Trump Routinely Shreds Documents He’s Required to Preserve

The President tears up every piece of paper he touches. A whole department is taping them back together for the National Archives.


POLITICO (“Meet the guys who tape Trump’s papers back together“):

Solomon Lartey spent the first five months of the Trump administration working in the Old Executive Office Building, standing over a desk with scraps of paper spread out in front of him.

Lartey, who earned an annual salary of $65,969 as a records management analyst, was a career government official with close to 30 years under his belt. But he had never seen anything like this in any previous administration he had worked for. He had never had to tape the president’s papers back together again.

Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.

It was a painstaking process that was the result of a clash between legal requirements to preserve White House records and President Donald Trump’s odd and enduring habit of ripping up papers when he’s done with them — what some people described as his unofficial “filing system.”

Under the Presidential Records Act, the White House must preserve all memos, letters, emails and papers that the president touches, sending them to the National Archives for safekeeping as historical records.

But White House aides realized early on that they were unable to stop Trump from ripping up paper after he was done with it and throwing it in the trash or on the floor, according to people familiar with the practice. Instead, they chose to clean it up for him, in order to make sure that the president wasn’t violating the law.

Staffers had the fragments of paper collected from the Oval Office as well as the private residence and send it over to records management across the street from the White House for Lartey and his colleagues to reassemble.

“We got Scotch tape, the clear kind,” Lartey recalled in an interview. “You found pieces and taped them back together and then you gave it back to the supervisor.” The restored papers would then be sent to the National Archives to be properly filed away.

Lartey said the papers he received included newspaper clips on which Trump had scribbled notes, or circled words; invitations; and letters from constituents or lawmakers on the Hill, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“I had a letter from Schumer — he tore it up,” he said. “It was the craziest thing ever. He ripped papers into tiny pieces.”

Lartey did not work alone. He said his entire department was dedicated to the task of taping paper back together in the opening months of the Trump administration.

One of his colleagues, Reginald Young Jr., who worked as a senior records management analyst, said that during over two decades of government service, he had never been asked to do such a thing.

“We had to endure this under the Trump administration,” Young said. “I’m looking at my director, and saying, ‘Are you guys serious?’ We’re making more than $60,000 a year, we need to be doing far more important things than this. It felt like the lowest form of work you can take on without having to empty the trash cans.”

While this hardly ranks high on the list of this President’s violations of our norms and laws, it’s among the most bizarre. It would be an incredibly strange practice in private business. But, once it’s explained that there is a legal requirement to preserve these documents, what would possess a man to continue to destroy them?

There’s no apparent illicit motive here. He’s shredding even the most innocuous materials, not simply those that might be incriminating. And, surely, someone has told him that staffers are taping them back together? So, what’s to be gained?

This would seem to simply be yet another example of a sheer lack of impulse control, combined with an incredible disregard for the law.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. If this is how Trump ran his business, it’s a pretty stupid way to do things. Since the Trump Organization isn’t a publicly traded organization, the SEC recordkeeping rules don’t apply. However, this could become an issue in litigation if its determined that Trump had destroyed relevant documents rather than preserving them.

    In other words, it’s a pretty crappy business practice in addition to being a violation of the Federal Records Act.

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  2. drj says:

    But White House aides realized early on that they were unable to stop Trump from ripping up paper after he was done with it and throwing it in the trash or on the floor, according to people familiar with the practice. Instead, they chose to clean it up for him

    Jesus wept.

    Can’t wait to hear the usual suspects explain why it’s no biggie that the President of the USA has the impulse control of a non-housebroken puppy.

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  3. teve tory says:

    It’s like he’s internalized the last 50 years of defrauding people and has a subconscious need to shred everything.

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  4. KM says:

    In other words, it’s a pretty crappy business practice in addition to being a violation of the Federal Records Act.

