After it was reported that the National Archives and Records Administration recovered 15 boxes of documents and other items from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, which he had failed to turn over when he left the White House, mainstream newspapers are now legitimizing the worst possible excuse from Trump’s advisers: Trump’s team was simply too busy trying to overthrow American democracy to keep track of paperwork during the transition.
The Trump White House had a documented pattern of disregarding such rules. The former president was notorious for tearing up official papers, which required civil servants to salvage and tape them back together. This conduct was in violation of the Presidential Records Act and has become relevant again during the investigation of the January 6 insurrection. (It also further helped to illustrate the hypocrisy of both the Trump campaign and mainstream media in 2016, for their relentless focus on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s email server.)
Newspaper accounts of this latest development are in fact mentioning this past context, but then brushing off this new story as a clumsy accident — a mix-up during all the confusion over Trump’s attempt to stay in office illegitimately — as if that would have made it any better.
The Washington Post, which broke the story on Monday, uncritically carried spin from unnamed Trump advisers saying there had been no “nefarious intent” in keeping the boxes of documents. Instead, there had been a “frenzied packing process” in the wake of Trump’s refusal to accept his defeat in the 2020 election:
Trump advisers deny any nefarious intent and said the boxes contained mementos, gifts, letters from world leaders and other correspondence. The items included correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which Trump once described as “love letters,” as well as a letter left for Trump by President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the contents.
Two former advisers described a frenzied packing process in the final days of the administration because Trump did not want to pack or accept defeat for much of the transition.
The New York Times likewise described the “hasty exit” after Trump’s attempt to stay in power despite losing the election:
The boxes contained items taken from the White House’s residence during a hasty exit after Mr. Trump had spent the bulk of the presidential transition trying to find ways to stay in power, according to two people familiar with the process of how the boxes were returned. At the time, Mr. Trump’s aides were either preoccupied with helping him overturn the election, trying to stop him or avoiding him.
These newspapers have revealed another example of lawbreaking that is potentially connected to Trump’s coup attempt. But they're suggesting it doesn’t really count — and, even more absurdly, that the attempted coup is the reason to excuse it.