It stands to reason that Donald Trump’s allies and former aides are going to try to defend the former president over accusations that he mishandled — which is to say, tore up and effectively stole — sensitive White House documents. But clearly, the Republican operation needs to work on its talking points.
Talking Points Memo noted that former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows appeared on Newsmax, where he pitched the idea that Trump’s habit of tearing up materials was comparable to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripping up a photocopy of the 2020 State of the Union speech.
“When we start talking about this was ripped up, it was taped back together — obviously that was preserved — it’s supposed to show some nefarious purpose but yet they will ignore Nancy Pelosi ripping something up on national TV behind the president,” Meadows complained. “Those documents, I can tell you, we couldn’t find those either and yet, somehow, she got a pass,” he added.
This is so utterly bonkers, I’m a little surprised the North Carolina Republican would actually make the pitch to a national television audience.
Pelosi’s display two years ago become relevant anew this week for a reason, but it’s largely the opposite of the one Meadows intended to make. As we discussed a few days ago, after Trump delivered his State of the Union address in 2020, Pelosi could hardly contain her disgust with the then-president’s avalanche of lies. In fact, the California Democrat, seated behind Trump, was seen literally tearing her copy of the address as a way of registering her revulsion.
Soon after, it led the Republican to make a bizarre claim. “[I]t’s an official document,” the then-president told reporters. “You’re not allowed. It’s illegal what she did. She broke the law.”
Two years later, the comments have taken on new significance because they prove that Trump had some rudimentary understanding that the Presidential Records Act exists and requires the protection of official White House records.
But for Meadows, the 2020 incident is also significant because it puts Pelosi and Trump in the same boat: They both tore up documents, so if the latter is facing a controversy, the former should, too.
Except that’s so foolish, it’s hard to imagine even Meadows believing it.
Pelosi was handed a photocopy of a speech. She could tear it up, light it on fire, turn it into paper airplanes, or anything else she chose. There were no legal requirements forcing the Speaker to preserve the photocopy or treat it with any deference because it wasn’t official White House record.
Two years ago, when Trump first pushed this nonsensical line about Pelosi, USA Today spoke to the University of Minnesota’s Heidi Kitrosser, a law professor and expert in this area, who called the 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 argument that Pelosi did something wrong “needs to die.”
That was two years ago. Thanks to desperate Trump fans, the absurdity lives.
What this tells us, however, is that the larger controversy — which has been referred to the Justice Department for a possible criminal investigation — is so obviously indefensible that even the former White House chief of staff is struggling to come up with a coherent justification for Trump’s alleged misconduct.