Tearing a page out of the book of Charlie Kirk and Carl Higbie, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) filed an ethics complaint on Wednesday accusing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of violating federal law when tearing her copy of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech in half.
In the complaint, Gaetz requests the House Committee on Ethics open an investigation into the Speaker and issue a “criminal referral” for her “potential violation” of the federal law barring the destruction of official records.
“BREAKING: I’m filing an ethics complaint against [Speaker Nancy Pelosi] for destroying [President Trump’s] State of the Union speech,” Gaetz tweeted late Wednesday. “Her conduct was beneath the dignity of the House, and a potential violation of law (18 USC 2071).”
“Nobody is above the law. She must be held accountable,” he added, including two screenshots of the actual complaint.
Her conduct was beneath the dignity of the House, and a potential violation of law (18 USC 2071).
Nobody is above the law. She must be held accountable. pic.twitter.com/dXPPWQNtI8
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) February 6, 2020
As Law&Crime previously reported, the claim that Pelosi broke the law is baseless, because the law cited only prohibits the destruction of documents “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.” In Gaetz’s complaint, he bolded in any public office for emphasis.
But president merely handed Pelosi a copy of his 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. Similarly, Pelosi’s theatrical act of defiance is protected by both the First Amendment and the Speech and Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
I'll see your very bad interpretation of 18 U.S.C. 2071(b) mutilation of government records and raise you congressional speech and debate clause immunity and the First Amendment protection afforded to symbolic political speech.
— Byron Tau (@ByronTau) February 5, 2020
George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley, who made it abundantly clear he was no fan of Pelosi’s speech-tearing, wrote on Thursday that “dubious” allegations of law-breaking against Pelosi distract from the real issue:
As I have discussed, the conduct of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., during the State of the Union was reprehensible and she should either promise to comply with the traditions of the House or step down as speaker. She committed three major transgressions against those traditions in changing the greeting to the President, making critical faces behind the back of the President during the address, and then ripping up the address while still in the Speaker’s chair. That last act has led some to allege that she also violated 18 U.S.C. §2071 in the destruction of an official document. That claim is dubious and should not take away from the more serious question of Pelosi violating her duty to remain a neutral representative of the whole house and not just a partisan member or worse a political troll.
Turley, Republicans’ lone expert witness in the House phase of the impeachment inquiry, concluded: “No, Nancy Pelosi Did Not Violate Federal Law . . . Just Decades Of Tradition.”
At any rate, Gaetz seems like an odd messenger for complaints about ethics and decorum. An ethics complaint was filed against Gaetz for allegedly tampering with then-witness Michael Cohen in Feb. 2019, the night before President Donald Trump‘s ex-lawyer testified before the House Oversight Committee.
And back in Oct. 2019, Gaetz led a faction of two dozen GOP lawmakers on a rule-breaking adventure; they stormed the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, also known as a SCIF, interrupting the deposition of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper, yelling and shouting down the procedure as a “sham process.”
WATCH: here's the video of when 2 dozen GOP members, led by @mattgaetz entered the secure hearing room (SCIF) to interrupt witness testimony in the #ImpeachmentInquiry as they demand access, despite not being committee members. They're complaining it's a "Soviet-style process". pic.twitter.com/8KddYz3r9D
— Scott Thuman (@ScottThuman) October 23, 2019
Further evincing the purely political motivation behind the ethics complaint is Gaetz’s laudatory recap of Trump’s speech. It “received overwhelming (and frequently bipartisan) support,” and upon completion was met with “thunderous applause and a standing ovation,” he said.
“This is a frivolous stunt from a Congressman desperate to get back in the President’s good graces after he voted with Democrats and against the President on Iran,” Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill said in a statement to The Hill on Thursday. “We appreciate the irony of this particular Member making judgments about the ‘dignity of the House.’”
It’s also worth noting that government employees have actually had to tape together documents that President Trump has torn up, in an effort to prevent him from violating the law.
[image via Fox News screengrab]