Humpy Dumpty Duty: Trump Regularly Rips Up Documents, Requiring Staff To Tape Them Back Together To Comply With Federal Law

Denslow's_Humpty_Dumpty_1904440px-Official_Portrait_of_President_Donald_TrumpThere is an interesting new story about a bizarre practice by President Donald Trump who reportedly rips up material given to him despite the duty to preserve the documents under the Presidential Records Act.  Two staffers have recounted how they were required to spend considerable time taping the documents back together to stay in compliance with the PRA.  They reportedly complained about the duty for people making $60,000 a year.  They were suddenly fired.  This Humpy Dumpty duty raises some serious questions of federal violations.

Many years ago, I wrote an academic piece on Presidential Records Act, which called for expanded claims over presidential documents.  See Jonathan Turley, Presidential Records and Popular Government: The Convergence of Constitutional and Property Theory in Claims of Control and Ownership of Presidential Records 88 Cornell Law Review 651-732 (2003). The premise of the piece challenged the view of presidents that they own such documents.  Obviously, ripping up the documents is the ultimate claim of personal ownership.  Staffers called it Trump’s “storage system.”

Many of these documents are treated as historical records under the PRA.  They are to be handed over to the National Archives for preservation. If this account is true, there are serious questions of the violation of the federal law — just as deleting emails or other records would constitute such a violation.

Solomon Lartey, 54, worked for 30 years for the government and described the difficult task of putting these documents back together.  Reginald Young Jr, a senior records management analyst, also confirmed the bizarre duty. He was also suddenly fired.

288 thoughts on “Humpy Dumpty Duty: Trump Regularly Rips Up Documents, Requiring Staff To Tape Them Back Together To Comply With Federal Law”

  1. @Insufferable June 13, 2018 at 8:05 PM
    “I’ve already indicated above what his thesis is. Sorry it went over your head.”

    I note that you’ve evaded my request for access to your public or private scholarly writing that makes your case against Bacevich and his odious “thesis.” Am I to conclude that they don’t exist, and that your staccato pontificating here in JT’s comment section is all we’re going to see?

    Well, I’m sorry that you lack the intellectual cojones to even state clearly and explicitly what this “thesis” is, let alone attempt to refute it. Please tell me you aren’t basing your case against Bacevich on your single, feeble-minded little accusation that his sole thesis as a veteran and a military and diplomatic historian is “contending the military can accomplish nothing of value.”

    Even as the consummate philodoxer, you can do better than that, I think.

    1. I note that you’ve evaded my request for access to your public or private scholarly writing that makes your case against Bacevich and his odious “thesis.”

      I’m not a political science professor. I don’t think Bacevich is an influential thinker in international relations, so you’re not going to find many faculty who bother to reply to him. If you want a bibliography, go to a library where you have borrowing privileges and which has a subscription to International Bibliography of the Social Sciences.

      Bacevich does not produce technical literature. Everything he writes is accessible to the general reader. Since the military put him out on the curb, he’s produced about a half-dozen pieces a year on average in addition to his monographs. The bulk of them were produced for general audience publications like The Wilson Quarterly or Commonweal. In professional and scholarly settings, he’s produced an ant heap of book reviews over the years, as well as letters, commentaries, and solicited replies. Beyond that are reflections and essays, for which he’s preferred fora which publish the professoriate but which are not peer-reviewed (Foreign Affairs, Current History, and The National Interest). Most of these sorts of works were published prior to 2001. I’m not sure he’s produced any gold-standard work for scholarly publications since he was mustered out of the military. (There were several pieces in Parameters between 1979 and 1991. Maybe an article or two. Although he holds the title ‘professor of history’, I’m not locating any work which incorporates archival research. A number of his monographs are riffs on what are nonsense concepts in an American setting (“militarism”, “Empire”).

      1. @Insufferable Philodoxer June 14, 2018 at 7:48 AM
        “I note that you’ve evaded my request for access to your public or private scholarly writing that makes your case against Bacevich and his odious ‘thesis.’

        “I’m not a political science professor. I don’t think Bacevich is an influential thinker in international relations, so you’re not going to find many faculty who bother to reply to him. If you want a bibliography, go to a library where you have borrowing privileges and which has a subscription to International Bibliography of the Social Sciences.”