    It makes perfect sense if you realize (a) they probably never gave him originals or anything irreplaceable and (b) this is the habit of someone who thinks records are meant to be destroyed and (c) also doesn’t realize destroyed paper copies don’t mean digital copies exist. This is the habit of someone shady who routinely has something to hide and grew up before computers. There’s literally no reason to destroy every document you touch – not even being worried about sensitive or proprietary data justifies every single thing getting shredded. No paper trail, no problem, right?

    This is what dirty people doing dirty deeds do. He clearly doesn’t care about digital security considering he tweets away on an unsecured phone so this habit of shredding paper must be an old ingrained one and not a generic “security” concern. He does it because he’s always done it. He’s always done it because it’s it was CYA back in the day and he’s never had to break the habit.

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  5. Sounds like a great use of government resources: reassembling and taping together unnecessarily torn up documents.

    But don’t worry, I am sure one of the Trump fan base can explain about how something Obama did makes this all OK.

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  6. Also: it shows he is a great respecter of the law and the office he holds.

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  7. Blue Galangal says:

    Not only that, the two staffers quoted in the piece were fired with no explanation and forced to sign resignation letters. Who treats people like that? Did he fire them because they were assigned to tape his documents back together? Like that was their fault?

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  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    OCD.

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  9. Franklin says:

    While wasteful and illegal, his supporters don’t care. In fact it’s probably a sign of the “charisma” that they worship.

    To me it’s mostly just amusing. Doesn’t affect my opinion of him, as it fits his “style”.

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  10. Kathy says:

    I suppose if you spent your entire adult life doing shady deals, you regard all documents as evidence and learn to destroy them.

    Yes, it is seemingly a small thing, perhaps one that will annoy historians years from now. But it’s the pattern of norm-breaking without regard, rhyme or reason that’s concerning.

    Aside from written or spoken norms, there are unspoken ones, too. For example, no one says “The sitting Vice President shouldn’t assassinate the sitting president in order to advance his career.” Yet no VP has ever had the president killed so they could take over.

    Now couple this with another norm, that no person can be party and judge, which Trump has pretty much sworn to break, and the VP can kill the president, take over, and pardon himself. You’d think then he’d be impeached and removed, but these days who knows.

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  11. Mikey says:

    But, once it’s explained that there is a legal requirement to preserve these documents, what would possess a man to continue to destroy them?

    Probably the fact he’s a man on the outside, but a petulant, spoiled, entitled child on the inside.

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  12. CSK says:

    Trump, being Trump, probably savors the mental image of these hapless folk crawling around on their hands and knees retrieving his discards and piecing them back together. That’s probably one of the principal reasons he does it. What would you expect from someone who proudly–to use his favorite word–speaks of the pleasure he gets from suing people and bankrupting them?

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  13. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But don’t worry, I am sure one of the Trump fan base can explain about how something Obama did makes this all OK.

    Conversely, I’m sure the people who thought there was no real problem Clinton transferring all her e-mail correspondence to a server outside government control and then destroying all the data on it when she left office can explain why they suddenly care about records laws.

    Which isn’t to say this isn’t a big deal; it IS a big deal. I’m just pointing out I thought it was a big deal then too, and no one seemed to really care.

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  14. @Stormy Dragon:

    “no one seemed to really care.”

    Since I think the e-mail issue is a a reason Trump is president, I don’t think your assessment is accurate.

    And, James was quite critical of her handling of those records here at OTB.

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  15. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Conversely, I’m sure the people who thought there was no real problem Clinton transferring all her e-mail correspondence to a server outside government control and then destroying all the data on it when she left office can explain why they suddenly care about records laws.

    Many of us cared. I called out both Clintons constantly for that and a whole life pattern of thinking they were above the rules. But Trump is much more brazen about it. At least HRC had the sense to pretend that she wasn’t intentionally destroying official correspondence.

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  16. Also: it would be awesome if one of the main objections to Trump was this particular bit of behavior.

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  17. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Conversely conversely, I don’t get why all the Republicans who were pissed about the e-mail thing seem to have no problem with Trump’s insistence on using unsecured cell phones for official business.

