berger was arrested in 2003 for removing documents from the National Archives. He was accused of sneaking the materials out of the Archives by stuffing them in his pants and socks and cutting them up with scissors.
He claimed it was “an honest mistake” while vetting documents for the 9/11 commissions probe into the 2001 terror attacks at the World Trade Center and elsewhere. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and paid a $10,000 fine.
Mr. Berger did not serve any jail time but did surrender his security clearance for three years.
Sean Aubitz, who worked in the National Archives Philadelphia branch, stole documents from the site for three years simply by putting them in his briefcase, according to court documents.
The stolen items included 71 signed presidential pardons, an 1863 warrant ordering the seizure of Robert E. Lee’s house and $7,500 worth of autographed photos of Apollo astronauts.
He was arrested after another employee found some of the documents for sale on eBay. Aubitz pleaded guilty in 2002 and was sentenced to 21 months in prison, while 61 of the signed pardons have yet to be recovered.
In an unusual case, a psychiatrist and historian were accused of forging a document signed by former President Lincoln.
Thomas Lowry was said to have snuck a fountain pen into the Archives room in Washington, D.C., to alter a pardon that Lincoln issued for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier who was court-martialed for desertion.
Mr. Lowry was accused of using his pen to change the date of the pardon from April 14, 1864, to April 14, 1865 — the day Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
By changing the date, Mr. Lowry could claim that the document was historically significant because it was Mr. Lincoln’s final act as president.
Mr. Lowry admitted to federal investigators that he forged the date, but later recanted his confession. The Justice Department declined to prosecute Mr. Lowry because the statute of limitations had passed, but the National Archives has permanently banned him from its facilities.
In 2018, a French historian was accused of stealing 291 soldiers’ dog tags, including some dating back to World War II, from the National Archives. The historian, Antonin DeHayes, sold them on eBay and elsewhere for $43,000. He was sentenced to 364 days in prison plus three years of probation.