2018-06-10 23:26:05 UTC
The president's unofficial 'filing system' involves tearing up documents into
pieces, even when they're supposed to be preserved.
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 presidents 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 Trumps odd
and enduring habit of ripping up papers when hes 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 wasnt
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 Larkey 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
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. Im looking
at my director, and saying, Are you guys serious? Were 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
The White House did not comment on the presidents paper-ripping habit.
According to Young and Lartey, staffers in the records department were still
designated to the task of taping together the scraps as recently as this spring.
Lartey and Young described a system that stands in stark contrast to how records
management was conducted under the Obama administration, which ran a structured
All of the official paper that went into [the Oval Office], came back out
again, to the best of my knowledge, said Lisa Brown, who served as President
Barack Obamas first staff secretary. I never remember the president throwing
any official paper away.
Brown described a regimented process for dealing with presidential records. She
said all paper that was going to the president would go in a folder with labels
one color for decision memos, for example, and another one for letters.
Documents would go out to the president and then come back to the staff
secretarys office in the same folder for distribution and handling. It was a
really structured process.