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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke October 6, 2022

Claims about Obama Foundation keeping classified records in an abandoned warehouse are wrong

If Your Time is short

  • The National Archives and Records Administration temporarily kept classified records from the Obama administration in one of its facilities that had been converted from a former furniture store, but they were later moved to a facility in the Washington D.C. area.

  • Neither President Barack Obama nor the Obama Foundation ever controlled them. 

In August, afterthe FBI seized documents from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, Trump wrongly charged his predecessor with keeping "33 million pages of documents, much of them classified." 

About a month later, more inaccuracies about former President Barack Obama and his handling of classified documents spread online. 

"The Obama Foundation stored classified documents in an abandoned furniture warehouse," a Sept. 22 Facebook post said, citing a 2018 letter from the Obama Foundation to the National Archives and Records Administration. 

The letter revealed that the foundation "not only acknowledged possessing classified documents but also admitted that they kept them in a facility that did not meet NARA standards for the storage of those documents," the post said. 

It was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook.)

The post links and quotes from a Sept. 22 story by conservative website PJ Media. The story headline, as it appears in the Facebook post, said "Letter reveals Obama Foundation is keeping classified docs in abandoned furniture warehouse." But clicking the link reveals that the story has since been updated. 

"Correction," the headline now says. "NARA kept classified docs in a furniture warehouse, not the Obama Foundation." 

After Trump’s incorrect suggestion that Obama kept millions of documents, including classified materials, the National Archives and Records Administration issued a statement saying it has "assumed exclusive legal and physical custody of Obama presidential records when President Barack Obama left office in 2017, in accordance with the Presidential Records Act." 


The agency said that it moved approximately 30 million pages of unclassified records to one of its facilities in the Chicago area, and that it moved other classified records to one of its facilities in the Washington, D.C., area.

Obama "has no control over where and how NARA stores the presidential records of his administration," the agency said.

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But this arrangement is old news; so is the involvement of a former furniture store. 

The Chicago Tribune reported in spring 2016 that paperwork, electronic data and artifacts from Obama’s presidency would go to the old Plunkett Home Furnishings store in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, which was converted into a "NARA-controlled facility," according to a memorandum of understanding between the Obama Foundation and the National Archives.  

The following year, the foundation and the National Archives announced that the foundation would fund the digitization of all of the unclassified presidential records created during Obama’s presidency while government facilities would house the original materials. 

And in 2018, an Obama Foundation representative sent a letter to the national archivist detailing mutual "intent regarding the digitization of Obama presidential records and related matters concerning preservation, processing and display of and access to such records and artifacts." This is the 2018 letter mentioned in the Facebook post. 

Among other commitments listed in the letter is one that says the Obama Foundation agreed to transfer up to $3.3 million to the National Archives Trust Fund "to support the move of classified and unclassified Obama presidential records and artifacts from Hoffman Estates to NARA-controlled facilities that conform to the agency’s archival storage standards for such records and artifacts, and for the modification of such spaces."

But that doesn’t mean the Obama Foundation stored classified documents in an abandoned furniture warehouse, as the Facebook post says. 

The National Archives moved records from the Obama presidency to the Hoffman Estates facility at the end of his presidency "under the assumption that former President Obama and his Foundation would be building and transferring to NARA a traditional, physical presidential library in the Chicago area," the National Archives said in a Sept. 23 statement

When Obama decided he wanted a digital library — not a physical one — the National Archives "transported the classified records back to secure locations" in the Washington D.C., area. 

"The Obama Foundation provided NARA with funds to help convert the Hoffman Estates facility and to cover some of the expenses of moving the classified records, but the foundation has never had possession or control over the records," the agency said. 

We rate claims that the Obama Foundation stored classified documents in an abandoned furniture store Pants on Fire.

Our Sources

Facebook post, Sept. 22, 2022

PJ Media, Correction: NARA Kept Classified Docs in a Furniture Warehouse, Not the Obama Foundation, Sept. 22, 2022

National Archives, Press Statements in Response to Media Queries About Presidential Records, Sept. 23, 2022

Letter from Obama Foundation executive director to the archivist of the United States, Sept. 11, 2018

PolitiFact, Why Trump is wrong to suggest Obama personally kept ‘33 million pages of documents,’ Aug. 12, 2022

Memorandum of Understanding between the Obama Foundation and the National Archives and Records Administration 

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Claims about Obama Foundation keeping classified records in an abandoned warehouse are wrong

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