Judge Not Impressed With DOJ's Attempt To Claim Presidential Tweets And Orders Don't Mean Anything
from the nice-try dept
The DOJ wants its secrecy. The President keeps taking it away. Over the past couple of years, FOIA litigants have received unexpected support from President Trump, often in the form of tweets. While the DOJ is arguing nothing the records seekers are seeking should be handed over, Trump is tweeting out demands that everything should be released — largely due to his unwavering belief that selective transparency will somehow expose a massive Deep State operation against him and his associates.
The stuff Trump wants exposed relates to FISA court orders and other documents related to investigations of Trump’s campaign team and their ties to Russia. Trump is convinced there’s nothing there and wants the public to see this for themselves. It’s inadvertently commendable, even though there’s a strong possibility the documents won’t actually prove what Trump thinks they’ll prove.
Nonetheless, the friction between the DOJ’s FISA-related opacity and Trump’s Twitter account continues, as Josh Gerstein reports for Politico.
The Justice Department had urged U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta to shut down the Freedom of Information Act suit, arguing that all the unreleased parts of the warrant for former Trump adviser Carter Page remain classified.
However, Mehta said a series of factors combined to create a factual dispute denying the government victory in the case, at least for now. These included a Sept. 17 White House press release that said much of that information was declassified, Trump’s tweets four days later seeming to back away from the decision, and the Justice Department’s failure to adequately account for the statements.
The DOJ argued the tweet stating the DOJ had “agreed” to “release” the unredacted documents, as well as the White House press release ordering immediate declassification of parts of these documents, did not say the things they did. The DOJ’s legal team claimed — in a bunch of unsworn statements — the President surely meant the opposite of the things he said.
Unsurprisingly, the court does not agree.
“Defendant offers no reason to believe that the Press Release inaccurately conveys the President’s ‘directive.‘ Thus, contrary to what Defendant says, it would appear that the President did make ‘his intentions clear … to declassify information.’”
Not only that, but the DOJ ignored the press release entirely — the one containing an order these documents be publicly-released. That didn’t escape the notice of the court, which noted the DOJ did not submit anything at all referencing this order.
The DOJ also argued it could still withhold the information under other exemptions. Wrong again, the court declares. The DOJ cannot effectively nullify a presidential order simply by switching black-bar horses midstream.
The court is giving the DOJ a second chance to explain itself and its refusal to accept presidential orders and tweets at face value. But it will have to do so with sworn statements, rather than dropping a bunch of questionable assertions into the judge’s inbox. In the meantime, it will have to hope the President stops handing FOIA plaintiffs tweeted gifts.