        I didn’t ask you for directions to my local library, Philo, I asked you for your written critiques, published or otherwise, of your made-up thesis that you attribute to Bacevich, namely that the US military is capable of nothing of value. I again note that you have nothing to say about his seven books, but can offer only the most vague and effete criticism of his other published work.

        I can understand your authoritarian dismay at seeing someone with Bacevich’s military and academic credentials and experience criticize US militarism and imperialism, but your feeble-minded attempts to date to discredit him and what he has to say out of his concern for the US military and the country as a whole are revealingly wanting.

        Regarding your previous sly attempt to smear him because of his having been the CO when the Camp Doha ammunition dump blew up, here’s an eyewitness account of what happened and of Bacevich’s role in it. (Being passed over for promotion to Brigadier General may have been the best thing that ever happened to Bacevich, as retiring from the US military allowed him the freedom to think more objectively about the ways it was being used by the civilian warmongers in Washington, DC):

        “A. James Bacevich was my Colonel while I was in the 11th ACR stationed in Fulda, Germany. Not sure if you know much about his background, but he was, I believe, passed over for general and retired. His being passed over was at the time attributed to his having been the CO of the unit during the largest accident ever, which happened on July 11th, 1991, at Camp Doha in Kuwait, when our motor pool blew up, injuring a few people and rendering the base inoperable. I was there, and it was a terrifying mess. You can read about it here.

        “Long story short, some folks in the motor pool were doing some maintenance, and put the halon fire extinguishers in an ammo carriers for m109’s (artillery vehicles) on mechanical safe, a heater caught on fire, ammo cooked off, and it caused a chain reaction.

        “My squadron was the one on rotation to be guarding (the other two were in the field doing maneuvers and border stuff), and I was asleep in one of the big airplane hangers when a 100 pound 50 caliber machine gun came flying through the roof and landed about 10 feet from my bunk, part of one of the vehicles blown up in the initial series of explosions

        “If rumors are true, because of that accident, a few weeks later, Schwarzkopf himself came to the base and and visited Bacevich, and a few months later, he was replaced. Col. Bacevich allegedly took full responsibility for the mess, even though it was not his fault (it was the idiot mechanics who had the halon on mechanical safe), but he believed in accountability.

        “As such, he is the only man to ever be CO of the 11th ACR to be passed over for Brigadier General. Before that, command of the Blackhorse was a sure stepping stone for General. Another soldier who was also there discusses it here.

        “At any rate, when you talk about Bacevich, not only has he lost his son to this stupid war we both supported, but he is just a decent, honest, honorable, good man. At a time when no one ever takes responsibility, he is a man who believes in it, and walked the walk.”

      2. @Insufferable Philodoxer June 14, 2018 at 7:48 AM
        “A number of his [Bacevich’s] monographs are riffs on what are nonsense concepts in an American setting (‘militarism’, ‘Empire’).”

        What terms do you prefer, Philo, “hardware persuasion and benevolent expansion”?

        The essay linked to below, “The Fatal Expense of American Imperialism,” by economist Jeffrey Sachs, amply rewards a complete reading both because of its empirical data and its major conclusion regarding the significance of those data for the survival of the United States:

        “It may seem tendentious to call America an empire, but the term fits certain realities of US power and how it’s used. An empire is a group of territories under a single power. Nineteenth-century Britain was obviously an empire when it ruled India, Egypt, and dozens of other colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

        “The United States directly rules only a handful of conquered islands (Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands), but it stations troops and has used force to influence who governs in dozens of other sovereign countries. That grip on power beyond America’s own shores is now weakening.

        “The scale of US military operations is remarkable. The US Department of Defense has (as of a 2010 inventory) 4,999 military facilities, of which 4,249 are in the United States; 88 are in overseas US territories; and 662 are in 36 foreign countries and foreign territories, in all regions of the world. Not counted in this list are the secret facilities of the US intelligence agencies. The cost of running these military operations and the wars they support is extraordinary, around $900 billion per year, or 5 percent of US national income, when one adds the budgets of the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies, homeland security, nuclear weapons programs in the Department of Energy, and veterans benefits. The $900 billion in annual spending is roughly one-quarter of all federal government outlays.” [Emphasis mine]

        “The end of the Cold War, in 1991, should have been the occasion for a fundamental reorientation of US guns-versus-butter policies. The occasion offered the United States and the world a “peace dividend,” the opportunity to reorient the world and US economy from war footing to sustainable development. Indeed, the Rio Earth Summit, in 1992, established sustainable development as the centerpiece of global cooperation, or so it seemed.

