Chewing, flushing, tearing to shreds: Trump’s strange relationship with official papers over the years

·6 min read

On Tuesday night, officials released images of top secret records Donald Trump allegedly took from the White House and improperly stored in a basement in his Mar-a-Lago residence.

The photos show stacks of papers, with blaring neon labels marking the documents as highly sensitive.

“The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” reads a Tuesday filing from the Justice Department.

Previous filings from investigators describe recovering numerous boxes of top secret material from Mar-a-Lago, filled with “newspapers, magazines, printed news articles, photos, miscellaneous print-outs, notes, presidential correspondence, personal and post-presidential records and ‘a lot of classified records.’”

“Of most significant concern,” officials said, “was that highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly identified.”

Mr Trump has called the FBI search for documents a “witch hunt,” and said he has fully cooperated with official record-keeping practices. He has also sued the federal government, asking for a federal court to appoint a third party to review the seized documents taken from Mar-a-Lago, accusing the DOJ trying “to thwart President Trump from running again".

The Mar-a-Lago raid wasn’t the first time the president was tangled up in a strange story with documents. Here are some of the bizarre things Donald Trump has allegedly done with his official papers.

Eating documents

Perhaps most shockingly, former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, now a vocal critic who was recently locked in a lengthy legal battle with her old boss, claimed that she had witnessed Mr Trump chew up official documents.

“It was very bizarre because he is a germophobe, he never puts paper in his mouth,” she told MSNBC in February.

“There may be documents that can tell the full story about what happened on the days leading up to January 6th, for instance, that we may never see or may never come to light,” she added.

The Independent has contacted Mr Trump for comment on the allegations in this story

Burn bags

The alleged document destruction didn’t end there.

Mr Trump had a habit of tearing up documents once he was done with them, with staff preserving some records, while others were stuffed into “burn bags” and disposed of, The Washington Post reports.

Experts say this was likely illegal, violating the Presidential Records Act.

“It is absolutely a violation of the act,” Courtney Chartier, president of the Society of American Archivists, told the paper. “There is no ignorance of these laws. There are White House manuals about the maintenance of these records.”

His staff reportedly followed suit, with a former White House aide testifying that former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows burned papers in his office after a meeting with a GOP lawmaker amid efforts to challenge the 2020 election results.

The Independent has contacted Mr Meadows for comment.

A different kind of toilet paper

Official papers would also find their way to the toilet, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman claims in her forthcoming book about Mr Trump.

Alleged photos of the phenomenon, from both the White House and an overseas trip, show documents with Mr Trump’s distinct handwriting, sitting in a toilet bowl.

"That Mr. Trump was discarding documents this way was not widely known within the West Wing, but some aides were aware of the habit, which he engaged in repeatedly," Haberman told Axios. "It was an extension of Trump’s term-long habit of ripping up documents that were supposed to be preserved under the Presidential Records Act."

The former president has denied this, calling it “categorically untrue and simply made up by a reporter in order to get publicity for a mostly fictitious book."

Send in the tape brigade

The president’s destruction of documents was so extensive that staffers would be sent to tape up records deemed particularly important.

As the January 6 committee investigated Mr Trump’s potential influence on the events of the 2021 riot at the US Capitol, they reportedly received White House materials from the National Archives that appeared to have been torn and put together, the Washington Post reported.

A voluble man of few words

Before documents hit the Trump shredder, they were reportedly light on words.

Mr Trump, a cable news fan, reportedly preferred getting info from oral briefings, Fox News, or phone calls with friends, rarely reading the print version of the presidential daily briefing.

He was reportedly so hostile to written material that intelligence agencies hired outside consultants to advise them on how to present information in a way he would pay attention to.

White House officials have disputed this characterisation of the former president.

“The president is laser-focused on the issues at hand and asks probing questions throughout the briefings — it reminds me of appearing before a well-prepared appellate judge and defending the case,” Robert C O’Brien, the then-national security adviser, said in 2020.

(Allegedly) changing the weather

The president’s penchant for marking up documents with Sharpie markers occasionally turned into a full-blown mini-scandal.

In 2019, Mr Trump drew criticism for contradicting public government forecasts by claiming that Hurricane Dorian was headed towards Alabama.

The former president later displayed a weather chart to reporters, with what appeared to be a large line in black marker added to show the storm headed towards the state.

Trump apparently looped in Alabama on a weather map to support mistaken claims he had made in a tweet (Getty)
Trump apparently looped in Alabama on a weather map to support mistaken claims he had made in a tweet (Getty)

“It was going to hit not only Florida, but Georgia, it could have, it was going towards the Gulf, that was what we, what was originally projected,” Mr Trump told the media, while a black Sharpie pen lies close by on his Oval Office desk.

That apparently doctored map ended up resurfacing again in 2022, when Mr Trump turned over 15 boxes of White House records he had taken to the National Archives for review.

Stacks of empty paper

Mr Trump may not have liked preserving all his documents, or reading them in the first place, but he did occasionally use them as props.

In 2017, he raised eyebrows by wheeling out a massive stack of what appeared to be empty papers in non-labelled folders, as supposed proof of how we was preparing to avoid conflicts of interest and leave his businesses in the care of his children during his time as president.

Reporters were not allowed to see what was in the folders.

Not a computer fan either

The president ended up with all this paper in part because he’s an admitted sceptic of using computers for much.

Despite posting on social media prolifically, Mr Trump reportedly rarely used emails or text messages, preferring phone calls, or having assistants print out messages so he could read them on paper and mark them up with a Sharpie.

“I don’t do the email thing,” Mr Trump said in 2007.