Biden's pick to lead National Archives faces unusually contentious hearing

Republicans raised questions about the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago.

September 21, 2022, 1:53 PM

President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the National Archives and Records Administration faced lawmakers Wednesday in an unusually contentious hearing for a position not typically involving political fanfare.

During the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing, Republican senators raised questions about the records dispute that resulted in the FBI raid of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. Biden's pick to be the next chief archivist, Colleen Shogan, committed to promoting transparency at the National Archives generally, noting she was not involved in or briefed on the dispute.

Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma questioned why the National Archives' request for documents in Trump's possession was referred to the Justice Department.

"But as I understand it, when there is some concern about missing or damaged records in the general at the National Archives, at that point in time, to retrieve the records there is a voluntary exchange of communication with those individuals," Shogan said. "And as I understand it -- once again, I don't have any past knowledge of this -- the vast majority of the time the records are recovered and retrieved."

Republicans pressed Shogan on her past analysis of presidential speeches, pointing to a paper she wrote titled, "Anti-Intellectualism in the Modern Presidency: A Republican Populism." A scholarly work published by Cambridge University Press in 2007, the study described how leaders forge connections with the American people through presidential rhetoric. GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri accused Shogan of having "denigrated Republican presidents" in her writings.

"I will stand by my long experience -- over 15 years -- of nonpartisan service," Shogan said in response.

The historian and scholar has held a series of nonpartisan positions, including at the Congressional Research Service, and most recently was a senior vice president at the White House Historical Association where she has served under both Biden and Trump. She defended her paper and said it does not constitute judgement on the American people or any voter.

PHOTO: Colleen Shogan speaks during her nomination hearing to be Archivist of the United States, before the the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sept. 21, 2022, on Capitol Hill.
Colleen Shogan speaks during her nomination hearing to be Archivist of the United States, before the the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sept. 21, 2022, on Capitol Hill.
Mariam Zuhaib/AP

Jason R. Baron, former director of litigation at NARA stressed the importance of the apolitical work done at the archives, noting presidential records belong to the American people and should never have ended up at Mar-a-Lago.

"It would be unfortunate to characterize the National Archives staff as having any political bias in the course of the events since President Trump left office," Baron said. "They have simply been fulfilling their important mission to the American people to preserve our shared history."

Shogan's nomination was broadly lauded by political scientists and historians after it was announced by the White House last month. She would be the first female Archivist of the United States if confirmed.

"Dr. Shogan has an outstanding record of executive leadership and service in government, an extensive record of research management, and an abiding commitment to the enduring value of the National Archives to our democracy and an informed citizenry," the American Political Science Association said in a statement.

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