        “The far smarter approach will be to maintain America’s defensive capabilities but end its imperial pretensions.

        “Alas, the blinders and arrogance of American imperial thinking prevented the United States from settling down to a new era of peace. As the Cold War was ending, the United States was beginning a new era of wars, this time in the Middle East. The United States would sweep away the Soviet-backed regimes in the Middle East and establish unrivalled US political dominance. Or at least that was the plan.
        . . .
        “THE QUARTER CENTURY since 1991 has therefore been marked by a perpetual US war in the Middle East, one that has destabilized the region, massively diverted resources away from civilian needs toward the military, and helped to create mass budget deficits and the buildup of public debt.

        “The imperial thinking has led to wars of regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria, across four presidencies: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. The same thinking has induced the United States to expand NATO to Russia’s borders, despite the fact that NATO’s supposed purpose was to defend against an adversary — the Soviet Union — that no longer exists. Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev has emphasized that eastward NATO expansion ‘was certainly a violation of the spirit of those declarations and assurances that we were given in 1990,’ regarding the future of East-West security.

        “The United States is incurring massive public debt and cutting back on urgent public investments at home in order to sustain a dysfunctional, militarized, and costly foreign policy.

        “Thus comes a fundamental choice. The United States can vainly continue the neoconservative project of unipolar dominance, even as the recent failures in the Middle East and America’s declining economic preeminence guarantee the ultimate failure of this imperial vision. If, as some neoconservatives support, the United States now engages in an arms race with China, we are bound to come up short in a decade or two, if not sooner.” [Emphasis added]

        “In the end, the Soviet Union bankrupted itself through costly foreign adventures such as the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan and its vast over-investment in the military. Today the United States has similarly over-invested in the military, and could follow a similar path to decline if it continues the wars in the Middle East and invites an arms race with China.

        “It’s time to abandon the reveries, burdens, and self-deceptions of empire and to invest in sustainable development at home and in partnership with the rest of the world.” [Emphasis added]

        1. These are nonsense concepts, Ken. It doesn’t matter what sort of semantic and rhetorical games you and Bacevich elect to play, they are nonsense concepts.

          The United States is a society of migrants. So is Canada, so is Australia, so is New Zealand, so is Barbados. It isn’t a society which assembled a mess of distinct and commonly incompatible settled populations (see the Hapsburg dominions, Tsarist Russia, Soviet Russia). It isn’t an assemblage of formerly sovereign territories like Wilhelmine Germany. It doesn’t maintain an extensive portfolio of overseas dependencies. In 1922, the country with the largest share of the worlds people and productive capacity maintained as overseas dependencies was Britain, followed by France. Then you fall off a cliff and find the Netherlands and Japan on the next level surface. Following that you find the United States, Germany, and Belgium. In relative terms (the dimensions of overseas dependencies to the dimension of the metropole), the U.S. was at the bottom. Over 85% of the population in our set of dependencies was accounted for by the Philippines, had it’s own legislative bodies from 1907 onward, and was relinquished in 1946.

          Of course, Bacevich and other specialists in international relations will have a response to that. International relations theorists invented a number of terms or art for half-baked conceptions like ‘informal empire’. Countries have different quanta of influence that can be brought to bear in conflict. That’s inherent in any international system and inherent in the dimensions of a country and its economy. Calling this ’empire’ does nothing but establish the author as a political sectary or member of a professional guild. The share of American military manpower deployed overseas has varied between 13% and 30% since 1947. Outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, the largest contingents of American military manpower in recent years have been in Japan (39,000, of which around 30% are on Okinawa), Germany (34,000), South Korea (24,000), Afghanistan (13,000), and Italy (12,000). These places account for the majority of American troops abroad. There are about 10 other countries which have a 4-digit garrison. Total troop presence in the Near East, North Africa, and Central Asia might be about 45,000 after recent additions.

