When the National Archives and Records Administration handed over a trove of documents to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, some of the Trump White House records had been ripped up and then taped back together, according to three people familiar with the records.
But despite the Presidential Records Act — which requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties — the former president’s infrangible shredding practices apparently continued well into the latter stages of his presidency.
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 Archives transmitted over 700 pages of documents to the Jan. 6 committee last month that included a mélange of records concerning the events of Jan. 6, 2021, including those that were torn up and reconstructed, according to the three people familiar with the records, who requested anonymity to reveal sensitive details.
In its statement, the Archives said that “White House records management officials during the Trump Administration recovered and taped together some of the torn-up records. These were turned over to the National Archives at the end of the Trump Administration, along with a number of torn-up records that had not been reconstructed by the White House. The Presidential Records Act requires that all records created by presidents be turned over to the National Archives at the end of their administrations.”
It’s unclear what documents in the tranche delivered to the Jan. 6 committee were damaged. But legal records indicate that the documents over which Trump sought to assert privilege included presidential diaries, schedules, appointment information, handwritten notes concerning the events of Jan. 6 from White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, speeches, remarks, and more. The archivist is set to hand over more documents in the weeks and months to come.
The committee declined to provide comment.
Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor and constitutional scholar, said White House documents torn up by Trump are clearly the property of the government under the Presidential Records Act.
“So 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,” Gillers said. “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.”
Trump also sought to assert privilege over four pages from the records of presidential findings concerning the security of the 2020 election, four pages of a draft Executive Order on the topic of election integrity, three pages of talking points on alleged election irregularities and two pages of a draft text of a presidential speech for the Jan. 6, 2021, “Save America March.”
This past weekend, the former president bashed the House Jan. 6 committee and raised the prospect of pardoning those who have been charged in connection with the attack on the U.S. Capitol if he ran and won reelection in 2024.