'He never stopped ripping things up'
The National Archives confirmed on Monday that representatives for former President Donald Trump had turned over 15 boxes of documents, letters, gifts and mementos he had brought to Mar-a-Lago after leaving office but was legally required to hand over to government archivists. Trump's representatives confirmed they "are continuing to search for additional presidential records that belong to the National Archives," the Archives said in a statement.
The boxes contain letters to Trump from former President Barack Obama and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Hurricane Dorian map Trump infamously augmented with black Sharpie, piles of news clips, and at least one item of clothing, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported Monday, citing people familiar with the contents.
Some former Trump officials insisted there was no nefarious intent behind taking the 15 boxes to Florida, describing the transfer as part of a frenzied exit after "Trump had spent the bulk of the presidential transition trying to find ways to stay in power," the Times reports. Regardless, the law is pretty clear.
Could Trump faces legal consequences? Former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman told MSNBC he would want to see what was in those 15 boxes before discussing criminal charges, though he added Trump's habitual destruction of White House documents appears to be a pretty open-and-shut case.
Trump's repeated ripping up of documents "is against the law, but the problem is that the Presidential Records Act, as written, does not have any real enforcement mechanism," James Grossman at the American Historical Association tells the Post. One Archives official described the Presidential Records Act as functionally a "gentlemen's agreement."
"You can't prosecute for just tearing up papers," Charles Tiefer, former House counsel, tells the Post. "You would have to show [Trump] being highly selective and have evidence that he wanted to behave unlawfully."
Trump routinely ripped up papers throughout his presidency, despite repeated warnings from lawyers and two chiefs of staff that he was violating the Presidential Records Act, the Post reports, citing 11 former Trump aides and associates. "He didn't want a record of anything," one former senior Trump official said. "He never stopped ripping things up. Do you really think Trump is going to care about the records act? Come on."
"At first, we were a White House that didn't know about preserving things and then, in the end, didn't care," former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told CNN.