The story about Donald Trump’s treatment of official White House records keeps getting worse and worse. It’s been recently reported that the select committee investigating Jan. 6 has been receiving documents that have been Scotch-taped back together in an attempt to fix Trump’s abuses, but that’s not all.
Under Trump, White House officials would routinely put documents into "burn bags," sources told The Washington Post, forcing records officials to dump out the burn bags and look for documents that, under the law, were supposed to be archived. On top of that, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) was recently forced to go to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve White House records that Donald Trump had carried off with him, which is against the law.
Some documents the select committee requested from Trump officials couldn’t be provided because those documents had been shredded, the Post reports.
Trump, who spent the 2016 campaign railing against Hillary Clinton for having deleted personal emails and then spent his time in the White House tearing up documents by hand, took boxes of official White House records to Mar-a-Lago, supposedly because he decided they were his own personal mementos. That included what he had once described as “love letters” from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
While NARA has had to retrieve some records from other past presidents, this case was “out of the ordinary … NARA has never had that kind of volume transfer after the fact like this,” according to an unnamed Washington Post source. NARA has faced a lot of firsts with Trump, like having to dedicate archivists to taping documents back together thanks to the “unprecedented” number that had been ripped up.
Some of Trump’s former underlings don’t think his tearing up of and walking away with official records is a big deal. “I don’t think he did this out of malicious intent to avoid complying with the Presidential Records Act,” one former Trump White House official told The Washington Post. “As long as he’s been in business, he’s been very transactional and it was probably his longtime practice and I don’t think his habits changed when he got to the White House.”
So, if we believe this person who chose to work for Trump, it’s not that he was thinking “I will now break the law,” it’s just that he didn’t even think the law applied to him enough to notice when he broke it. That’s not better, actually.
Another former Trump aide, described as a senior official, took a slightly different view. “He didn’t want a record of anything,” the person said. “He never stopped ripping things up. Do you really think Trump is going to care about the records act? Come on.”
Once again, Trump’s disdain for the law revealed the weakness of U.S. laws applying to powerful people. He was regularly breaking the law—but the law couldn’t actually do anything to him.
”It is against the law, but the problem is that the Presidential Records Act, as written, does not have any real enforcement mechanism,” James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, told the Post. “It’s that sort of thing where there’s a law, but who has the authority to enforce the law, and the existing law is toothless.”
Trump showed how desperately we need laws to apply to the wealthy and powerful as much as to average people, but instead we have a Republican Party determined to make it easier, not harder, for Trump or the next guy following in his footsteps to trample U.S. law.