Donald Trump has long faced difficult questions about, among other things, document preservation. In June 2018, for example, Politico first reported that Trump had an “enduring habit” of ripping up papers, which meant there was an entire White House department dedicated to the task of retrieving the pieces, literally taping them back together again, and then passing them along to the National Archives.
This wasn’t especially easy: The article added that in some instances, the then-president would tear documents “into pieces so small they looked like confetti.”
More recently, the Republican faced related questions as part of a burgeoning controversy surrounding Trump literally tearing up White House documents and taking 15 boxes of materials that didn’t belong to him to Mar-a-Lago when he left office last year.
It was about six months ago when the story took an unexpected turn. Axios, relying on revelations that appear in The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman’s upcoming book, first reported in February that White House staffers “periodically discovered wads of printed paper clogging a toilet — and believed the president had flushed pieces of paper.”
Bloomberg News’ Jennifer Jacobs added soon after the story is “100% true.” Jacobs went on to note that White House staffers found “clumped/torn/shredded papers and fished them out from blocked bathroom toilet.” Those same staffers, according to her sources, “believed it had been the president’s doing.”
The Republican dismissed the reporting as “categorically untrue.” It was against this backdrop that Axios published a related report today featuring photographs, obtained by Haberman, of papers allegedly found in presidential toilets.
Haberman’s sources report the document dumps happened multiple times at the White House, and on at least two foreign trips. “That Mr. Trump was discarding documents this way was not widely known within the West Wing, but some aides were aware of the habit, which he engaged in repeatedly,” Haberman tells us.
Axios’ report added, “The handwriting is visibly Trump’s, written in the Sharpie ink he favored,” though “most of the words are illegible.”
A spokesperson for the former president issued another denial, suggesting the images were “fabricated.”
That’s certainly possible, and neither the images nor the reporting have been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News. Then again, Trump World has denied plenty of allegations that proved to be true, so it’s tough to take dismissals seriously.
Part of this is of interest, of course, because of the legal requirements surrounding the Presidential Records Act, and the former president’s difficulties in following — or even understanding — its requirements.
But it’s also worth pausing to appreciate the scope of Team Trump’s troubles when it comes to holding onto relevant materials. There’s the “document deletion” problem, which includes key agencies erasing important electronic communications. There’s also the “document mishandling” problem, which includes the former president bringing classified materials to a golf resort known as a haven for spies.
And then there’s the “document destruction” problem, which includes then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows literally setting fire to papers in his office after a meeting with a Republican congressman who was assisting with Team Trump’s anti-election schemes. Trump tearing documents “into pieces so small they looked like confetti” falls into the same category.
So too does flushing materials down toilets.