Fact Check: Can Trump Direct the Punishment of Vandals on Monuments?

The Veterans Monument Preservation Act protects some, but not all, monuments.

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to say that he had “authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who destroys or destroys any such monument, statue or other federal property in the United States with up to 10 years in prison, of according to the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act. ” “

At the South Lawn White House, preparing to board Marine One for his trip to Arizona, Trump thanked police for their work Monday night to apprehend protesters, whom the president referred to as “vandals, thugs, anarchists and agitators. ”

“Last night we stopped an attack on a large monument in Andrew Jackson and Lafayette Park,” Trump told reporters, adding that “numerous people” are already in jail and more are going “today.”

However, regarding the Veterans Memorial Preservation Act, the federal police already had this authority and have it for a time.

The law was passed in 2003 following a series of vandalism incidents at military cemeteries in Hawaii and elsewhere.

Bradley P. Moss, a partner in the Washington, DC law office of Mark S. Zaid, PC, told ABC News that the federal police already had that authority and that President Trump’s tweet is “redundant and irrelevant because it doesn’t change what they can and will do. ”

The act itself is written as follows:

“Anyone who, in an intentionally described circumstance, injures or destroys, or attempts to injure or destroy, any structure, plaque, statue, or other monument on public property that commemorates the service of any person or persons in the United States Armed Forces shall be fined this title, imprisoned for no more than 10 years, or both. ”

However, statues commemorating historical figures such as Christopher Columbus and Francis Scott Key would not apply under this law, as they never served in the military.

If a crime that violates this law is committed, the prosecution would be authorized under the law passed by Congress; the president directs the application of that law.

However, referring to Monday night’s incidents, Moss said, “If they destroy a statue that was dedicated to commemorating Andrew Jackson’s military service, it is entirely possible that last night’s arrest would invoke this law. It is not clear that the law specifically applied to that statute, but it is possible. ”

Lastly, Moss said the president can do nothing more than what the police, in this case the United States Park Police (USPP), is already prepared to do. And that also applies to prosecutors.

“The local prosecutors who are going to press charges, if any, against those who were arrested last night, are aware of what they can and cannot invoke,” Moss said. “They didn’t need the president’s tweets to remind them.”