The pattern of behavior predates email, starting at least in 1973, when both Donald Trump, his father Fred Trump and their companies were sued by the federal government over charges that they systematically refused to rent apartments to black tenants. Trump began by stalling and missing deadlines to turn over important and likely incriminating documents for months. As Eichenwald points out, this was particularly egregious because:
When litigation is filed or even contemplated, scrupulous lawyers and corporations immediately impose document-retention programs or require that any shredding or disposing of records be halted. Courts have handed down severe sanctions or even criminal charges of obstruction of justice against executives and companies that destroyed records because they knew they were going to be sued.
Trump used the extra time to tell the press that "that the feds had no evidence he and his father discriminated against minorities, but instead were attempting to force them to lease to welfare recipients who couldn't’t pay their rent." He also filed a $100 million counter suit for libel, which only dragged the case on further.
Even when government lawyers had warrants to search Trump's offices, he would act as if they showed up unannounced. He'd refuse to give over the materials even judges had demanded and take every opportunity to tell reporters "storm troopers" had invaded his offices and the prosecutor had unlawfully badgered his employees. After over six months of delays, Trump finally admitted in a deposition that, as Eichenwald notes:
The Trumps had been destroying their corporate records for the previous six months and had no document-retention program. They had conducted no inspections to determine which files might have been sought in the discovery requests or might otherwise be related to the case. Instead, in order to “save space,” Trump testified, officials with his company had been tossing documents into the shredder and garbage.That case ended in a civil settlement, but despite an agreement to implement policies that would force Trump's company to comply with federal housing regulations, the blatant discrimination continued. In fact, Trump's strategy, which Eichenwald describes as "deny, impede and delay, while destroying documents the court had ordered them to hand over," has been effective ever since, and even more so when the plaintiffs are private citizens.