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Utopia Talk / Politics / Dream job for the White House
| Mon Jun 11 09:43:12|
Meet the guys who tape Trump's papers back together
The president's unofficial 'filing system' involves tearing up documents into pieces, even when they're supposed to be preserved.
By ANNIE KARNI
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.
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 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.
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.”
Trump, in contrast, does not have those preservationist instincts. One person familiar with how Trump operates in the Oval Office said he would rip up “anything that happened to be on his desk that he was done with.” Some aides advised him to stop, but the habit proved difficult to break.
Despite the president’s apparent disregard of the Presidential Records Act, sources said, aides around him have tried to take an overly inclusive approach to what would be considered a presidential record.
Anything that’s not purely personal — even just a note handed to an aide at a rally that was passed on to Trump — has been considered a record deemed worthy of being sent to records, where staffers could make sure the White House was being compliant with the law.
That team is now smaller, after many of the career officials were cleared out earlier this year.
Lartey, 54, and Young, 48, were career government officials who worked together in records management until this spring, when both were abruptly terminated from their jobs. Both are now unemployed and still full of questions about why they were stripped of their badges with no explanation and marched off of the White House grounds by Secret Service.
Irene Porada, the head of human resources who personally terminated both men, did not respond to an email requesting comment. A White House spokesman also did not respond to a request for comment about the terminations.
Young agreed to speak to POLITICO after this reporter contacted him to inquire about his termination. He then put this reporter in touch with Lartey, whose story of his dismissal — and the work he was asked to do during his final year of work under the Trump administration — corroborated Young’s account.
Both men originally agreed to speak to POLITICO for a story about why they believe they were unfairly terminated from jobs they expected to hold onto until they retired. Both said they were forced to sign resignation letters without being given any explanation for why they were being dismissed.
In the course of explaining what their work at the White House entailed, however, both described in detail the process of taping back together scraps of paper that the president had ripped up and thrown out. Both said they were happy to discuss the oddity of a job they began to view as a sort of punishment.
They did not, however, approach a reporter with the intent to leak embarrassing information about the president.
Lartey said he was fired at the end of the work day on March 23, with no warning. His top-secret security clearance was revoked, he said. Later, five boxes of his personal belongings were mailed to his home.
“I was stunned,” he said. “I asked them, ‘Why can’t you all tell me something?’ I had gotten comfortable. I was going to retire. I would never have thought I would have gotten fired.” He signed a pre-written resignation letter that stated he was leaving to pursue other opportunities. But he is still unemployed.
Young, who was terminated April 19, said he fought back and had his official status changed from “resigned” to “terminated.”
“I was coerced to sign a resignation letter at that time,” he said. “Then they escorted me to the garage and took my parking placard.”
He described the firing as traumatic and frustratingly Kafkaesque. “The only excuse that I’ve ever gotten from them,” he said, “was that you serve at the pleasure of the president.”
| Mon Jun 11 09:44:39|
Yep, apparently Trump violates the records act all the time. I'm sure the law and order crowd will find it endearing.
| Mon Jun 11 09:49:57|
Given that in the end, this was the main law that Hilary was alleged to have broken by using a personal server... can we get another "But the emails!"
[The fact there were emails classified as secret that should not have been sent to that address is a failing on the part of the sender]
| Mon Jun 11 09:55:25|
Attempts to commit a crime are still illegal...
Did someone say criminal? Well if not... Trump is a criminal.
| Mon Jun 11 11:11:37|
”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. ”
Sounds like time well spent.
| Mon Jun 11 15:32:17|
I think most future people working in the white house will be taping up things Trump has ripped up.
| Mon Jun 11 19:49:18|
Would love to see the whole gang of plutocrats, on both sides of the aisle, on the gallows.
In the middle of directing the difficult task of transferring the historically important records of the Obama administration into the National Archives, the archivist in charge, David Ferriero, ran into a serious problem: A lot of key records are missing.
A first-rate librarian, Ferriero has been driving a much-needed digital overhaul and expansion of the National Archives over the nine years of his appointment. This will greatly improve the ability of digital search locally and remotely, as well as accessing the files themselves.
To support this effort, in 2014 President Obama signed the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments. For the first time electronic government records were placed under the 1950 Federal Records Act. The new law also included updates clarifying "the responsibilities of federal government officials when using non-government email systems" and empowering "the National Archives to safeguard original and classified records from unauthorized removal.” Additionally, it gives the Archivist of the United States the final authority in determining just what is a government record.
