President Donald Trump’s tweets are official government statements, Justice Department lawyers told a federal judge Monday.
The question of whether Trump’s tweets count as official statements is one that’s been on the minds of lawyers and legal scholars since the tweet-happy president took office. In a lawsuit pending in federal court in New York alleging Trump illegally blocks people on Twitter, the government has maintained Trump uses Twitter as a private platform. But in a filing Monday in federal court in Washington, D.C., DOJ lawyers wrote that Trump’s tweets are “official statements of the president of the United States.”
The brief was filed in a freedom of information lawsuit brought by Politico reporter Josh Gerstein and the James Madison Project against the DOJ, CIA, the Office of Director of National Intelligence and the Defense Department. In a Nov. 2 hearing, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta of the District of Columbia asked DOJ lawyers to provide insight on how the government views the president’s tweets, and “how official they are.”
Gerstein’s lawsuit relates to the so-called Steele dossier on Trump published by Buzzfeed News in January. The dossier contained various salacious claims about the president, and CNN reported in January that Trump was briefed on the dossier by intelligence officials and given a two-page “synopsis.” Gerstein’s suit seeks the disclosure of that synopsis as well as any determinations by the government on its accuracy.
In response to Gerstein’s request, the defendant agencies have given so-called “Glomar” responses, neither confirming nor denying existence of responsive records. Gerstein pointed to various public statements including tweets in which the president referred to the dossier as “discredited” as official statements acknowledging the allegations in the dossier were “vetted.”
Though the government said the tweets are official statements, the brief said the “court cannot assume that the president was expressing a view based on ‘some knowledge and understanding’ provided by these agencies.” The DOJ lawyers also wrote that though the plaintiffs expressed “dismay” that Trump hasn’t explained the basis for his tweets, they “are not entitled to clarification of what the president has chosen to say.”
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