We know she did it for the television cameras… but some say ripping up the papers might be a much bigger issue. Check this out.
It’s been widely reported that at the end of President Trump’s State of the Union speech on February 4th, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped up a copy of the president’s address. However, aside from the act being viewed as “aggressively rude” by CNN’s Brian Stetler, was the House Speaker’s actions during the address an illegal move?
According to 18 U.S.C. § 1361, that may very well be the case.
While closing the State of the Union speech, President Trump was delivering a warm sendoff to those in attendance. He closed things out with the following sentiments:
“And my fellow Americans, the best is yet to come. Thank you, God bless you and God bless America.”
Video of the president’s closing statements circulated online in a near-instant viral fashion, but not because of what the president stated. Instead, if was the actions of Speaker Pelosi that fueled the online conversation starter, when she ripped up a copy of the president’s address right on camera.
You can see Pelosi collect the documents containing the president’s speech, and tear them in half. Of course, it’s not surprising to see that Pelosi’s actions gained the support of Squad member Rashida Tlaib.
I would have shredded it. #justsaying
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) February 5, 2020
Then again, what more would one expect from Tlaib since she’s the same person who had to be escorted out of Trump speech delivered at the Detroit Economic Club in August 2016.
Democrat Rashida Tlaib exploded at then-candidate Donald Trump as he gave his economic policy speech on 08/08/2016 at the Detroit Economic Club
Notice how Trump is calm and does not agitate the situation as Tlaib has a public meltdown and has to be physically removed by security pic.twitter.com/ielSryzNFV
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) July 21, 2019
My god! Tlaib back in 2016. pic.twitter.com/7RNRpv32TO
— Rita Panahi (@RitaPanahi) July 20, 2019
The million-dollar question is whether what Pelosi did was actually illegal at the State of the Union address or simply just childish. The legality of Pelosi’s actions would be highly contingent upon whether a copy of the president’s speech is considered a “public record or document”.
In a logical sense, it certainly seems to be the case.
Public records, by definition, are documents or pieces of information that are not considered confidential and generally pertain to the conduct of government.
Furthermore, a State of the Union address pertains specifically to government endeavors and accomplishments. So, for arguments sake, we’ll observe that a copy Trump’s speech falls under that legal definition of a “public record or document”.
US Code prohibits the destruction of government records
Nancy Pelosi may have just committed a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2071, Section 2071 (a) when she ripped up President Trump’s State of the Union address
This violation is punishable by up to three years in prison
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) February 5, 2020
According to the United States Department of Justice Archives, through their listings within the Criminal Resource Manual, laws regarding the theft or destruction of public records state the following:
“The taking of a public record or document is prohibited by 18 U.S.C. § 641. The destruction of such records may be reached under 18 U.S.C. § 1361. In both instances, however, proving a $100 loss, the prerequisite to a felony conviction, may be difficult. Thus, neither of these statutes adequately protects government records.”
According to the language listed, the mere act of destroying these kinds of documents are criminal, but determining if they’re a misdemeanor or felony gets a little dicey. Take for example someone tearing up a copy of a marriage certificate, which is often public record. One could easily determine the value of a legal marriage certificate since someone paid for a copy of it, which that act likely wouldn’t be felonious since they typically run $20 for a copy.
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So, how does one determine the value of a copy of Trump’s State of the Union address that was afforded to Pelosi? It can depend on a number of things, such as would the mere stationary’s value be considered since they were never “sold” to attendees. Or, would the document’s value be contingent upon what the free market would be willing to pay for that copy Pelosi tore up. If the worth would be attributed by the “fair market value”, then whether or not the document was personally signed by Trump could certainly create a discussion of if it’s valued over $100 or not.
For instance, mere photographs of President Trump that bear his authentic signature go for nearly $500 online. Another thing to consider in this matter is whether Speaker Pelosi intentionally destroyed the speech in her hand that evening. It’s fairly obvious she did, since she proceeded to tear portions of the speech separately, establishing intent in front of news cameras around. The law’s components of both intent of the act and also knowledge that they’re public record were outlined in the United States v. Simpson and the United States v. DeGroat.
With all things considered, assuming the copy of the speech is valued at over $100, then Speaker Pelosi could face up to three years in prison and a $2,000 fine. Now if she were to ever actually be prosecuted is a completely different speculation altogether. Whether or not legal filings result down the road, the White House wasn’t exactly pleased with the juvenile displayed according to their Twitter account.
Speaker Pelosi just ripped up:
One of our last surviving Tuskegee Airmen.
The survival of a child born at 21 weeks.
The mourning families of Rocky Jones and Kayla Mueller.
A service member's reunion with his family.
That's her legacy.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 5, 2020
In all honesty, we’re not at all entertained by the display either. However, perhaps a shredding of the articles of impeachment against President Trump would make for a clever retort.
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