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  18. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    @James Joyner:

    To be clear, when I said “no one cared” I didn’t mean literally no one cared.

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  19. michael reynolds says:

    As I pointed out by bitching about Oceans 8, Job#1 for criminals is: don’t get caught. The keys to not getting caught are a) don’t get caught in the act and b) don’t leave evidence. Trump thinks he’s destroying evidence. He’s a practicing criminal, not a good one, but a criminal. A pity for him he wasn’t a bit smarter – the panic over Michael Cohen’s records is compelling evidence that he didn’t understand the limits of privilege. Now Republican Robert Mueller (that’s for the Trumpaloons) and Trump-appointee and Republican Rod Rosenstein, have all the documents Trump wishes he’d ‘torn up’ in earlier years.

    Don’t leave evidence. Duh. Also why, if you’re planning on stealing a fabulous necklace, you don’t send two of your gang to have a long chat at Cartier where they’ll be taped. Cops to Cartier: Had any strange people asking about the necklace? Cartier to cops: Yeah, these two we have on video. Also fingerprints. Sandra Bullock, ‘criminal mastermind’ spent 5 years working on that and loses before she’s begun. And still, smarter than anyone in the Trump Crime Family.

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  20. Joe says:

    Roy Cohn: “Just promise me, Donnie, that as long as you live you will always destroy the paper trail. Then you’ll be safe.”

    DT: “Yes, Mr. Cohn. I promise.”

    RC: “Good boy, Donnie. Good boy.”

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  21. teve tory says:

    While trump works to get russia back into the Gx meetings, the treasury department is sanctioning russian individuals for helping the FSB commit cyber crimes against us.

    https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm0410

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  22. PJ says:

    The Trump Presidential Library will be like no other Presidential Library.

    One massive gift shop, selling Trump steaks, Trump coins, Trump University degrees, and so on, and in one corner there will be a pile of taped together documents.

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  23. michael reynolds says:

    @teve tory:
    Not disconnected events. Congress forced a very reluctant Trump to keep sanctions in place and toughen them a bit. So Trump has to deliver for Putin or risk a scolding and a pee tape.

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  24. JKB says:

    I think maybe I shouldn’t point this out, but.

    This story hits the wires and sets all the anti-Trumpers atwitter over records management

    just before this:

    “The DOJ’s Inspector General’s Office will release its report on the DOJ and FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server on June 14.”

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  25. @JKB: Two responses:

    1) Odds are quite good there will be a post from one of us, Doug I would guess, on that report.

    2) You do realize the Trump is the sitting POTUS, making his current actions substantially more important than what HRC did in the past, yes?

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  26. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:
    I see. So in order to cover up investigation number 906 into the former Secretary of State this story is leaked. Also leaked: Trump doing the bidding of a hostile foreign dictator and attacking our closest friends for a trade deficit that does not exist.

    You’re in a cult. Maybe once upon a time your brain worked. It no longer does.

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  27. teve tory says:

    southpaw

    @nycsouthpaw
    Follow Follow @nycsouthpaw

    Future generations of scholars going through boxes of taped together presidential papers will wonder how we let this absolute lunatic get so far into his term.

    10:35 PM – 10 Jun 2018

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  28. gVOR08 says:

    You’re right that this isn’t very serious. In fact, it’s the pointlessness of it that makes it kind of disgusting. It seem sort of like deliberately making a mess on your table just because you can and the server will have to clean it up.

    IIRC the FBI is doing a similar thing with the contents of Cohen’s shredder. On a larger scale I recall a story, back when cancelled paper checks mattered, of a bank that accidentally shredded a bag of them. Took a warehouse full of temps working for weeks to reconstruct them.

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  29. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    THAT was PRECISELY the problem that many had with Hillary’s email server. Dan Metcalfe famously argued against that email server precisely because of FOIA requests.

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  30. teve tory says:

    @gVOR08: Little known fact, back in the day banks had to physically give each check back to the issuing bank, so in many places there were secured parking lots where vans from banks would meet up and exchange bags and bags of checks every day. If there was no branch around you used to have to fly the bags of checks across country.

