Day 6

'They gave us Scotch Tape': Former White House archivist had to reassemble documents ripped up by Trump

Solomon Lartey was fired after 20 years of archiving presidential records. Among his final tasks was repairing documents torn up by Donald Trump.

'It became a challenge, like when you’re doing a puzzle'

Solomon Lartey is a former White House staffer who was responsible for archiving presidential documents. In the last year, he spent hours taping up documents that had been torn to pieces. (Submitted by Solomon Lartey)

Story originally published on June 16, 2018.

For the last year of his work at the White House, Solomon Lartey spent hours taping together documents that had been torn to pieces. They came, he said, from the office of U.S. President Donald Trump. 

"We had to make it neat, so it could be flat, so it could be scanned," he said. "We were told not to tell anybody that we were doing this." 

Lartey was a records management analyst with the National Archives in Washington, D.C. for 20 years, part of a team that collected and archived anything that passed through the West Wing.

Everything the president touches, from memos to emails — and even handwritten sticky notes — has to be documented under the Presidential Records Act as historical records.

But when Donald Trump took office, a new kind of document began coming into his office: scraps of paper that needed to be laboriously reassembled.

The president's 'unofficial filing' system

Tearing up papers has been President Trump's "unofficial filing" system since coming into office, reports Politico, adding that it's a clear contrast to previous administrations that had strict protocols for filing.

At first, Lartey assumed that the ripped documents were from Trump's presidential campaign — things he "didn't want." However, it soon became clear that the president was destroying documents while in office.

"So, they gave us all clear scotch tape," he said.

Among the documents onerously reassembled by Lartey was a letter from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Tape in hand, Lartey reassembled documents that often included handwritten notes by the president. Many of the documents, he said, were news articles.

"Most of the things he saw were negative articles," Lartey said. "Some of the positive articles, he would write on them ... saying 'great news.'" Then the president would tear them up.

But it wasn't only news stories.

"One letter was from Chuck Schumer and it was torn up in bits and pieces. So, I had to spread it out on my desk and gather it all up. It became a challenge," he said.

'Why are we doing this?'

Lartey estimates that 20 people were responsible for taping together the documents whenever they had "downtime." They were required to do it by their managers, he said.

Both he and his colleagues were confused by the request.

"The first thing that went through my mind was … 'why are we doing this?'" he said.

His colleague, Reginald Young Jr., was even more blunt when speaking with Politico.

"We're making more than $60,000 a year, we need to be doing far more important things than this," Young said.

Lartey initially thought that only campaign materials were being ripped up, but says that documents continued to be torn long after the president assumed office. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Lartey, who had served administrations beginning with Bill Clinton, said he was fired from his job in March.  ​

"They never gave me a reason. She [an HR employee] said she couldn't give me a reason," he said. "They said we work at the pleasure of the president."

Lartey said he believes that the president understands that the ripped documents will need to be archived. 

However, as of March 23, when Lartey left the White House for the final time, the documents continued to be torn into pieces.

"I don't think [President Trump] cared," he said.

To hear the full segment with Solomon Lartey, download our podcast or click Listen above.