According to some new reporting from Trumpworld uber-correspondent Maggie Haberman’s forthcoming book, Confidence Man, some staffers believed that while he was in office, President Trump sometimes clogged a White House residence toilet by flushing documents down it. (Trump has publicly denied this.) Axios pointed out that this detail, if true, “adds a vivid new dimension to his lapses in preserving government documents.” Yes, sure. But we just wanted to know: Is this actually a good way to get rid of a sensitive document in a pinch? For an answer, we caught up with Patrick Garner of Cardinal Plumbing, Heating & Air in Northern Virginia (who last spoke to Slate about plumbing-via-Zoom at the height of lockdown). This interview has been condensed and edited.
Heather Schwedel: Did you hear about Trump’s reported method for getting rid of documents? What was your reaction?
Patrick Garner: I saw something like this on Reddit earlier in the day, but I didn’t really pay any attention to it. When you sent it to me, I looked at it. It’s pretty hilarious. Actually, my initial reaction was that that was something exactly like what a kid would do. If you want to hide the report card or hide a detention note, you would flush it down the toilet. It’s not only shortsighted, but it’s not going to work. It’s gonna be found out almost immediately.
What actually happens when papers get flushed down a toilet?
One of the things that any plumber will tell you is that you never flush baby wipes down a toilet, and you never flush down even a paper towel. So imagine printer paper, or even card stock, if it’s on a nice letterhead from the White House. Obviously, it’s not going to be able to be flushed down. Even though you might get it down past the hole of the toilet, it’s either gonna get clogged up inside the toilet or even worse, it might get pushed down further down the line, which can cause issues not just in that bathroom, but really in the entire building.
What happens then?
So if it gets stuck in the toilet, and most people don’t really pay any attention to their toilet, but if you look on the side, you’ll see a shape that kind of looks like an S. That’s a trap in the toilet. So if it gets caught in the trap, there’s really not much you can do. You might be able to put an auger down and push it through, but that’s gonna involve taking the toilet off the ground, un-plumbing everything, and pushing it through. A lot of times that won’t work. So you’ll just have to replace the toilet, but that’s the best-case scenario, honestly. You run the risk of either pushing it further down the line, or just getting even more lodged.
I’ve seen where somebody does something like this—as a matter of fact, it was literally a kid. He flushed down a whole bunch of test answers and report cards and stuff down his toilet. His parents tried to get it out…
Read More: A plumber has a message for the former president about flushing