And yet the accumulation of recent congressional testimony has made it clear that the Obama administration itself engaged in the wholesale destruction and “loss” of tens of thousands of government records covered under the act as well as the intentional evasion of the government records recording system by engaging in private email exchanges. So far, former President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Lynch and several EPA officials have been named as offenders. The IRS suffered record “losses” as well. Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy called it “an unauthorized private communications system for official business for the patent purpose of defeating federal record-keeping and disclosure laws.”
Clearly, America’s National Archives is facing the first major challenge to its historic role in preserving the records of the United States. What good is the National Archives administering a presidential library, like the planned Obama library in Chicago, if it is missing critical records of interest to scholars? And what’s to prevent evasion of the entire federal records system by subsequent administrations to suit current politics rather than serve scholars for centuries to come?
The National Archives in Washington has evolved from a few dusty shelves in 1934 to an independent agency with over 40 facilities nationwide. These include field archives, military records, Federal Records Centers, 13 presidential libraries, the Federal Register, and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
Its electronic records system alone, which only began in 2008, has already compiled close to 1 billion unique files from over 100 federal agencies totaling well over 400 terrabytes. The archive describes itself as “the U.S. Government's collection of documents that records important events in American history. … the Government agency that preserves and maintains these materials and makes them available for research.”
Federal records have solved historical mysteries and provided key information ever since the archive’s founding. Adm. Hyman Rickover’s investigations there proved his suspicion that the U.S. battleship Maine had not been sunk by a Spanish mine, but rather an explosion caused by careless proximity of gunpowder storage to coal bunkers.
And in my own research, I found a detailed report of the debriefing of Nazi Deputy Reichsfuhrer Rudolf Hess by MI6 the day after he parachuted into Scotland -- a report that was not in the British Archives. It established that in May 1941, over seven months before the Wannsee Conference formalized the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” Hess had told the British: “We are exterminating the Jews.” It established as lies the Allies’ claims they only learned about the Holocaust later.
The archive sensibly only collects a fraction of the federal records for its permanent archive. That number varies between 2 percent and 5 percent of the total. That can be a good thing, according to historian Arthur Herman. “In studying a bureaucracy, too much evidence may be a greater danger than too little,” he said. “The amount of material often seems to be inversely proportionate to the value of its evidence.”
And Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph J. Ellis points out that it is not always the record itself that is key: “Sometimes it is the marginalia. There were 28,000 notations in the John Adams collection that were critical to my interpretation of the relationship between John and Abigail Adams.”
And marginalia may be the key to solving the puzzle of just what the late Sandy Berger, acting as former President Bill Clinton’s representative, was destroying during his 2005 trips into the National Archives, where he stuffed papers into his clothing. Berger only got away with this twice before archive personnel kept tabs on him, but the first trips involved as yet uncatalogued material so no one really knows what he took. But there seemed to be copies in the archive of everything they caught him with. And archival libraries dependent upon physical papers are vulnerable.
Every archive in the world suffers attacks, resulting in the theft of its records, the amending or destroying of them, and the archive has had five it knows of since Berger. Digital storage and authentication will be a great help in securing all holdings.
Berger was supposedly reviewing records for a Clinton response to the 9/11 Commission’s considerations of mistakes made leading up to the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Dean Emeritus of Boston University Law School Ronald Cass wonders if there was telling marginalia by Clinton or others on some of these documents that were not on the file copies. The Clintons seemed to have a longstanding problem with records, since the disappearance in 1994 and reappearance in 1996 of the subpoenaed Rose Law Firm files in the Clintons’ private White House quarters.
Now the National Archives is faced with Hillary Clinton’s history-making assault on government records while secretary of state, which Cass describes as fitting a pattern of “destroy, deny and corrupt the process.” (This is no doubt why Harvard just awarded her the Radcliffe Medal citing her “transformative impact on society.”)
How does David Ferriero plan to deal with this unique challenge to his institution? First, it’s not just his problem, although he must address the realities of gaps in the record and how it will affect plans for the new Obama presidential library. But will there be penalties for violating the 2014 law? Is it even possible to continue the great tradition of maintaining an authentic record center for the United States that President Franklin Roosevelt founded 83 years ago, if that law is not supported?
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