Trump has said in tweets and other statements that he has declassified all documents relating to the Russia investigation and Hillary Clinton’s emails.
But the White House and the Justice Department said this week that those statements did not declassify the records. Officials said they never received an order from President or Attorney General William Barr, who may also release more information.
“It’s not the White House declassifying the information. It’s the President,” Judge Reggie Walton of the Washington District Court in Washington said on Friday. Trump has been “unambiguous” in wanting to declassify more documents.
“Don’t I need to know what the president’s position is and not what the White House council’s statement is?” Walton added.
CNN, BuzzFeed, and transparency group Electronic Privacy Information Center have requested access to more documents and redacted text in the documents in the Mueller investigation, particularly in the wake of the president’s tweets. Trump’s recent tweets about the release of more documents on Russia prompted the hearing in the CNN, BuzzFeed and EPIC cases on Friday.
Walton told court on Friday he needed to know what the president really wanted – and whether Trump was “retracting” his public statements ordering the documents to be released.
The judge asked the White House attorney’s office to speak directly with Trump and report to the court by next week, when he holds another hearing on Wednesday. The judge also set a Tuesday noon deadline for the DOJ to file a statement “from the president or an individual who has spoken directly to the president” on the meaning of his declassification statements.
“The American public has a right to trust what a president says about their intention,” Walton said.
Walton added that he wanted to determine if more Mueller records could be released before Election Day.
Courts throughout the Trump presidency have faced new questions about the official nature of the president’s statements on Twitter. In some cases, judges have ruled that @realDonaldTrump’s tweets were official statements by the president, such as when courts ruled that Trump could not prevent certain Twitter users from following his public account.
But declassification has been a thornier issue for Trump, whose Twitter account has increasingly seized upon disinformation, propaganda and conspiracy that could aid his political chapters as he faces re-election. .
In a previous court battle over still classified pages of surveillance apps from former Trump adviser Carter Page, a judge ruled that White House statements were not enough to make documents declassified and accessible to the public. The White House said the president led the declassification of those documents, but did not follow through.
In a series of tweets on the night of October 6, the president said, “I have fully authorized the total declassification of all documents relating to the greatest political CRIME in American history, the Russian hoax. Likewise, the Hillary Clinton Scandal email. No writing! “
Trump later added: “All information about the Russian hoax scandal was declassified by me a long time ago. Unfortunately for our country, people have acted very slowly, especially since it may be. be the biggest political crime in the history of our country. Take action !!! “
But in an affidavit earlier this week, the Justice Department called the tweets “ambiguous Twitter statements.”
Pressed by Walton on Friday, Department of Justice attorney Courtney Enlow struggled to explain whether the White House prosecutor’s office was overturning the president by not releasing classified documents in Mueller’s archives, including memos interview of FBI witnesses called 302 that CNN and Buzzfeed pursued and received. in monthly versions since 2019.
The hearing highlighted a possible division between the White House council office and the president it serves, with the DOJ calling on the White House’s decision not to declassify the “official position,” Enlow said.
The DOJ relied on advice from the White House board office, not the president himself, Walton said. Trump’s personal wishes against declassification were not formally described in court.
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