Meet the guys who tape Trump’s papers back together

 In Politics

Solomon Lartey spent the first five months of the Trump administration working in the Old Executive Office Building, standing over a desk with scraps of paper spread out in front of him.

Lartey, who earned an annual salary of $65,969 as a records management analyst, was a career government official with close to 30 years under his belt. But he had never seen anything like this in any previous administration he had worked for. He had never had to tape the president’s papers back together again.

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Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.

It was a painstaking process that was the result of a clash between legal requirements to preserve White House records and President Donald Trump’s odd and enduring habit of ripping up papers when he’s done with them — what some people described as his unofficial “filing system.”

Under the Presidential Records Act, the White House must preserve all memos, letters, emails and papers that the president touches, sending them to the National Archives for safekeeping as historical records.

But 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.

Staffers had the fragments of paper collected from the Oval Office as well as the private residence and send it over to records management across the street from the White House for Larkey and his colleagues to reassemble.

“We got Scotch tape, the clear kind,” Lartey recalled in an interview. “You found pieces and taped them back together and then you gave it back to the supervisor.” The restored papers would then be sent to the National Archives to be properly filed away.

Lartey said the papers he received included newspaper clips on which Trump had scribbled notes, or circled words; invitations; and letters from constituents or lawmakers on the Hill, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“I had a letter from Schumer — he tore it up,” he said. “It was the craziest thing ever. He ripped papers into tiny pieces.”

Lartey did not work alone. He said his entire department was dedicated to the task of taping paper back together in the opening months of the Trump administration.

One of his colleagues, Reginald Young Jr., who worked as a senior records management analyst, said that during over two decades of government service, he had never been asked to do such a thing.

“We had to endure this under the Trump administration,” Young said. “I’m looking at my director, and saying, ‘Are you guys serious?’ We’re making more than $60,000 a year, we need to be doing far more important things than this. It felt like the lowest form of work you can take on without having to empty the trash cans.”

The White House did not comment on the president’s paper-ripping habit. According to Young and Lartey, staffers in the records department were still designated to the task of taping together the scraps as recently as this spring.

Lartey and Young described a system that stands in stark contrast to how records management was conducted under the Obama administration, which ran a structured paperwork process.

“All of the official paper that went into [the Oval Office], came back out again, to the best of my knowledge,” said Lisa Brown, who served as President Barack Obama’s first staff secretary. “I never remember the president throwing any official paper away.”

Brown described a regimented process for dealing with presidential records. She said all paper that was going to the president “would go in a folder with labels — one color for decision memos, for example, and another one for letters. Documents would go out to the president and then come back to the staff secretary’s office in the same folder for distribution and handling. It was a really structured process.”

Brown said Obama had an eye on preserving documents for history — even ones he was not technically required to send to the National Archives. “I remember the day he sent down to me his race speech from the campaign, handwritten,” she said. “All of the campaign material didn’t need to come into the White House or go to Archives.”

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