that happened

Trump Even Managed to Be Weird With Paper

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Every now and then, I’m reminded of something Donald Trump did as president that sounds so bizarre that for a moment I think I must have imagined the entire thing. It happened again on Tuesday when the Washington Post reported that some of the records sent to the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection had been torn up and taped back together. The Post noted that the former president of the United States was known to habitually rip up documents when he was finished with them, “which forced aides to attempt to piece them back together in order to comply with the Presidential Records Act.”

The evidence that this was a thing has always been pretty solid. Trump’s paper-mishandling habit was revealed back in June 2018, when Solomon Lartey, a former government-records management analyst, told Politico on the record that he spent months taping the president’s documents back together:

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.”

Lartey and his colleague Reginald Young Jr. said this practice was still going on in the spring of 2018 when the two career government officials were fired with no explanation.

Now we have evidence that the paper-ripping continued through the end of Trump’s presidency. And it seems that, somewhere along the way, staffers had at least partly given up on trying to reassemble the scraps. Per the Post, Team Trump turned in some piles of shredded paper:

The National Archives on Monday took the unusual step of confirming the habit, saying in a statement that records turned over from the Trump White House “included paper records that had been torn up by former President Trump.” The statement came in response to a question from The Washington Post about whether some Jan. 6-related records had been ripped up and taped back together.

Some of the documents turned over by the White House had not been reconstructed at all, according to the Archives.

The Post notes that this could be a crime, “as White House documents torn up by Trump are clearly the property of the government under the Presidential Records Act.” But I’m pretty sure they’re not taking Trump down for memo vandalism.

Obviously, this is not Trump’s weirdest rumored White House habit; I would cast my vote for “executive time” or the Diet Coke button. But it is a reminder that the former president had a unique gift for turning mundane objects and routines into a kind of camp performance art (I think? Despite attending that Met exhibit, I’m still not 100 percent sure what “camp” is). Paper is one of his preferred media. Recall the blank stacks of paper and the massive chart Trump used as props:

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

And then there’s this anecdote from Omarosa Manigault Newman’s book, which is in the conversation for weirdest rumor I’ve ever heard about Trump. Here’s the Post’s write-up from August 2018:

In early 2017, Manigault Newman says, she walked Michael Cohen, then Trump’s personal attorney, into the Oval Office for a meeting with Trump — and allegedly saw the president chewing up a piece of paper while Cohen was leaving the office. Another White House official confirmed that Manigault Newman brought Cohen into the White House and was later rebuked for it. The two remain in contact, according to people familiar with the relationship. 

“I saw him put a note in his mouth,” she writes in her book. “Since Trump was ever the germaphobe, I was shocked he appeared to be chewing and swallowing the paper. It must have been something very, very sensitive.” 

There is no proof that he chewed on paper, and several White House aides laughed at the assertion and said it was not true. 

Omarosa is indeed the definition of an unreliable source. But this is Trump we’re talking about, and we’ve already established that his paper habits are bizarre. So … who knows?

Trump Even Managed to Be Weird With Paper