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Image: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rips up the speech of U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rips up the speech of U.S. President Donald Trump after his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. February 4, 2020. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

The irony of Trump arguing that ripping up papers is illegal

Trump thinks Pelosi "broke the law" by tearing a copy of his State of the Union speech. That's "crazy" -- and more than a little ironic given his own habits.


It's been a few days since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) punctuated Donald Trump's State of the Union address by tearing up her copy, and it appears Republicans are still preoccupied by their hurt feelings. Indeed, as USA Today noted, the president has convinced himself that the House Speaker did something illegal.

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.

There a few relevant angles to this. The first is that this sudden interest in decorum, from Donald Trump and his acolytes, would be amusing if it weren't so ridiculous.

Second, Pelosi was given a copy of the speech, but she was free to do with it as she pleased. It was not, in reality, a government document that needed to be preserved. If she felt like it, the Speaker could've made paper airplanes out of the pages. If Trump had given a copy of the speech to you or me, we could've done the same thing.

USA Today spoke to the University of Minnesota's Heidi Kitrosser, a law professor and expert in this area, who called the president's argument "crazy." 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, added that the Republican argument that Pelosi broke the law "needs to die."

And third, if Trump and his team want to talk about the Presidential Records Act, they may not like where the conversation ends up.

As longtime readers may recall, under the Presidential Records Act, document preservation in the White House isn't optional. Except, as Politico reported in June 2018, in the Trump White House, there's a problem.

Solomon Lartey spent the first five months of the Trump administration working in the Old Executive Office Building, standing over a desk with scraps of paper spread out in front of him.

Lartey, who earned an annual salary of $65,969 as a records management analyst, was a career government official with close to 30 years under his belt. But he had never seen anything like this in any previous administration he had worked for. He had never had to tape the president’s papers back together again.

Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.

The article added that Trump has an “enduring habit” of ripping up papers – he ignored pleas from aides to stop – which in the White House, meant there was an entire department dedicated to the task of retrieving the pieces, taping them back together again, and passing them along to the National Archives.

One of Lartey’s colleagues, Reginald Young Jr., told Politico, “I’m looking at my director, and saying, ‘Are you guys serious?’ We’re making more than $60,000 a year, we need to be doing far more important things than this.”

Does Trump really want to talk about what's "allowed" in this area? What's "illegal"? Who "broke the law"?

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