WASHINGTON – Departing the White House Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump asserted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "broke the law" in tearing up her copy of his State of Union address after he concluded his remarks Tuesday.
“Well I thought it was a terrible thing when she ripped up the speech. First of all, it’s an official document. You’re not allowed. It’s illegal what she did. She broke the law," he told reporters.
Experts, however, disagree with Trump.
Although Trump did not cite a specific law, several of his allies, as well as his son Donald Trump Jr., have asserted that she violated the Presidential Records Act or other statutes governing the maintenance of federal records.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a staunch ally of the president, went so far as to say he would lodge an ethics complaint with the House Ethics Committee alleging Pelosi broke the law.
The law both Gaetz and Donald Trump Jr. cite prohibits the destruction or mutilation of documents filed with any "clerk or officer of any court of the United States, or in any public office, or with any judicial or public officer of the United States." Multiple experts said this law did not apply to the incident from Tuesday.
Heidi Kitrosser, a University of Minnesota law professor specializing in federal government secrecy and the separation of powers, told USA TODAY it was "crazy" to suggest Pelosi broke the law.
The Presidential Records Act, which requires the president to preserve records, and other laws governing federal records were "designed to prevent the president and his advisers from shielding documentary information from public view," she explained.
They do not apply to "printouts or widely circulated documents" like copies of the State of the Union, she said.
What would make the document an official presidential record is if it were the one Trump had marked up, she said. A document like that "would be a pretty classic presidential record," Kitrosser said.
City University of New York Law Professor Douglas Cox, an expert on the legal status of documents, agreed the Presidential Records Act did not apply in the Pelosi case.
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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi rips up the speech after President Donald J. Trump concludes delivering the State of the Union address from the House chamber of the United States Capitol in Washington.
Cox told USA TODAY the copy Pelosi ripped up "is not a presidential record" and therefore is not subject to the Presidential Records Act.
"The President’s copy is a presidential record, but if the President gives a copy of it to a member of Congress, that copy is no longer a presidential record and becomes a record of that member of Congress," he said.
"Because Speaker Pelosi’s copy is not a government record, she did not violate the law by ripping it up," he said.
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Kel McClanahan, an attorney specializing in national security law and information and privacy law and the executive director of public interest law firm National Security Counselors, told USA TODAY the idea that the law was broken "needs to die."
The law applied to "files lodged or officially filed with the government, agency, or court," McClanahan explained. Depriving the government of the use of the file would be illegal, he said, but not destroying a copy.
McClanahan argued Pelosi's actions would likely also be protected under the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution, which protects the speech of lawmakers on the floor of the House or Senate. That clause means "you cannot charge members of Congress for things they do on the floor, for the most part," he said.
Despite criticism from Republicans, Pelosi has remained defiant about her tearing up of the speech.
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Speaking at her weekly press conference yesterday, Pelosi told reporters it was "completely, entirely appropriate." to have torn up the speech.
Trump "shredded the truth in the speech, shredded the Constitution in his conduct, and so I shredded his state of mind address,” she quipped.
Republicans introduced a resolution in the House to condemn her for her remarks, but the House voted along party lines to set the resolution aside later Thursday afternoon.