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  31. gVOR08 says:

    @teve tory:

    If there was no branch around you used to have to fly the bags of checks across country.

    An even less known fact is that as a result the Federal Reserve used to operate one of the world’s biggest air cargo operations. This was pre FedEx and DHS. The night skies were full of twin engine cargo planes, with young pilots trying to build hours, flying bags of cancelled checks all over the country.

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  32. An Interested Party says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they pay someone to wipe the spittle off the Orange Toddler’s face or someone else to hold up a mirror so he can preen (although as we can see, all that preening hasn’t helped him)…its a pity they can’t pay someone to explain complex facts to him so that he can understand what is going on in the world…

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  33. teve tory says:

    @gVOR08: I was doing some reading recently about the ACH system and how banks were reluctant to upgrade it because the long-ass delay of transactions pushed people to buy expensive wire transfers, and now the upstart financial tech companies came along and make it effortless to zap money all over the place, and now banks are scrambling to improve their system less they be left behind. Neat stuff. I need a few good books about the whole thing, if you know of any.

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  34. MarkedMan says:

    I’m pissing into the wind here, but for the record, Hillary Clinton’s use of private email and the subsequent loss of that email is no different then what her predecessors did. In fact, Colin Powell’s main email account was an AOL account which he deleted after leaving government service. And he advised Clinton, in writing, to use a private email account when she asked his advice on it.

    I realize my pointing this out will have no effect on the narrative (Hillary is a uniquely evil and duplicitous person). That narrative is set, and will join the common belief that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet and that John Kerry was a traitorous and cowardly soldier rather than the awardee of three Purple Hearts and a gold and silver star.

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  35. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Conversely, I’m sure the people who thought there was no real problem Clinton transferring all her e-mail correspondence to a server outside government control and then destroying all the data on it when she left office can explain why they suddenly care about records laws. … 2 10

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Conversely conversely, I don’t get why all the Republicans who were pissed about the e-mail thing seem to have no problem with Trump’s insistence on using unsecured cell phones for official business. 6 0

    Can’t think of a better demonstration than the 2-10 vs. 6-0 on these two comments to demonstrate how purely tactical most people’s concerns about political corruption are.

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  36. MarkedMan says:

    These two things are not equal. Clinton, Powell, Rice’s senior staff, etc, used their personal email only for non-classified communication. For everything classified they didn’t use email at all but rather the difficult and awkward but highly secure system created for such persons. In fact, that’s one of the “charges” against Clinton: that she deliberately destroyed the emails because she knew that all that correspondence was subject to FOIA requests because they weren’t classified. I don’t think she was wrong to do it, or if she was wrong it was a very venal act. Nor do I think Colin Powell himself nor Rice’s top people (Rice herself wrote everything out by hand) were any more or less guilty when they did the exact same thing and were unable to produce their emails when investigators requested.

    The President’s phone calls are a different matter. It is very likely they do contain information that should not get out into the public. The fact that he uses an insecure phone is therefore highly disturbing.

    I didn’t up or downvote either of your comments but if forced to make a call I too, would have treated them differently

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  37. Matt says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The fact that you think those emails were gone for good because some were deleted off Clinton’s server is almost hilarious. First off the FBI can easily recover deleted data off hard drives. Even if you format the drive a couple time there’s still enough residual image left for the NSA and CIA to pull data from. I’ve heard that you’re best off actually using a program to write 0s across the entire drive followed by 1s accross the drive several times over before you’re mostly safe.

    Every email sent to her (or sent by her) for official business ended up on Government owned email servers. They could easily find all her official emails just by looking at those.

    That’s how the FBI knew what she had and what she deleted. It’s child’s play in the world of IT..

    @James Joyner:

    At least HRC had the sense to pretend that she wasn’t intentionally destroying official correspondence.

    Hillary didn’t destroy official correspondence as the FBI had access to all of them. Unless you have a specific example in which case I would like to hear.

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