WASHINGTON — QUESTION:
Did Nancy Pelosi break 18 U.S. Code § 2071, when she tore up her copy of the President's State of the Union speech?
No, her copy of the president's speech isn't an official document.
Gerald Treece- Professor of Law- South Texas College of Law Houston
Victoria Nourse- Professor of Law- Georgetown Law
18 U.S. Code § 2071. Concealment, removal, or mutilation generally
National Archives and Records Administration
On the way to Marine One, President Trump stopped to tell reporters that Nancy Pelosi broke the law, by ripping her copy of the State of the Union Speech.
"First of all, it's an official document, you're not allowed, it's illegal what she did, she broke the law," Trump said.
Lots of people online were quick to share a rumor that Pelosi committed a felony, shredding an official U.S. government document.
Dan B. from Hagerstown, Maryland emailed our team, asking did she really break the law? Was Pelosi's copy of the speech an official document?
Florida Representative Matt Gaetz tweeted out that Pelosi violated 18 U.S. Code § 2071 in reference to the claim. It ]says you can’t willfully destroy a record that’s been "filed or deposited" with any clerk or officer of the court of the U.S. Gaetz also said he filed an ethics violation with the Committee on House Ethics.
Our Verify researchers spoke with two legal experts, who explain Pelosi didn’t violate the U.S. Code.
Victoria Nourse with Georgetown Law explains the state of the union isn’t quote “filed or deposited” officially with the Speaker or Vice President Pence, they just get a copy.
It’s the President’s copy that’s the official Presidential Record that goes to the National Archive, and Pelosi ripped her own copy not his.
"The SOTU is a Presidential Record which must go to the National Archives under the Presidential Records Act," Nourse said. "She did not mutilate the record that is filed with the Archive. If the statute were not read this way, then any copy of the SOTU held by anyone could never be destroyed."
Expert Gerald Treece with South Texas College of Law in Houston backed that up.
Think of something like the Bill of Rights. It's illegal to harm or damage the original, but copies of the document can be ripped or shredded without consequence.
National Archives confirmed they will receive the President’s copy for preservation as a permanent record, and provided the following statement:
"The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) preserves and provides access to the permanent records of Federal Agencies and the President in accordance with laws and regulations that govern the disposition of those records. Although NARA also holds the historical records of the House and Senate, those records remain the legal property of the respective Chambers. The rules governing those records are not determined by federal laws or overseen by NARA, but rather by each Chamber's agreed-upon rules. While NARA does not have information about the record status of Speaker Pelosi’s copy of the speech, NARA will receive the President’s version for preservation as a permanent record in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”
So we can verify, false, Pelosi did not break the law that bans you from destroying an official document.