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Pelosi did not violate the law by shredding a copy of Trump’s State of the Union speech

February 7, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi violated 18 US Code 2071 when she tore up President Trump’s speech at the State of the Union address.

THE FACTS: False. Pelosi shredded a copy of the speech, which is not considered an archival document. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: When Trump wrapped up the State of the Union speech on Feb.4, Pelosi ripped up her copy of the speech as she stood behind him on live television. Several political commentators and politicians turned to Twitter, falsely claiming that Pelosi violated the law when she “destroyed an official government document.” The false claims also circulated on Facebook. 

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“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, Turning Point USA’s founder and president, falsely posted to Twitter on Feb. 4. 

According to the law, “Whoever willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, or destroys” documents or some type of record filed or deposited with any clerk or officer of any court of the United States, that person shall be fined or receive prison up to three years in prison. 

A number of Facebook posts featured a photo of Pelosi holding up the shredded paper along with text from the statute. 

Legal experts told the AP that Kirk’s claim is false, and Pelosi’s copy of the president’s speech is not considered an official document. “This is not an archival document. It’s not an official document subject to the act,” Heidi Kitrosser, a law professor at the University of Minnesota told the AP in a telephone interview. “This is one of many, many, many copies of President Trump’s speech and Nancy Pelosi is free to do with it whatever she will.” 

In fact, Kitrosser said, Pelosi’s right to shred the document is protected under the First Amendment. “Trump’s words are not sacred and more so even if they were, expressions of disagreement with them would be protected.” 

Doreen Weisenhaus, a lecturer at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, said the statute would not apply to Pelosi’s act since it is “designed to prevent people from destroying records in official archives, the official repository.”

“Under no circumstances can I see this copy of his speech as a government record,”  Weisenhaus said.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536