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Trump’s former press secretary says Mar-a-Lago search may reveal crimes but help re-election

Stephanie Grisham, Donald Trump
Andrew Harnik
Associated Press
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham listens as President Donald Trump, right, speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, before boarding Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. and then on to Georgia to meet with supporters.

Stephanie Grisham, who served as White House Press Secretary under President Trump, says she regularly saw the president "rip up documents" and encourage a careless approach to record retention. But she worries that backlash to the FBI search could hand Trump a second term.

The FBI search of Donald Trump’s home at Mar-A Lago in Florida has raised a lot of questions about the former president's handling of classified documents — and one small-town Kansas woman has some singular insight into some of them.

Stephanie Grisham, who served as White House Press Secretary under Trump, now lives in tiny Plainville, Kansas, near Hays.

Grisham resigned from the administration on Jan. 6, 2021, and is now a prominent Trump critic. During her years in the White House, Grisham says she regularly saw the former president practice and encourage a lackadaisical — and likely law-breaking — approach to document retention.

In an interview with KCUR's Frank Morris, Grisham warned the FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Largo home — reportedly concerning presidential records or classified material held by Trump — could be a political gift to the former president and his supporters.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

How did the administration treat official documents?

I saw him all the time rip up documents. Doesn’t mean they were classified, but it does mean they were public documents, and under the Presidential Records Act, you cannot do that. That was his thing. He had a, it was almost like a habit that he has had for years and years and years, I don't know.

He would get done with a document and just rip it up into pieces. Very odd. Of course, now we've seen, he would rip some things up to pieces and put them in the toilet.

I sat behind him one time on a flight and he was going through a bunch of documents and he would save some, put them in a folder, e would rip some up and throw them on the floor, and he would rip some up and put them in his pocket.

And I remember thinking at that time, "Well, that's weird. I wonder what got ripped up and put in your pocket just now? Like, why didn't you throw it on the floor?" I probably should have said something to the staff secretary, but we just didn't have it in our heads that it was important, records retention.

There's several laws concerning White House records: The Presidential Records Act of 1978, a response to Richard Nixon, who tried to destroy some official documents after he was forced to resign.

There are also federal statutes concerning the handling of classified information. In fact, Trump signed a bill bumping up the penalty for unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents, making it a felony with up to five years of prison time.

Oh, the irony!

Were these laws on the minds of Trump staffers?

No, there was definitely never a culture where it was really important.

In January, Trump surrendered 15 boxes of official documents and "souvenirs" that he’d taken from the White House to Mar-a-Lago. Those boxes included “classified national security information,” which reportedly sparked a Presidential Records Act investigation, the convening of a grand jury, and a federal judge approving a search warrant that was executed Monday.

Trump supporters and most of the Republican Party say they see this raid as a big win for Trump. What do you think?

Yeah, I would agree. I hope that the Justice Department really was very buttoned up on what it is they were looking for and what it is they may have seized. Classified documents, and just presidential records as a whole, I don't think people see that as a big deal.

I think unless it's something that is easily translated to the American public, such as, "He took this document and it put 37 people at risk," I'm not sure that it will be that important to people. And I think if it ends up being some kind of a memento or a letter, I think that they will have handed him the presidency again.

I’ve been at KCUR almost 30 years, working partly for NPR and splitting my time between local and national reporting. I work to bring extra attention to people in the Midwest, my home state of Kansas and of course Kansas City. What I love about this job is having a license to talk to interesting people and then crafting radio stories around their voices. It’s a big responsibility to uphold the truth of those stories while condensing them for lots of other people listening to the radio, and I take it seriously. Email me at frank@kcur.org or find me on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
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