For the past five years, President Trump’s supporters have been forced to argue that the things he says shouldn’t be taken literally — that the candidate’s and then-words president’s shouldn’t be taken at face value because, well, sometimes he just says stuff. It’s a very comfortable viewpoint since it permits them to believe and defend what they want while dismissing nearly everything else.
Aisle 1600, clean up your act: The White House insists Trump didn’t really mean it when he said he’d declassify Russia documents
But on Tuesday, one of the most astonishing moments in this tale to far occurred: Trump’s top adviser testified in court that what the president said on Twitter wasn’t what he meant and had no impact on what the US government does. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows downplayed Trump’s recent tweet asserting that he had authorized the declassification of all documents relevant to the Russia inquiry in a sworn court filing Tuesday. “I have completely ordered the total Declassification of any & all papers relevant to the single biggest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax,” Trump wrote on Oct. 6. The Hillary Clinton Email Scandal is a case in point. There will be no revisions!” The tweet immediately piqued my interest. Whatever Trump may have imagined he was declassifying when it came to the alleged law enforcement “plot” against him or Clinton’s emails, his tweet also meant he declassified information that could be damaging to his reputation.
What about the parts of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report that have been redacted? What about the evidence that was gathered against him during the Russia probe that came before it? Trump seems to have exposed himself to a minefield of information that may become public overnight – on the eve of the election, no less. Meadows, meanwhile, said Trump was effectively rambling off, as the president’s advisors have claimed many times before. Meadows stated in a court document connected to instances involving BuzzFeed News and CNN that Trump’s tweet did not, in fact, declassify anything. “The President told me that his tweets were not self-executing declassification orders, and that they did not demand the declassification or release of any specific documents,” Meadows added. In other words, Trump was not only not declassifying “any and all documents” pertaining to the Russia inquiry, but he was also not declassifying any of them for the first time. Individual documents that shouldn’t be considered newly declassified, according to Meadows, include “the FD-302 reports on witness interviews generated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in connection with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, III’s investigation.” What are the contents of such documents?
Given Trump’s tweet, they could shed light on the so far-obscured evidence against him that the media and his opponents were so eager to see. Plaintiffs in the instances contended that because Trump tweeted about it, they should have access to it. The government’s position that the tweets were “ambiguous” was rejected by a federal court, who ordered the administration to talk with Trump directly about what he meant. Meadows claimed that Trump was not discussing anything new. “Instead,” Meadows explained, “the President’s words were about the authorisation he had given the Attorney General to declassify data as part of his ongoing examination of intelligence activity relevant to the 2016 Presidential election and certain connected matters.” So, the argument here appears to be that Trump was alluding to something he had already done a few months prior, when he authorized Attorney General William P. Barr to declassify intelligence linked to the Russia investigation. Except, even on the narrower topic of supposedly nefarious aspects of the inquiry, that wasn’t a blanket declassification; it was just giving Barr the authority to declassify material as he saw fit. So Trump’s claim that he has “ordered the wholesale Declassification of any and all papers” isn’t entirely accurate. “The President’s statements do not need any redactions on any record at issue in these or any other cases, including, but not limited to, any redactions taken pursuant to any discretionary [Freedom of Information Act] exemptions,” Meadows continued.
It’s possible that Trump was alluding to the 17-month-old authorization he gave to Barr to declassify records in some muddled and inarticulate manner. But it contradicts his claim that he had personally authorized the declassification of “any and all” of them. Furthermore, saying “No redactions” could lead one to believe he planned to release all of the information without exception. Even if Barr were in charge of making such judgments, why would Trump say that any material included in the documents should not be withheld? At the very least, this is a president speaking out on a major subject of national security and government accountability. It can be important to make sure that each word is carefully chosen to avoid any misunderstandings or ambiguity. That, of course, has never been Trump’s style. Meadows is the latest to face the legal ramifications of his actions.