We already knew he was a vandal. Now he’s given us even more proof of the full dimension of his destructive behavior.

After spending years vandalizing the legacy of President Barack Obama, first through birtherism (the movement that aimed to show President Obama was not a U.S. citizen) and continuing with the destruction of the Affordable Care Act, the Paris Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, Donald Trump has provided even more evidence of his banefulness. He’s tearing up documents which by law are to be protected and preserved.

If tearing up healthcare and international agreements weren’t enough, Trump has actually physically torn up documents in the White House that were supposed to be kept for posterity in a future library or government archive.

No, you can’t make this up.

Among several news outlets, Politico reported about the aberrant behavior of President Trump in disposing of documents that would be considered historical records:

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 if it deals with law, precedent and protocol, Trump is a law unto himself. Ask Solomon Lartey, a records management analyst and career federal government employee who was recently terminated after 30 years. Cleaning up after Donald Trump would prove to be his downfall. Politico adds detail to how Lartey spent his last year in federal service:

“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.’

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 Lartey 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.”

This article about the destruction of records that would otherwise be archived and housed later in a warehouse for possible transport to a presidential library caught my attention. And for good reason.

The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. Photo by Denis Smith

For the last year, my goal was to return to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri to do some research about the work performed by my friend and former congressman, Ken Hechler. As an Army combat historian during World War II, Hechler chronicled the last days of the war, served as an interrogator of top Nazis at Nuremberg, and was a member of President Truman’s White House staff.

After leaving the White House, Dr. Hechler taught history at my alma mater, Marshall University, served nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, and then went on to serve four terms as West Virginia Secretary of State, finally leaving public service in 2001. He died in December 2016 at the age of 102. I met Ken when I was a graduate student and knew him for nearly a half-century.

It was with great reverence that I entered the Truman Library a few weeks ago to examine some of Ken Hechler’s papers and also learn more about a great man who was president when I was born. I had contacted the library administration earlier to request permission to examine the Hechler Papers, which are housed in the research area of the library. Upon arrival, I observed the reverence that library staff and the historians who work there have for presidential papers and historical documents.

After signing in and presenting photo identification, I was asked to read several pages of information about the proper care of the materials that I wanted to examine. Next, a staff member advised me that I would have to store the portfolio I brought with me, along with all of my pens and writing pads. Once I deposited all of these materials and my camera in a locker, I was given a key to the storage unit. My wife was instructed to also store her purse and sweater in the locker. Now, cleared to enter the research area, I was given two pencils and a few pieces of writing paper to take notes from the documents I would examine.

Another researcher greeted me and escorted both of us to a table, where a cart held the boxes of material I had requested to examine. The researcher asked if I had known Dr. Hechler and related that as a historian, he knew that Hechler was a big supporter of the presidential library. When he said that Hechler was the last living member of President Truman’s White House staff, it only confirmed how important this man was to our nation and the history he had helped to preserve through his personal papers, which I was now privileged to examine.

The Honorable Ken Hechler at his 100th Birthday Party – with Denis Smith.

With all of these procedures from a few weeks ago still fresh in my mind, I read to my shock and horror the stories of Trump tearing up material and discarding it in wastepaper baskets.

Such treatment of material that would be violative of the Presidential Records Act is yet another example of this president deliberately soiling anything he touches. Nothing is sacred to him, a 21st-century vandal hell bent on destroying anything in his path and despoiling the remainder of the rubble.

If Trump the Vandal is not stopped, there will not be much need for him to have a stately library like that of President Harry Truman in Independence, Missouri. And if the Trump library is ever built, it won’t need to be spacious because wanton document destruction, rather than preservation, reduces the square footage necessary to house original documents.

Forget about Russiagate and obstruction of justice indictments for now. Should there be an indictment of Trump for violation of the Presidential Records Act? As one who was very carefully observed and relieved of anything that could harm historic documents while doing my research in the Truman Library, I would certainly hope so.

In the meantime, I wonder if Jared and Ivanka are quietly buying stock in the 3M Company, the manufacturer of Scotch tape?

Knowing them, count on it.

[NOTE: An article about what was found in the Truman Library on the research trip will appear soon.]

 

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