Former President Donald Trump would routinely rip up documents, drafts and reading materials, and he took several boxes to Mar-a-Lago when he relocated to Florida after leaving the White House – raising concerns about his preservation of presidential records as required by federal law.
Three former White House officials told CNN they saw Trump, on numerous occasions, manually destroy papers he was no longer interested in or had finished reviewing – a practice that made it difficult for White House staff secretaries to preserve presidential records. Those officials said the former President sorted through file boxes in a rather methodical way – tearing up newspaper clippings or drafts of tweets that he had rejected and tossing them to the floor, or stacking papers he wished to hang on to in a disorderly stack atop his desk.
They said Trump, who was often trailed by aides lugging file boxes as he boarded Marine One for day trips or overseas visits, ignored pleas to end the destructive habit. “The Boxes,” as they were colloquially known among senior staff, contained all the save-for-later items that Trump would spend long flights going through: articles that he wanted to scribble Sharpie messages on before mailing them off to close friends; gossipy stories about West Wing drama that he would hate-read as he sought to identify leakers; and, occasionally, important memos on any number of policy topics or budding crises.
“He would have something in his hands when he came down from the residence and would say, ‘Put this in my boxes,’” former White House communications director Stephanie Grisham recalled. “For longer flights, we would have six or seven boxes. He went through them when he had downtime.”
“I remember sitting behind him on one of our Christmas trips to the Middle East, and he would put certain things in folders and then he would tear up others and leave them on the floor,” Grisham said of Trump’s surprise trip to visit American troops in Iraq during the holiday in 2018.
Typically, the former President’s body men would retrieve the leftover scraps of paper once he left the room. Two of the former White House officials who spoke with CNN on the condition of anonymity said it was unclear what was ultimately done with the torn pieces, even after White House officials were warned not to dispose of any records once Politico first reported on Trump’s problematic practice in June 2018. The Washington Post reported Saturday that the practice “was far more widespread and indiscriminate than previously known,” based on interviews with nearly a dozen sources.
“At first, we were a White House that didn’t know about preserving things and then, in the end, didn’t care,” Grisham told CNN.
Another former White House official said Trump flatly ignored repeated requests from at least two of his chiefs of staff to stop tearing apart paper and instead make piles of what he didn’t wish to keep. “It went in one ear and out the other. There was no appreciation for the standard preservation process or concerns about violating it,” this official said.
Inside the West Wing, aides often joked about Trump’s “system” as they tried to determine whether there was a method to what he kept and what he tore up. One former Trump aide said a large volume of the papers he manually shredded were proposed tweets that then-White House social media director Dan Scavino would type up for his review.
The former President’s handling of official records is also being scrutinized after 15 boxes from the White House needed to be recovered by the National Archives from his Florida resort last month, with details of the visit first reported by the Post on Monday.
According to a person familiar with the matter, Archives general counsel Gary Stern contacted Trump’s team last fall to inquire about several boxes of records that appeared to have been brought to Mar-a-Lago during Trump’s relocation to Florida.
These were boxes that had been in the White House residence and thus were packed up with other personal belongings of the first family, this person said.
The National Archives said in a statement that Trump’s representatives have told the Archives that they are continuing to search for additional records that belong to it.
The Presidential Records Act, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said in the statement, is “critical to our democracy.”
Lawyers for Trump had proposed a date in December for the Archives to retrieve the boxes but settled on early January. The source told CNN it wasn’t an Archives staffer who came down to Mar-a-Lago to pick up the boxes, but “a guy with a truck and work order.”
To this source’s knowledge, Mar-a-Lago is the only Trump property where records have been improperly stored. The boxes at Mar-a-Lago contained several personal mementos, including letters from Kim Jong Un and former President Barack Obama, as the Post reported.
Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows and former deputy counsel Patrick Philbin were also looped in on the discussions with the Archives, according to the source.
CNN’s Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.