Media & Communications Law

DOJ says Trump's tweets are official presidential statements

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President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed/

The Department of Justice on Monday told a federal district court judge In Washington, D.C. that Donald Trump’s tweets are “official statements of the President of the United States.”

As the National Law Journal reports, the assertion that the tweets are official government statements was made in James Madison Project v. Department of Justice, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that seeks the release of documents related a dossier of allegations regarding Trump’s ties to Russia and written by former British spy Christopher Steele.

The president’s tweets are relevant to the case because the plaintiffs—the James Madison Project, an intelligence watchdog organization, and Politico—had argued that certain tweets waived the DOJ’s responses to their FOIA request.

Judge Amit Mehta asked DOJ attorneys to explain “how official [the tweets] are, are they statements of the White House and the President.” In a response filed Monday (PDF), DOJ attorneys said “the government is treating the statements upon which Plaintiffs rely as official statements of the President of the United States.”

That may be relevant to another case, in which several Twitter users have sued the president for blocking them on Twitter. In Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. Trump, the DOJ had argued (PDF) that Trump’s tweets are official policy statements, although his actions with his Twitter account are “personal conduct that is not an exercise of state power.”

“To be sure, the President’s account identifies his office, and his tweets make official statements about the policies of his administration,” the DOJ’s motion for summary judgment argues. “But the fact that the President may ‘announce the actions of state’ through his Twitter account does not mean that all actions related to that account are attributable to the state.”

There’s little caselaw on to what extent government use of social media can be considered official or a “public forum,” which affords First Amendment protection to people who might be excluded based on their viewpoints. Both sides of the Knight Institute case have moved for summary judgment.

The James Madison Project case seeks documents given to Trump to brief him on the dossier that was released in January by BuzzFeed as well as any government determinations on its accuracy. The Justice Department, CIA, Defense Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence gave Glomar responses to the requests, which do not confirm or deny the existence of the records. The Madison Project and Politico had argued that tweets from Trump betray the existence of the records because they call the dossier “discredited.”

The DOJ argues in its brief filed Monday that although the president’s tweets are official government statements, nothing in those statements suggests that federal agencies have made a final determination on whether statements in the government’s synopsis of the dossier are true.

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