Biden pick for U.S. archivist caught up in controversy over missing presidential documents
Archivist nominee Colleen Shogan appears before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. (Screenshot)
WASHINGTON — The nominee for archivist of the United States made her second appearance before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday, after the panel blocked her during the last Congress following a high-profile probe into records at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
Colleen Shogan, an executive for the nonprofit White House Historical Association and a Pennsylvania native, faced questioning from lawmakers for the second time since September, when Republicans on the evenly split committee voted against her nomination to head the National Archives and Records Administration.
The former Library of Congress and Senate staffer’s nomination came as NARA transitions hundreds of millions of records from analog to digital and slogs through a sizable backlog of military records requests.
The agency also has received intense national attention for working with federal investigators to retrieve classified documents from the homes and personal offices of Trump, President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Minority requests for communication
While Democratic lawmakers again praised Shogan’s credentials and endorsements for the role, GOP committee members, including Josh Hawley of Missouri and Rand Paul of Kentucky, pressed the political scientist on her past social media posts.
They also asked whether, as archivist, she would fulfill minority members’ requests for communications between the NARA and the FBI regarding missing presidential records, as well as any records pertaining to the origins of COVID-19.
“Recent events have highlighted long-standing issues with presidential records management and classification, and I understand that many of my colleagues are eager for more information on these issues. But I want to stress that as you told us in your previous hearing, you are not able to provide details about current investigations related to presidential records because — this is a good reason — you do not currently work at NARA,” said committee Chairman Gary Peters.
“Assuring the full and accurate preservation of our nation’s history is a monumental task and requires an independent nonpartisan leader dedicated to serving the American public,” the Michigan Democrat later continued. “I am confident that Dr. Shogan is the right choice to serve as the next National Archives.”
Shogan replied to multiple GOP senators who asked if she would respond to their requests that at the National Archives “there is a principal value of transparency.”
“So I will be responsive to any requests that you might have while following the law,” she said.
The Boston College and Yale University graduate began her career as a legislative assistant in the U.S. Senate followed by seven years as an assistant and deputy director at the Congressional Research Service. She then worked in outreach and collections at the Library of Congress.
In 2018, Congress appointed her to vice chair of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. She then joined the White House Historical Association in 2020 during the Trump administration, with which she worked “very effectively,” she told the committee.
“I bring over 15 years of experience in the government sector and in the nonprofit sector in increasing positions of importance,” Shogan said. “… I’m not a historian. I am a political scientist, but my areas of expertise were in American politics, in political philosophy and in methodology, and I’ve really focused on the intersection of political science and history.”
Hawley zeroes in on tweets
Hawley, as he did in the first hearing, pressed Shogan on what he described as her “grossly partisan” tweets, including those criticizing Trump, and about a 2007 academic article she wrote titled “Anti-Intellectualism in the Modern Presidency: A Republican Populism.”
Shogan’s other academic works include a book titled “The Moral Rhetoric of Presidents,” and she’s the author of several “whodunit” murder mysteries set on Capitol Hill.
In criticizing her for not sharing a full account of her tweets, Hawley said “You responded as follows. And I quote, ‘My personal Twitter account is comprised of posts about my mystery novels, events at the White House Historical Association, Pittsburgh sports teams, travels and my dog.’”
In a lengthy back and forth, Hawley highlighted Shogan’s past tweets that included lamenting the lifting of mask mandates for school children, supporting stricter firearms laws and criticizing Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
“You talk about an assault weapons ban, retweeted a post ‘Ban assault weapons now,’ say you agree with this idea that you have to be a certain age to buy so-called assault weapons in America. Is that a post about sports teams or your dog or mystery novels?” Hawley asked.
Shogan repeated to each example, nearly a dozen times, “My social media is in my personal capacity, senator.”
Kentucky’s Paul said he was concerned about Shogan instructing a person on Twitter to complain to the Library of Congress regarding religious flags on display.
“It does worry me, not that you’re liberal — I mean, that doesn’t, I think if we got rid of liberals we might not have a lot of librarians or archivists, frankly — but I am worried about the idea that you would advise people at the Library of Congress about, you know, taking down religious flags in a public place,” Paul said.
“If I am confirmed as archivist of the United States, without reservation, I will welcome all Americans to the National Archives,” Shogan replied. “I will welcome them enthusiastically to the National Archives. I stand 100% percent behind that sentiment. I have a record of doing so at the Library of Congress where I oversaw visitor services for several years, and I will continue in that tradition and you have my promise and my word on that.”
Free speech and T-shirts
Paul also expressed concern over an incident in January when a guard at the National Archives asked a patron to cover a T-shirt bearing an anti-abortion message.
NARA released a statement earlier this month acknowledging the incident and a lawsuit that followed.
“Earlier this week, a lawsuit was filed against the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) stating that on the morning of January 20, 2023, the day of the March for Life, several visitors to our museum in Washington, D.C., were told by NARA security officers ‘to remove or cover their attire because of their pro-life messages,’” the Feb. 10 statement read.
It continued: “As the home to the original Constitution and Bill of Rights, which enshrine the rights of free speech and religion, we sincerely apologize for this occurrence. NARA policy expressly allows all visitors to wear t-shirts, hats, buttons, etc. that display protest language, including religious and political speech. We are actively investigating to determine what happened.”
Shogan’s confirmation is expected to clear the Senate panel now that the Democrats hold a slight margin after the 2022 midterms.
Shogan enjoys support from West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who introduced and praised the nominee during her September hearing.
The National Archives has been without a permanent chief administrator since May 2022. If confirmed, Shogan would become the nation’s 11th archivist.
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