Two tweets by President Donald Trump last week stating he had “fully authorized the total declassification” of all documents related to the Russia investigation should not be taken literally, the Justice Department said in court documents Tuesday.
Trump claimed in one tweet that he had ordered the declassification of the “Russia Hoax Scandal” information long ago.
But it seems the Justice Department never got the message.
The Justice Department was told by the White House counsel that Trump’s “statements on Twitter were not self-executing declassification orders and do not require the declassification of any particular documents.”
The government’s official position — and the White House’s — was given in court filings responding to three separate emergency motions that BuzzFeed News filed last week to compel the government to immediately release unredacted copies of Russia-related documents sought in its Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. The documents at issue included an unredacted copy of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, unredacted copies of FBI interview summaries of witnesses who spoke to Mueller’s investigators, and thousands of other records that BuzzFeed News sued the government for last year.
Hours after BuzzFeed News filed the motions, the federal judge presiding over two of those cases directed the Justice Department to “confer with the White House” and report back to the court the “official position regarding the declassification and release to the public of information related to the Russia investigation.” A different judge handling a separate lawsuit gave the department until Oct. 16 to respond but didn’t order that it consult with the White House.
On Tuesday, Bradley Weinsheimer, associate deputy attorney general, said in a declaration for the court that after consulting with the White House counsel, the Justice Department was informed that Trump’s tweets “do not require altering any redactions on any record” cited in BuzzFeed News’ lawsuits.
Additionally, Weinsheimer noted that what Trump authorized for declassification was documents related to the ongoing review by Attorney General Bill Barr into the genesis of the Russia investigation.
In a motion seeking to dismiss the request from BuzzFeed News, another Justice Department attorney went even further, stating Trump’s tweets are “ambiguous” and “do not refer to any specific document and do not indicate that the President was exercising his Constitutional authority to declassify specific information. They were not an order to declassify particular material.”
The president has broad authority to declassify documents without any formal process.
In his first tweet last week, Trump wrote: “I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to the single greatest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax. Likewise, the Hillary Clinton Email Scandal. No redactions!”
He later tweeted, “All Russia Hoax Scandal information was Declassified by me long ago.”
Jason Leopold is a senior investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He is a 2018 Pulitzer finalist for international reporting, recipient of the IRE 2016 FOI award and a 2016 Newseum Institute National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame inductee.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.