Did Nancy Pelosi Violate ’18 Code US 2071 B’ by Tearing Up Trump’s State of the Union Speech?

Claim

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi violated "18 code us 2071 b" by tearing up President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech on February 4 2020.

Rating

Not True

Reporting

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s widely-reported decision to tear United States President Donald Trump’s printed State of the Union speech apart on February 4 2020 led to a predictably high amount of social media chatter, among it claims that Pelosi violated “18 U.S. Code 2071[B]” in the course of ripping up the speech’s pages:

A meme of unknown origin depicted Pelosi holding the torn pages of a copy of Trump’s State of the Union speech with text that read:

18 U.S. Code 2071[B]

“Whoever, having the custody of any such record, proceeding, map, book, document, paper, or other thing, willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same, shall be fined under title or imprisoned not more than three years or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States…”

That particular rumor might have had its start on Hannity.com’s forums, where a poster started a February 5 2020 thread referencing the purported statute:

I find this to be interesting.

Was that copy of SOTU speech official document that Trump gave Nancy Pelosi for house to keep?

(a)
Whoever willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, or destroys, or attempts to do so, or, with intent to do so takes and carries away any record, proceeding, map, book, paper, document, or other thing, filed or deposited with any clerk or officer of any court of the United States 30, or in any public office, or with any judicial or public officer of the United States, 30 shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

(b)
Whoever, having the custody of any such record, proceeding, map, book, document, paper, or other thing, willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States 30. As used in this subsection, the term “office” does not include the office held by any person 30as a retired officer of the Armed Forces of the United States 30.

If so what do you all think should happen?

Or with a tweet by disinformation purveyor Charlie Kirk the previous night:

It is true that Pelosi symbolically tore up pages of a copy of Trump’s State of the Union speech on February 4 2020.  However, reporting by CNN and others pointed out a notable detail about her actions. In a “liveblog” style CNN item about the State of the Union address, a section headlined “Pelosi ripped up her copy of Trump’s State of the Union speech” reported:

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ripped up her printed copy of President Trump’s State of the Union address as lawmakers applauded the end of his speech.

Earlier, when Trump first walked in, Pelosi extended her hand, but Trump did not take it.

Even without closely examining the meme’s cited United States Code section and its meaning, CNN’s reporting seemed to indicate that Pelosi had defaced what was one of many copies distributed to people like the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The code itself read as follows:

18 U.S. Code § 2071. Concealment, removal, or mutilation generally

(a)Whoever willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, or destroys, or attempts to do so, or, with intent to do so takes and carries away any record, proceeding, map, book, paper, document, or other thing, filed or deposited 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, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

(b)Whoever, having the custody of any such record, proceeding, map, book, document, paper, or other thing, willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States. As used in this subsection, the term “office” does not include the office held by any person as a retired officer of the Armed Forces of the United States.

(June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 795; Pub. L. 101–510, div. A, title V, § 552(a), Nov. 5, 1990, 104 Stat. 1566; Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXIII, § 330016(1)(I), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2147.)

Section [A] of the same statute involved phrasing that was glaringly omitted from the memes and tweets:

Whoever willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, or destroys, or attempts to do so, or, with intent to do so takes and carries away any record, proceeding, map, book, paper, document, or other thing, filed or deposited 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.

An analysis on legal site LawAndCrime.com added more context, noting:

Pay attention to the [emphasized portion of section (A)] and it’s easy enough to understand why Pelosi’s personal shredding gesture would not rise to the behavior prohibited by the statute — and why people like [Carl] Higbie and Kirk intentionally omitted the language. That’s because the document itself is not covered by the statute at all.

Trump handed Pelosi a copy of the speech. He didn’t file this copy with any official — clerk or otherwise — whose job it is to make sure such documents are collected, recorded and physically and legally protected. The president gave Pelosi a copy of his address as a memento of sorts. This action wasn’t an official deposit. It was an act of theater.

Pelosi responded with her own bit of theater in turn. The action was purely performative just as Trump’s gifting of the controversial speech was itself a performative action. Nothing official happened here one way or another and certainly no laws were broken by the speaker.

In short, it is true that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore a copy of President Trump’s February 4 2020 State of the Union speech, and further true that a meme displayed a real section of United States Code Title 18 Section 2017[B], about destruction of records. Section [A] of the same code stipulated said records were filed or deposited, something that clearly didn’t cover Pelosi’s copy (which is likely the reason it was omitted from the meme and disinformation pushers’ claims.) As such, the claim is false.