Donald Trump seems to have had a love-hate relationship with official White House records. Some he habitually tore up into confetti. Others he cherished so deeply that he took them to Mar-a-Lago instead of turning them over to the National Archives.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that the Archives was forced to seize “multiple boxes” of White House records Trump stole off to Palm Beach with instead of turning them over to the Archives, a apparent violation of the Presidential Records Act. The records, which the Archives reportedly retrieved from Mar-a-Lago last month, included letters from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un — correspondence Trump has referred to as “love letters” — as well as the letter President Obama left for his successor.
The Archives confirmed in a statement later on Monday that “transport from the Trump Mar-a-Lago property in Florida to the National Archives of 15 boxes that contained Presidential records, following discussions with President Trump’s representatives in 2021,” according to Axios.
Axios also notes that Trump’s representatives have said they are “continuing to search for additional Presidential records that belong to the National Archives.”
The news of the breach in protocol comes barely a week after the Post reported that some of the records the Archives handed over to the Jan. 6 committee had been ripped up and taped back together. Tearing up White House documents had been a habit of the former president. Politico reported in 2018 that he’d sometimes rip them into pieces as small as confetti, forcing staffers to put them back together like a “jigsaw puzzle,” rejoining them with pieces of Scotch tape.
“Destroying [White House documents] could be a crime under several statutes that make it a crime to destroy government property if that was the intent of the defendant,” Stephen Gillers, a constitutional law professor at New York University, told the Post. “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.”
The Post reported on Saturday that Trump’s penchant for ripping documents to shreds was a bigger problem than had been previously reported, that he had been told to stop multiple times, and that the habit extended into the later stages of his presidency. He left torn-up paper on his desk in the Oval Office, in trash bins, and even on the floor of Air Force One, according to former staffers. “It is absolutely a violation of the [Presidential Records Act],” Courtney Chartier, president of the Society of American Archivists, told the Post. “There is no ignorance of these laws. There are White House manuals about the maintenance of these records.”
Trump’s letters from Kim Jong-un were apparently too valuable to shred, or even to relinquish to the Archives. The former president has spoken fondly of his relationship with the murderous dictator, and has often mentioned the letters. “I was really tough and so was he, and we went back and forth,” Trump told a rally crowd in 2018. “And then we fell in love, OK? No, really, he wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”
Trump’s admiration of the world’s most ruthless authoritarians has persisted since he left office. “The ones I did best with were the tyrants,” Trump said at an event in December, citing Kim Jong-un. “For whatever reason, I got along great with them.”
This post has been updated.