          As for ‘militarism’, that’s a crock. We have one experience in our history of peacetime conscription. It ran from 1948 to 1973. You have 220 million people living in this country who have reached there majority but aren’t yet eligible for full Social Security. Those among this working-aged set who have at some point in their life been conscripted into the military number about 22,000. In two years, that number will fall to zero. Bacevich was born in 1947. The ratio of military expenditure to domestic product was at its peak when he was about 6 years old. For twenty-five years, that ratio fell almost with out interruption. It fell during six of the eight years the VietNam was was in swing. It increased some for about 7 years, then fell for the next 16 years, reaching it’s post-1939 nadir around 2000 and 2001. The ratio was increased for about 6 years, then went into a fall over the next ten years which has brought it back to it’s nadir. About 1% of the workforce is in uniform. A fat chunk of our professional-managerial bourgeoisie looks down their nose at soldiers (Al Gore, to take one example) and ROTC is banned from a number of our prestigious universities. People like Barack Obama fancy the military is a toy theatre for goofy SJW initiatives and do not disapprove of gross breaches of military discipline (Manning, Berghdahl).

          My personal favorite bit of Bacevich blather was his lament in some piece of topical commentary that we had a Southern Command. Wouldn’t it be better if we had a ‘mature’ relationship with Latin America, he says, and had no Southern Command. At the time, the Southern Command had about 2,000 billets, and 90% decline from the number it had had in 1950, About 45% of the manpower in the Southern Command was located at Guantanamo Bay, a possession of the United States since 1902. Most countries had a single-digit population of American soldiers employed by the defense attaches office of the American Embassy. Colombia had the largest contingent, but had fewer than 200 American soldiers in residence. The primary activity of the Southern Command was drug interdiction. Do you figure Bacevich just never bothered to check the numbers or do you figure he was trying to put one over on his readers?

  2. @Ralph Adamo June 11, 2018 at 11:38 PM
    “My speech may soon be silenced by leftist Turley, who OPPOSES free speech, especially speech which exposes the leftist agenda.”

    Ralph, so I don’t inadvertently fall prey to it, what is, in a thousand words or less, “the leftist agenda”?

  3. @Ken Rogers June 11, 2018 at 3:58 PM
    ” ‘A lack of transparency also undermines the legitimacy of the U.S. drone program and the policy underpinning it, and implies that the United States has something to hide.’ [Emphasis added]
    “I have no idea to what possible ‘legitimacy’ Ms. Stohl may be referring.”

    As follow-up to my comment yesterday at 3:58 PM, perhaps those morally callous enough to be unconcerned about the killing by drone of innocent men, women, and children in foreign countries and its deleterious impact on the reputation of the US, not to mention fomenting an intense desire for revenge against the US, will be concerned about the precedent being established for other countries and non-state actors to conduct drone strikes of their own, including on US soil:

  4. Just a thought — if you create these documents on a word processor or make a photocopy before handing them to trump, you get around the whole problem. I dunno, seems like a big non-issue to me.

  5. I don’t understand. Where not the two records specialists in the Civil Service?

    1. The personnel officer who canned them is supposedly a GS-15 in re her pay scale.

      They worked for a unit of the President’s office, so they may not have the sort of tenure other civilian federal employees do. OTOH, they might just have had a thick file of reprimands they’re not telling you about.

    1. David, your opinion is what Orwell was talking about. ‘Some trash is better than other trash’.

          1. I put the recycling in the recycling bin and the trash in the trash. Fussy about that around here.

  6. I feel that Condi Rice would make a great president. Does that make me a civil rights activist. No! It makes me a guy with an opinion. That’s all. Have a nice day!

  7. Oh, one more thing. President Obama got a Nobel Peace prize, ” For What”. I suppose I’m a racist for asking that question!

    1. The nobel committee doesn’t get much of anything right. Giving the literature prize to bob dylan was at least as silly.

      1. JAY – my understanding is that each committee is separate and the Peace Prize you have to be nominated for. Why Obama would be nominated before he was elected is beyond me. After you screw up the Peace Prize, why not screw up the literature prize.

    2. @Independent Bob June 12, 2018 at 7:13 AM
      “Oh, one more thing. President Obama got a Nobel Peace prize, ” For What”[?]

      I think it was mainly for not being George W. Bush, that is, to incentivize Obama to be less aggressive on the world stage.

      It obviously didn’t work very well.

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