A US judge has ruled that a tweet sent by President Donald Trump earlier this month did not constitute an order to declassify material linked to the Russiagate probe, as CNN and Buzzfeed press for the docs in ongoing lawsuits.
US District Judge Reggie Walton said on Wednesday that, while the tweet appeared to order the release of new material free of any redactions, a clarification from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows qualified as a reversal of the move. The judge was also critical of the administration for a lack of clarity on the question.
“It is unfortunate that we are in this situation because, obviously, when there’s ever a reference to declassification of classified information those words spoken should be artfully spoken, so there’s no ambiguity as to what the intent was,” Walton said during Wednesday’s remote hearing, adding that “obviously, that’s not what occurred here.”
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In the October 6 tweet, Trump declared he had “fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to the single greatest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax” with “no redactions,” referring to a years-long DOJ probe into whether the 2016 Trump campaign had conspired with Moscow to throw the election. Informally known as ‘Russiagate,’ the so-called scandal largely fell apart following the investigation, which failed to substantiate claims of “collusion” and resulted in no Russia-related indictments for any member of the Trump team.
Walton’s ruling comes amid multiple Freedom of Information lawsuits spearheaded by BuzzFeed, CNN and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The organizations are seeking a complete, unredacted copy of the final report from special counsel Robert Mueller, who led the Russiagate probe, as well as related interview summaries, arguing the president’s tweet did, in fact, amount to an official order.
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Meadows, however, told the court on Tuesday that the tweet was not itself a new declassification order, and was instead merely a reference to a May 2019 directive to US intelligence agencies to “cooperate” with Attorney General Bill Barr as he reviewed Russiagate material for release.
“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 wrote in a declaration.
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.
Less than an hour after the president penned the tweet on October 6, he followed up with another post noting he had declassified “all Russia hoax scandal” documents “a long time ago,” but that his personnel had “acted very slowly” to release them. The subsequent tweet appears to be consistent with Meadows’ claim that the president was referring to a previous directive, rather than issuing a new one.
While Trump has repeatedly called for the release of material linked to the Russiagate investigation, and the DOJ and other agencies have allowed for a steady trickle of related files, a complete declassified document dump has not been forthcoming. That, perhaps ironically, has left news outlets like CNN and Buzzfeed – diehard proponents of the Trump-Russia collusion myth and vocal critics of the president – to make the push for a more complete release of the records.
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