The White House has, in a way, complied with a U.S. federal judge’s order to get clarification from U.S. President Trump himself on whether he intended to declassify some of the most sought after documents in his government when he tweeted that he… declassified said documents. As of today, the administration’s position is that was all some bullshit referring to some other bullshit.
On Tuesday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows filed a sworn statement with the U.S. federal court overseeing an emergency request in a Freedom of Information Act case seeking the release of unredacted documents relating to the Russia investigation — documents like the full Mueller report. The DOJ is very much opposed to declassifying these docs for reporters and the public to comb through, and last week, lawyers for the department claimed in court that the position of the White House Counsel’s Office is Trump did not intend to declassify documents with a sloppy tweet earlier this month. That wasn’t good enough for the judge, and he ordered the DOJ to get an official declaration from the president explaining his intent. In the absence of a direct statement, the judge allowed for DOJ lawyers to file the statement on his behalf as long as they spoke with Trump directly on the matter.
While Mark Meadows is neither a lawyer at the DOJ nor President Trump himself, the chief of staff’s statement appears to be all we’re getting for now. In it, Meadows writes, “The President indicated to me that his statements on Twitter were not self-executing declassification orders and do not require the declassification or release of any particular documents.”
Let’s go back to Trump’s original tweets from the week of his hospitalisation with covid-19. In one tweet, he wrote: “I have fully authorised 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!” OK, yup, that’s pretty clear. He has already ordered total declassification, all documents, no redactions — check, check, and check. In the second tweet, he wrote: “All Russia Hoax Scandal information was Declassified by me long ago. Unfortunately for our Country, people have acted very slowly, especially since it is perhaps the biggest political crime in the history of our Country. Act!!!”
So, why aren’t the documents already in circulation if they’ve already been declassified and no further declassification is needed? Meadows says that Trump was referring “to the authorisation he had provided to the Attorney General to declassify documents as part of his ongoing review of intelligence activities relating to the 2016 Presidential election and certain related matters.”
Authorising one person to declassify documents as they see fit does not sound like a “total declassification” to me, but I’m not a judge. On the other hand, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton is a judge, and according to CNN, he expects to see the DOJ at a court hearing on Wednesday. If Judge Walton isn’t happy, we could get a nice flood of documents gift-wrapped with a tweet.