Illustration for article titled The White House Made an Entire Office Tape Trumps Papers Back Together
Screenshot: CNBC

Apparently, Donald Trump just rips up papers when he’s done with them. This is a violation of longstanding federal law about official presidential records, so instead of just getting Trump not to do this, the White House had an entire office dedicated to putting these papers back together piece by piece. This is very normal, in my opinion. Why do you ask?

As Politico reports (emphasis mine):

Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, [Solomon] 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.


According to Solomon Lartey, a records management analyst, staffers collected Trump’s trash and sent it over to the Office of Records Management, a division of the office of the White House’s staff secretary.

“I had a letter from [Democratic Senate leader Chuck] Schumer — he tore it up,” Lartey told Politico. “It was the craziest thing ever. He ripped papers into tiny pieces.”

Lartey wasn’t the only one:

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.”


According to Politico, some of Trump’s aides tried to get him to stop, but “the habit proved difficult to break.” The thing is: it’s not difficult! It’s actually extremely easy:

  • Step one: read one-paragraph summary of complex geopolitical issue you will immediately forget, because you do not care.
  • Step two: do literally anything at all with the paper except rip it up and throw the pieces on the floor like you’re eating peanuts at a Lone Star in the late ‘90s.

Young and Lartey said the records department’s staffers were still being tasked with putting the papers back together as of this spring. They don’t know if it’s still happening for sure, however, because—in an even weirder twist to this story which somehow makes both Trump and the administration look even worse—both of them were fired within weeks of each other in March and April. To this day, neither knows why. (Neither the White House nor Irene Porada, the HR head who fired both of them, responded to Politico’s request for comment.)

“I was stunned,” Lartey told Politico. “I asked them, ‘Why can’t you all tell me something?’ I had gotten comfortable. I was going to retire. I would never have thought I would have gotten fired.”


Young said he was forced into signing a resignation letter. “I was coerced to sign a resignation letter at that time,” Young, who was fired on April 19, told Politico. “The only excuse that I’ve ever gotten from them was that you serve at the pleasure of the president.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Trump humiliated and wasted the time of a bunch of nonpolitical federal workers simply because he refused to change an unbelievably stupid habit. But just keep all this in mind the next time Republicans start talking about “government waste.”

News editor, Splinter

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