The Justice Department was dealt a setback in court on Tuesday because of a statement and tweets issued by President Trump about declassifying a surveillance warrant for his former campaign associate.
The Justice Department is currently in a legal battle with members of the media seeking the release of unredacted pages of the DOJ warrant applications to surveil Carter Page in late 2016 and early 2017.
A federal judge on Tuesday denied the Justice Department’s request to throw out the case. He is giving the Justice Department until August 30 to explain how its legal arguments jibe with what Trump’s White House has said about the President declassifying the material in question.
At issue is a September 2018 press release from then White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that said Trump had “directed” the government to declassify the redacted pages of the Page warrants, along with other documents related to the Russia probe, “for reasons of transparency.”
U.S. District Judge Ahmit Mehta on Tuesday knocked the government for not explaining the effect of the order, and asked how the Justice Department could continue claim that the material was still classified and therefore not covered under the Freedom of Information Act. His skepticism towards the Department’s arguments is just the latest example of how Trump’s statements and tweets have created a legal mess for his own DOJ attorneys in court.
The Justice Department had previously pointed to a tweet from Trump days after the press release that seemed to suggest he was backing down from the declassification fight.
I met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents. They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release. Therefore, the Inspector General…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2018
But that wasn’t good enough for Mehta, who said Trump’s tweet was too ambiguous compared to how “unequivocal” the press release was.
“Defendant maintains that this tweet makes ‘crystal clear’ that the President did not declassify documents relating to the Russia probe,” the judge wrote. “Far from it. The tweet only injects ambiguity as to the President’s intentions. The tweet does not identify the documents to which the President is referring, let alone refer to the Pages, and it leaves unclear whether the President rescinded the directive announced in the Press Release. ”
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