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Ex-president’s relish in ripping up papers he didn’t like led to FBI breaking into his safe


Former president Donald Trump was notorious for his attitude to documents. Photo: Marco Bello/Reuters

Former president Donald Trump was notorious for his attitude to documents. Photo: Marco Bello/Reuters

Former president Donald Trump was notorious for his attitude to documents. Photo: Marco Bello/Reuters

IT WAS a chaotic scene at the White House on January 20, 2021, Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day, as Donald Trump left with his wife Melania at 8.18am and headed for his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

Over the preceding days, with Mr Trump still claiming he was the rightful president, his staff had been nervous about bringing up the subject of packing his belongings.

According to his son Eric, the staff had just “six hours” to box everything up before the Bidens moved in.

“My father saves clippings and things like that,” the younger Mr Trump said. “So, he had boxes, right, when he moved out of the White House.” During his time in office Mr Trump had become notorious for his lax attitude toward presidential documents.

Although he kept many items that took his fancy, he also had a penchant for ripping up ones he didn’t like, throwing them in the bin, or dropping them on the floor in the Oval Office or on board Air Force One. Sometimes, he would theatrically tear a document that displeased him into four quarters.

Under the Presidential Records Act written communications involving the president are supposed to be preserved.

Staff would pick up the fragments of paper and pass them to the White House Office of Records Management, where they were reassembled and taped together.

Recently, photographs were published of some documents that had been thrown in toilets, blocking them, although Mr Trump’s spokesman denied the former president was the flusher.

Several months after Mr Trump left office, the National Archives and Records Administration was trying to catalogue the last four years of the presidency, and found items were missing. Months of back and forth followed with Mr Trump’s team, and on January 17 a highly unusual pick-up of documents took place.

A contract company dispatched by the National Archives arrived at Mar-a-Lago and loaded up 15 boxes, some marked “top secret”, then drove them 1,000 miles to Washington.

Mr Trump called it a “very friendly” process that was done in “good faith”.

The returned items included letters to Mr Trump from Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, his predecessor, Barack Obama, and a map on which Mr Trump famously tried to change the course of a hurricane with a pen.

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His officials said the items were mementoes, and he had not been hiding anything.

Items from the White House included a model of a design for his proposed border wall, which sat on his office desk at Mar-a-Lago.

A photograph of Mount Rushmore, previously hung in the West Wing, was on his post-presidency office wall. A model of his redesign for Air Force One turned up in the Mar-a-Lago lobby. The inventory for the 15 boxes ran to 100 pages, and included paraphernalia, including cocktail napkins and menus. However, about three pages of that was reportedly classified material.

The National Archives alerted the Justice Department to the situation and, in April, the FBI interviewed several of Mr Trump’s assistants about how records had been handled.

In June, four Justice Department officials went to Mar-a-Lago and met two of Mr Trump’s lawyers.

Mr Trump greeted the investigators, and then his lawyers showed them boxes of documents kept in the basement. A few days later, the Justice Department wrote to Mr Trump’s lawyers asking them to increase security around the papers, and the room was padlocked.

Christina Bobb, a lawyer for Mr Trump, said: “President Trump and his legal team have been cooperative with FBI and DOJ officials every step of the way.”

That left unanswered the question of why, early on Monday morning, FBI agents turned up unannounced and entered the property.

Experts, including former FBI officials, said it would have been a long process to decide to carry out a raid. It would have required approval at the highest levels of the justice department.

However, there is still a secret service presence there, and the FBI agents communicated with them and were let in to execute their warrant.

They proceeded to search an office and personal quarters, even opening a safe. Eric Trump was the first member of the family to be alerted to the raid, and called his father in New York to break the news.

The younger Mr Trump said: “The purpose of the raid, from what they said, was because the National Archives wanted to, you know, corroborate whether or not Donald Trump had any documents (left) in his possession. My father has worked collaboratively with them for months.”

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

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