Ripping Up the Record
He thought the law did not apply to him. His party calls Jan. 6 legitimate political discourse.
You may remember the State of the Union on February 4, 2020, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped in half her copy of Trump’s speech as he finished. “I’m a speed reader. I could keep well ahead of him, and I saw page after page of misrepresentations and falsehoods,” she explained later, adding, “I wish I didn’t have to do that. I wish the speech was dignified and truthful, but it wasn’t. So it was the least I could do.”
That moment—for all the world to see—came to mind reading Sunday’s Washington Post story detailing “more widespread and indiscriminate than previously known” destruction of documents by Trump, despite the Presidential Records Act which makes this illegal. Every White House is required to preserve all written communication involving a president’s official duties and forward this material to the National Archives.
In contrast to Speaker Pelosi, Trump destroyed original documents behind closed doors. He ripped up sensitive memos. He tore up briefings and letters, as well as articles and schedules. As the story notes, “He ripped paper into quarters with two big, clean strokes—or occasionally more vigorously, into smaller scraps.”
Based on interviews with 11 former Trump staffers, associates and others, the story describes this practice as “relentless,” requiring aides to retrieve piles of torn-up fragments from the Oval Office or residence, then relying on staffers from the White House Office of Records Management to piece the shreds back together with Scotch tape. This destruction and reassembly involved hundreds and hundreds of documents, including some taped-up materials that recently were turned over to the January 6 House Select Committee.
It’s possible to imagine this as a quirk, an old habit that preceded 2016. One can imagine a newspaper article here, a media summary there, that he ripped up with agitation—the kinds of unclassified materials that likely did not require preservation (even though it was not his prerogative to preemptively destroy them).
But it’s usually more accurate to assess Trump’s behavior from a more sinister perspective and assume pernicious intent. One can imagine many of these destroyed documents, some never found or pieced back together, possessing information (and the truth) that Trump wanted forever lost. The Post story notes one instance where Trump ripped up a document and then slipped it into his jacket pocket.
Recall also that the translator notes from multiple closed-door meetings with Vladimir Putin have never seen the light of day, including from Helsinki on July 16, 2018, when he betrayed America by siding with Putin over US intelligence agencies about Russian interference in the 2016 election. “President Putin says it’s not Russia,” he said during the infamous press conference. “I don't see any reason why it would be.” It’s been reported that Trump seized the notes of his interpreters from his private meetings with Putin in both Helsinki and in Hamburg the year before.
News of Trump’s extensive destruction of records comes in the wake of the Republican National Committee’s own attempts to degrade the public’s capacity to know the truth. Voting on Friday to censure Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their participation in the investigation of the January 6 Capitol attack, the Republicans egregiously declared that they were involved in the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”
Seriously: Legitimate political discourse.
It was enough to motivate even Sen. Mitt Romney to speak up. “Shame falls on a party that would censure persons of conscience, who seek truth in the face of vitriol,” he wrote on Twitter, although his pushback did not acknowledge the anti-democratic madness of soft-pedaling that day’s deadly violence.
Legitimate political discourse?
Committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin addressed this mad talk and the GOP’s unhinged direction more pointedly. “The Republican Party is so off the deep end now that they are describing an attempted coup and a deadly insurrection as political expression,” Raskin said, adding, “It is a scandal that historians will be aghast at, to think that a major political party would be denouncing Liz Cheney for standing up for the Constitution and not saying anything about Donald Trump’s involvement in the insurrection.”
It won’t take future historians to be aghast. Many Americans are already appalled as they witness the accelerating downward spiral of the GOP and learn more about a former White House occupant who was so convinced the law did not apply to him that he destroyed pieces of the historical record relentlessly.
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