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Trump’s Paper-Ripping Isn’t the First Time His Infantile Behavior Might Have Broken the Law


Despite a presidency that outdoes itself on outright lawlessness and horrific diplomacy on an hourly basis, it’s likely going to be Trump’s inane propensity to act like an unfocused five-year old that does it. And I’m not even talking about Trump’s air-ranting to his frenemy from Canada. Apparently, we’re paying people to put documents back together after Trump rips them into tiny pieces. Yes, seriously. Honestly, it’s hard to know what’s more disturbing – the outrageous financial waste, or just the patently infantile image of our chief executive ripping up documents. Either way, though, there’s meaning behind all this that once again harkens back to Nixon-era legal issues.

Politico posted the story Sunday in which Solomon Lartey and Reginald Young, Jr., two government records management analysts, revealed that their department had been charged with the absurd task of Scotch-taping official presidential documents back together after President Trump had ripped the pages into tiny pieces. And we’re not talking once – we’re talking all the time.

The bizarre job stunned two veteran government workers, each of whom were taken aback at their $60,000+ salaries devoted to playing jigsaw-master to the president. Young said, “it felt like the lowest form of work you can take on without having to empty the trash cans.” Demeaning and wasteful work aside, Trump’s behavior raises even more serious questions of malfeasance.

There’s an actual law behind what presidents are supposed to do with official documents; it was passed by Congress in 1981, in a somewhat delayed reaction to the whole Nixon-tapes-special prosecutor thing the country had just endured. That law—the Presidential Records Act (“PRA”) – puts the president squarely in charge of maintaining official records, as well as disposing only those records deemed to “no longer have administrative, historical, or evidentiary value.”

According to the Politico piece, none of this came as a surprise to Trump staffers, who tried their best to break POTUS of his rip-and-throw habit:

“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.”

There’s already been plenty of drama over the Trump Administration’s violations of the PRA. Watchdog group CREW filed a lawsuit over alleged PRA violations based on Trump’s deleting official tweets and White House staffers’ communication via secret texting apps. That lawsuit admitted that talking tweets and texts is defining the term “Presidential record” broadly – but we could take the narrowest definition possible and it’d still include correspondence between the president and senators that Trump opted to rip into confetti.

Law & Crime spoke today with attorney and national security law expert Bradley Moss, who minced no words about Trump’s potential PRA violations:

“We all knew Donald Trump would struggle adjusting to certain requirements of government service but he continues to amaze with his casual disregard for even basic legal trappings. Preservation of government records, particularly those drafted or reviewed by the President, is a basic element of record keeping that every other civil servant and public official knows well. That President Trump not only had a practice in the past of tearing up presidential records but – if the Politico story is accurate – continues to do so to this day despite being reminded of the Presidential Records Act’s requirements is disgraceful and an affront to the integrity of the Office of the President itself.”

Let’s not forget too, that ripping paper isn’t the only impulse-control problem Trump has when it comes to official reports. He also can’t help blabbing about information before he’s supposed to do so. Last summer, Trump couldn’t stop himself from tweeting about the jobs report.

Turns out, there can be a bad time to share good news. Office of Management and Budget’s Statistical Policy Directive Number 3 is a directive that bars all executive branch employees (of which the president is one) from making any public comments on leading economic indicators before a very specific deadline is reached. That deadline: one hour after the report is released. In the case of the jobs report, Trump would’ve been free to comment on the report after 9:30 a.m.; unsurprisingly, our president’s inability to squelch his premature proclamation for even the required sixty minutes resulted in a tweet at 8:45 a.m.

While a difference of minutes may seem like NBD, Policy Directive Number 3, which has been in practice since the Nixon administration, has an important purpose – protecting the markets. It explains:

Because such data series have significant commercial value, may affect the movement of commodity and financial markets, or may be taken as a measure of the impact of government policies, public release must be prompt and according to an established, publicly available schedule.

You’d think a financial mastermind like Trump would understand the necessity of delicacy with market-sensitive information. In the abstract, he probably could understand it, but would still be simply unable or unwilling to control himself, and accordingly, would deem Policy Directive Number 3 a liberal conspiracy hell-bent on depriving him of half an hour of good press.

The Trump presidency has laid out a true smorgasbord of legal issues, with something for every concern-level from the globally-destructive to the discrete and private. But so many of Trump’s legal issues stem from his visible lack of impulse-control.


This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos