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President Rip and Tear

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Christ, what an asshole.

President Donald Trump tore up briefings and schedules, articles and letters, memos both sensitive and mundane.

He ripped paper into quarters with two big, clean strokes — or occasionally more vigorously, into smaller scraps.

He left the detritus on his desk in the Oval Office, in the trash can of his private West Wing study and on the floor aboard Air Force One, among many other places.

And he did it all in violation of the Presidential Records Act, despite being urged by at least two chiefs of staff and the White House counsel to follow the law on preserving documents.

“It is absolutely a violation of the act,” said Courtney Chartier, president of the Society of American Archivists. “There is no ignorance of these laws. There are White House manuals about the maintenance of these records.”

Although glimpses of Trump’s penchant for ripping were reported earlier in his presidency — by Politico in 2018 — the House select committee’s investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection has shined a new spotlight on the practice. The Washington Post reported that some of the White House records the National Archives and Records Administration turned over to the committee appeared to have been torn apart and then taped back together.

Interviews with 11 former Trump staffers, associates and others familiar with the habit reveal that Trump’s shredding of paper was far more widespread and indiscriminate than previously known and — despite multiple admonishments — extended throughout his presidency, resulting in special practices to deal with the torn fragments. Most of these people spoke on the condition of anonymity to share candid details of a problematic practice.

The ripping was so relentless that Trump’s team implemented protocols to try to ensure that he was abiding by the Presidential Records Act. Typically, aides from either the Office of the Staff Secretary or the Oval Office Operations team would come in behind Trump to retrieve the piles of torn paper he left in his wake, according to one person familiar with the routine. Then, staffers from the White House Office of Records Management were generally responsible for jigsawing the documents back together, using clear tape.

The Presidential Records Act requires that the White House preserve all written communication related to a president’s official duties — memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other material — and turn it over to the National Archives.

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