In 2020, Nancy Pelosi, sitting behind Donald Trump at his State of the Union Address, showed her contempt for the speech by ripping it up. It was a nauseating display by the Speaker — one that said more about her poor character than about Trump or his address.

Afterwards, Trump complained:

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.

It’s true that Pelosi did a bad thing. It’s doubtful that she did anything illegal. As far as I know, a member of Congress (including the Speaker) has no legal obligation to preserve a copy of someone else’s speech (including the State of the Union Address) or any other widely circulated document.

By contrast, the U.S. president has a legal obligation to preserve the papers he handles as president. The obligation flows from the Presidential Records Act.

Yet notwithstanding his condemnation of Pelosi, there are reports that, as president, Trump sometimes ripped up documents he handled — behavior he claimed violated the law when Pelosi did it.

These reports seem to be accurate. They help explain why some of the documents eventually recovered from Trump and turned over to the Archives are torn and taped back together. And although Trump has disputed claims that he flushed some documents down the toilet, to my knowledge he hasn’t denied ripping documents up.

Trump’s claim that Pelosi violated the law by ripping up public records is very likely false. But it does show that, while president, he was aware of his legal obligation not to tear up documents.

It also shows chutzpah, to say the least.

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