“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,” Meadows added. “Instead, the President’s statements related to the authorization he had provided 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.”
Meadows’ message may be deflating for some Trump supporters, who are still hoping for major preelection revelations and have been railing against FBI Director Christopher Wray and others they contend are resisting the president’s long-running calls to open up government records on what he asserts was a “deep state”-orchestrated coup aimed at overturning the results of the 2016 election.
Trump’s tweets seemed consistent with that view, suggesting that elements in the government were undermining his orders.
“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!” Trump wrote on Twitter two weeks ago. “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!!!”
U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton issued the rare order to the White House last week after expressing dissatisfaction with a previous explanation submitted by the Justice Department’s top career official, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer. Weinsheimer said he had checked with an unidentified official in the White House counsel’s office and determined that no new declassification was triggered by Trump’s latest tweets.
However, Walton said given Trump’s suggestions of a rogue element undercutting his orders, some assurance directly from the president or someone who had spoken to the president was necessary.
“It seems to me that when a president makes an unambiguous statement of what his intent is, I can’t rely upon White House counsel saying, ‘Well, that was not his intent,’” the George W. Bush appointee said during a telephone hearing Friday. “Maybe White House counsel talked to the president. Maybe they didn’t, but I can’t tell.”
Walton has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to address the sufficiency of the White House’s response.
It is unclear whether the judge will find the latest explanation satisfactory. While Meadows’ submission describes the meaning of Trump’s two Oct. 6 tweets, the judge also raised questions about an interview Trump did earlier this month with radio host Rush Limbaugh, in which the president complained about the obstacles to making information public.
In addition, Meadows’ description is in tension with Trump’s actual words. While he called for “No redactions!,” the Justice Department continues to withhold limited portions of the Mueller report and large swaths of the underlying FBI interview summaries.
The main report has not been deemed classified, but portions of the summaries have been classified on national security grounds. Other sections are withheld as confidential law enforcement techniques and based on a claim that FBI agents at witness interviews were essentially acting directly for prosecutors.
The suits Walton is overseeing were filed by BuzzFeed, CNN and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.