U.S. President Donald Trump says the highest-ranking member of the country's legislative branch, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "broke the law" when she shredded a copy of the State of the Union speech he delivered to Congress.
The president told reporters Friday that Pelosi's act, which was caught on camera just after Trump completed his address late Tuesday, was "disrespectful to our country, and actually very illegal."
A Florida congressman of Trump's Republican party, Matt Gaetz, has filed an ethics complaint against Pelosi, accusing her of potentially violating federal law (18 U.S. Code § 2071).
The regulation prohibits the destruction of government records, but it only applies to documents that have been "filed or deposited with any clerk or officer of any court of the United States."
'Brilliant' or 'tasteless'
"That's really a law about preserving official documents, such as the official copy that would make it to the National Archives," said Ajay Mehrotra, executive director and research professor at the American Bar Foundation "I don't think what Pelosi had was an official document."
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The made-for-meme moment was "brilliant political theater" by a rival of Trump, but not a violation of any law, Mehrotra told VOA.
Others see it differently, contending that defacing even a non-official reproduced copy of the State of the Union speech could technically violate the law.
"I think it's a legitimate question," said Aaron Coleman, associate professor and chair of the Department of History and Political Science at the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky.
If Trump "sought to pursue this as a legal matter that would call into question the nature of a speech given by a U.S. president," he added.
"I think this is going to be a non-issue when it comes to any legality," said Coleman. "It's hard to imagine given all the other real serious issues that the president and Congress would have to face that tax dollars would be devoted to it."
Legalities aside, the political science professor said, "It's incredibly tasteless and tactless what she did."
Tension between Trump and Democratic lawmakers has escalated since the House, controlled by the opposition Democratic party, impeached the president late last year.
The Senate, controlled by the Republicans, on Wednesday did not reach the two-thirds majority vote needed to remove Trump from office, rejecting both articles of impeachment delivered by the House.
Senators, acting as jurors, all voted along party lines, except for Republican Mitt Romney of Utah, who agreed with Democrats that the president abused the power of his office.
Romney, however, did not vote in favor of the second article of impeachment accusing the president of obstructing Congress.
Trump is only the third president in U.S. history to have faced an impeachment trial.