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Trump is keeping history at bay by postponing presidential library

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Former US President Donald Trump in February 2021.

Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage / Bloomberg

Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage / Bloomberg

Donald Trump is spending his first few months as a former president trying to make sure he remembers the way he wants – but he is delaying his plans to create a library that would enshrine his version of his presidency.

Refusing to step into the limelight, the former president issued almost daily statements, set up a website, and showed up at several events at his Mar-a-Lago resort, including a wedding where he complained about the 2020 election results and President Joe Biden’s decisions. until now.

But planning a library would suggest he’s done being president and that’s not something he’s willing to concede, people familiar with his thinking say. Trump has publicly suspended the opportunity to seek the Republican nomination in 2024.

“Once he said, ‘I’m going to fundraise for my library,’ he even gave up on trying to run again,” said Anthony Clark, who has written on library politics and history. presidential.

By delaying a library, Trump is setting aside, at least for now, a chance to shape the history of his presidency – as Richard Nixon initially did in his museum by describing the Watergate scandal as an attempted coup. Democratic state, or like George W. Bush does with a theater that allows attendees to vote on options he has been faced with, such as invading Iraq, but ends with a video of Bush explaining his decision.

The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California.

Photographer: Greg Doherty / Getty Images

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All presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt have sought out a presidential library as a way to archive and house their records for researchers as well as to polish their legacy. Bill Clinton joked when the Bush Library opened in 2013 saying it was “the latest and greatest example of the eternal struggle of former presidents to rewrite history.”

Prior to Barack Obama, presidents created nonprofit foundations to raise funds from private donors to build libraries and museums which they then donated or rented to the federal government to endow and use taxpayer funds. The foundations fund and create the exhibitions, with the National Archives helping to develop the content.

Read more: Big problem with Obama’s presidential library

Obama has his presidential center built and administered by his private foundation while allowing the National Archives to manage its archives. Nixon first did this too with the library he opened in 1990 in his hometown of Yorba Linda, Calif., Before it was handed over to the government to operate in 2007.

Clark said he doubts Trump will ever have a presidential library due to its cost and complexity to build, the difficulty of securing a location, and the fact that he has not started fundraising and to plan before leaving office as other presidents have done.

Obama began his library foundation in 2014 for a planned $ 500 million presidential center in Chicago, his adopted city, but a revolution is not expected until this year due to delays due to federal reviews and litigation. .

The George W. Bush Presidential Center, which includes a library with its archives, a museum, the Bush Policy Institute and the offices of the Bush Foundation, opened on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas – alma mater of the former First Lady Laura Bush – – in 2013 after the site’s finalists were announced in 2005.

The National Archives has already set up a Trump Presidential Library website with information on former President and First Lady Melania Trump, and holds the Trump administration archives, which will begin to be available in 2026 – well that Trump can restrict access for 12 people. years.

Read more: Citizen Trump: the many paths to follow for the former president

While Trump may want the imprimatur of a federally managed library, he would likely follow Obama and Nixon’s first model of having the National Archives manage records separately from a museum he can fully control, said Timothy Naftali, who served as the first director of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum after it became part of the federal system and the creation of a new non-partisan Watergate gallery.

If Trump were to build a private library or tourist attraction for his supporters, it would allow him to describe his presidency – including his two unprecedented indictments – as he wishes and not necessarily as historians would, Naftali said.

It could mean, he said, exhibits that promote his view that Democrats attempted to overturn the 2016 election with an investigation by Special Advocate Robert Mueller on the basis of the “hoax.” that Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians, and his account of how the Trump administration handled the coronavirus pandemic.

“Its museum will have the same spirit as the Nixon Private Library Museum,” said Naftali, now a presidential researcher and associate clinical professor at New York University. “His tweets could be used as banners for various galleries in the museum. It will be a center of Trumpism.

Previously: Boeing Gets Talk About Obama Pep After Donating Millions To Library Fund

With this delay, Trump is not only letting others write the history of his presidency, he is forgoing an opportunity to display his hugely successful fundraising skills. Trump and his affiliated committees have raised more than $ 2.3 billion since the start of his presidential campaign in 2015.

He told his supporters before stepping down in January that he wanted to raise $ 2 billion for a presidential library, according to the Washington Post, which would be the biggest ever. The most likely vehicle would be a nonprofit charity, the model used by modern presidents because donations are tax deductible and the entity does not have to pay tax on the money it she collects, said Paul Seamus Ryan of the Common Cause government accountability group. .

He could legally accept money in unlimited amounts from sources, including foreign countries, and donor identity disclosure is not required, except for registered lobbyists who donate $ 200 or more.

“ No problem to collect money ”

Yet such a charity requires spending to be used for the public good and not for the private benefit of individuals, Ryan said, and Trump has already faced questions about his use of charitable funds.

Trump agreed to pay $ 2 million in damages and shut down the Donald J. Trump Foundation in New York City as part of a settlement in 2019 after allegations he violated state rules governing nonprofits by spending money inappropriately, including buying a portrait of themselves at a charity. auction.

The former president’s political committees also raised more than $ 225 million after the 2020 election, telling supporters the money was needed to “stop the theft” through fighting in court. But his campaign revealed that it spent just $ 8.8 million on legal fees for recounts and court challenges, with most of the money remaining at Trump’s disposal for political activities as he mulled over his next moves.

Still, a former Nixon library official says that shouldn’t stop Trump from fundraising for it.

“Donald Trump has proven in 2020 that he has no problem raising funds, and he now has four years, if he wants to, to simply throw the prospect of a return to power in front of potential donors,” said Paul Musgrave, former special assistant to the director of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

– With the help of Bill Allison

Before he’s here, it’s on the Bloomberg terminal.

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