After the State of the Union speech Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped up her copy — on camera. This has incensed Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, who wants her investigated for destroying documents. His letter is one of the dumbest things ever to come from a federal election official.
Analyzing the Gaetz letter
Here’s what Rep. Gaetz wrote, with my commentary:
February 5, 2020
The Honorable Theodore Deutch, Chairman
The Honorable Kenny Marchant, Ranking Member House Committee on Ethics
Dear Chairman Deutch and Ranking Member Marchant:
I write to request that the House Committee on Ethics open an investigation into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s flagrant violation of decorum, as defined in clauses I and 2 of House Rule XXIII (“Code of Official Conduct”), and request a criminal referral for her potential violation of 18 U.S.C. §2071 (Concealment, removal, or mutilation of documents), following President ‘frump’s recent State of the Union address on February 4, 2020. Her unseemly behavior certainly warrants censure.
In the evening of February 4, 2020, President Trump fulfilled his Constitutional duty under Article II, Section 3, Clause 1, which states that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.”
President Trump’s remarks, which received overwhelming (and frequently bipartisan) support, touched on key issues facing the American people: the economy, healthcare, education, military readiness, immigration and more. Beyond his remarks, the President’s guests to the address also served to showcase the wide panoply of American values. His included Charles McGee, whom the President recently promoted to Brigadier General — one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, and an American hero. General McGee’s grandson was also in attendance; he hopes to serve in the Space Force. Other guests included Janiyah Davis, from Philadelphia, PA. Janiyah is a fourth-grade student, whose mother, Stephanie, tried to obtain a tax credit scholarship so Janiyah could attend a better school — a wish that was finally granted last night.
Far from being an exercise in partisanship, the President’s remarks were an uplifting celebration of the diversity of the American experience and the triumph of the American spirit.
All State of the Union speeches are partisan exercises. The level of partisanship has absolutely nothing to do with this request. It’s a red herring.
When the President finished speaking, to thunderous applause and a standing ovation, the Speaker took her copy of his prepared remarks and tore them in half, placing the remnants on the dais while President Trump went to greet lawmakers.
It is hard to overlook the symbolism of such a gesture — the sense that Speaker Pelosi was utterly dismissive of the President’s achievements, and, more importantly, the achievements of the American people. Speaker Pelosi’s gesture was deeply offense, and appears to violate clauses 1 and 2 of House Rule XXIII (“Code of Official Conduct’). Her behavior does not “reflect creditably on the House,” nor does it follow “the spirit and the letter of the Rules of the House.” Instead, it reflects poorly on her Speakership, and on the House of Representatives as a whole. The Speaker should not let her personal feelings about the President color her behavior as a leader in the United States Congress, but last night, her actions last night have brought discredit on the entire House.
Speaker Pelosi’s gesture was indeed symbolic and disrespectful. The section of the code of conduct that Gaetz cites reads: “A Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.” But if saying or doing disrespectful things did indeed warrant censure, then half the House would be censured every day. I’m not saying Gaetz is a snowflake . . . ah, screw it, he’s obviously a snowflake, if he’s this easily offended. It’s not as if Pelosi ripped up the flag or the constitution or Trump’s official photo. It’s a copy of a speech.
Furthermore, Speaker Pelosi’s appear to be a violation 18 U.S.C. §2071, which states (emphasis added):
(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.
There is no question that Speaker Pelosi “mutilated, obliterated, or destroyed” the copy of the President’s address provided to her at the beginning of the evening. The video evidence is clear and abundant, and the Speaker herself told reporters that she tore up this document because it was “the courteous thing to do given the alternatives.”
This act is intended to protect records from destruction. There’s no danger of the text of Trump’s State of the Union address being lost to posterity because Nancy Pelosi tore up her copy. Imagine for a moment what would happen if no government official could ever destroy a copy of a readily available official document. The government would sink under a mountain of paper.
The only conclusion is that Gaetz is loony.
(Donald Trump reportedly tears up official communications all the time — and those are originals. That’s the actual type of document destruction that the statute is intended to penalize and prevent.)
Accordingly, after the House Committee on Ethics thoroughly investigates this matter and recommends Speaker Pelosi’s censure, I urge you to make all appropriate referrals to the Department of Justice for further investigation and prosecution.
Matt Gaetz, Member of Congress
Don’t be an idiot
If you decide who to vote for primarily based on style, as opposed to substance, that’s a shame. But if you do, I don’t think Nancy Pelosi is the biggest problem. If there were a contest for elected officials based on decorum, it’s pretty clear who would lose.
If you decide who to support based on substance, then communications like this from Rep. Gaetz are irrelevant and a waste of time.
When Gaetz tweeted this statement out, he actually put the word “BREAKING” in the text. It’s an attention-seeking tantrum.
Let’s focus on actual official conduct and the job the government is supposed to be doing, rather than tantrums about imaginary rule violations from snowflakes on official letterhead.
I’m finding the gutter to be an unpleasant place to conduct discourse. How about you?