Earlier this month, Donald Trump’s efforts to conceal exactly what he was doing before, during, and after the January 6 attack on the Capitol were dealt a major blow when the Supreme Court ruled that the House committee investigating the insurrection could get its hands on the documents he desperately wanted to keep under lock and key. The panel began receiving the records it had requested from the National Archives, and will continue to do in the coming weeks and months. That’s obviously good news for justice, though in less good news, it turns out that a number of the documents in question will be more difficult to examine than one might have hoped, because Trump apparently had a habit of tearing up official presidential business like a man who knew he’d one day have something to hide.
The Washington Post reports that in an unbelievable-yet-completely-believable turn of events, “some of the Trump White House records” handed over to the January 6 committee “had been ripped up and then taped back together,” according to people familiar with the matter. If your reaction to that is “why,” “how,” and “what the f–k,“ rest assured you‘re not alone. Despite the fact that the Presidential Records Act very clearly requires each administration to preserve everything from letters and handwritten notes to memos and other written communications related to the then president’s official work, the 45th guy apparently just chose to ignore that rule; instead, Trump regularly tore up documents, leaving White House officials to painstakingly reconstruct papers “like a jigsaw puzzle,” according to a 2018 Politico article. While some papers were simply “split down the middle,” others “would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.” (What was happening on the days he decided to shred documents into teeny-tiny little pieces? Unclear, but we’re guessing that on at least one occasion he’d been recently informed that he couldn’t just buy Denmark, and was subsequently set off.)
In a statement to the Post, the National Archives confirmed that Trump White House records turned over to congressional investigators “included paper records that had been torn up by former President Trump.”
If Trump‘s little shredding habit strikes you as something that sounds like it should and might be illegal, you’re not alone. Constitutional law scholar Stephen Gillers told the Post that the damaged documents are obviously property of the government and, as such, “destroying them could be a crime under several statutes that make it a crime to destroy government property if that was the intent of the defendant. A president does not own the records generated by his own administration. The definition of presidential records is broad. Trump’s own notes to himself could qualify and destroying them could be the criminal destruction of government property.”
Speaking of what we’ll call “unorthodox” behavior by a sitting president, The New York Times reports that Trump was even more intimately involved in discussions re: seizing voting machines than previously thought.
Just a fun anecdote to keep people up at night as Trump suggests he may take another stab at the White House in 2024.
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