Two media outlets pressing the suits, BuzzFeed and CNN, argued that Trump’s Oct. 6 tweets constituted an unambiguous order to declassify the requested materials and to reverse deletions, some of which have already been upheld by Walton.
But the unusual declaration Meadows provided Tuesday under a court order insisted that the tweets simply referred to a move the president made in May 2019 to give Attorney General William Barr broad authority to declassify information related to the Russia probe.
CNN attorney Charles Tobin argued to Walton that Meadows’ submission didn’t really grapple with the specifics of the Trump tweets, like his statements that he’d authorized the “total Declassification of any & all documents” about the Russia investigation and his call for “No redactions!”
“It’s not responsive to the court’s concern that … did the president mean what he said?” Tobin said of Meadows’ declaration.
“We ask the court to enforce the president’s instruction a year and a half ago to the attorney general to enforce the public records laws and to order all of the redactions lifted. We’re 14 days before the election … and we all seem to agree, the president included, that the public should see this information before they cast their ballots,” the CNN attorney added.
However, Justice Department attorney Courtney Enlow emphasized that the formal memo the president issued on the topic last year didn’t mandate any declassification and simply bolstered Barr’s authority to release information after consulting with appropriate intelligence community officials.
“The memo is not an order to declassify any document, nor is there any way to interpret it as such,” she said. “It’s very clear there has been no order to declassify any information in this case or any other case.”
Enlow told the judge that the 2019 memo, the Meadows declaration and a separate declaration from a DOJ official who spoke to the White House counsel’s office all made clear that there had been no change in stance by the president. However, she never explained what the president meant by “No redactions!” or how that phrase could be reconciled with the thousands of deletions officials have made from publicly released versions of the FBI summaries of interviews with Mueller probe witnesses or the more limited number of redactions from the Mueller report itself.
Walton said it was “obvious” that Trump’s recent statements could be read as going beyond the action he took a year and a half ago, but that the president retained the ability to halt any new release he might have intended to order.
“It seems to me that’s what he has done,” the judge said. “I am constrained to conclude that there was no further expansion and therefore there is no need for further review of the documents.”
Another batch of interview reports is expected to be released by next Friday, just four days before Election Day.