What happened: When Donald Trump tweeted last week that he authorized the "total declassification of any & all documents" related to the long-running Russia investigation and Hillary Clinton’s emails — "No redactions!" he tweeted — he really didn’t mean it, the Justice Department argued in court Tuesday.
DOJ attorneys told a judge that the White House Counsel’s Office effectively told DOJ to disregard Trump’s tweets on the matter. They weren’t accompanied by an actual declassification order, and DOJ will proceed as though the tweets hadn’t occurred, continuing to redact and release documents at its discretion.
"The White House Counsel’s Office informed the Department that there is no order requiring wholesale declassification or disclosure of documents at issue in this matter," Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer wrote in a filing with Judge Reggie Walton, who had ordered DOJ to clarify its position after the president’s tweets.
The background: Walton is presiding over a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by BuzzFeed’s Jason Leopold seeking the disclosure of redacted portions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the 2016 Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, as well as its underlying documents.
The White House’s position cuts against Trump’s emphatic tweet, which came amid a remarkable string of invective aimed at his political allies — as well as demands that his Justice Department indict and prosecute his political rivals, including Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.
"I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to the single greatest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax," Trump said. "Likewise, the Hillary Clinton Email Scandal. No redactions!"
The tweet drew immediate accolades from some of Trump’s closest allies, who have long claimed hidden documents would expose the Russia investigation as a politically motivated assault on the Trump presidency. But DOJ made clear that Trump’s pronouncement had no actual force.
"The Attorney General has not ordered the declassification and release of any of the redacted material in this case based on the President’s tweets," Weinsheimer wrote. "The Department was further informed that the President’s statements on Twitter do not require altering any redactions on any record at issue in this case, including but not limited to, any redactions taken pursuant to any discretionary FOIA exemptions."