By DARREN SAMUELSOHN 09/27/2017
President Donald Trump’s prolific Twitter feeds may be lifelines to his political base, but they remain an ongoing legal liability due to dozens of deletions.
Since Trump took office in January, his @realdonaldtrump account has deleted 41 posts, including three on Tuesday pertaining to the Senate GOP primary in Alabama that found Trump backing the losing Republican in the race, according to archives kept by the nonprofit journalism website ProPublica.
Eight other tweets from Trump’s official @potus account have also been deleted since he inherited the feed from President Barack Obama.
All those deleted messages — even the seemingly innocuous ones pulled back to correct typos — are now at the center of a heated debate over whether Trump is following presidential record-keeping laws.
Legal experts said Trump may be in the clear if he is deleting purely political tweets that aren’t covered by the Presidential Records Act. But it gets tricky because Trump’s White House has stated that his missives from his personal @realdonaldtrump account are official government statements.
Of critical importance is whether Trump officials are mirroring Obama’s White House and archiving his deleted tweets.
David Ferriero, the archivist of the United States, told key senators in a March letter that the National Archives and Records Administration had advised Trump’s White House to “capture and preserve all tweets that the president posts in the course of his official duties, including those that are subsequently deleted, as Presidential records.” He added that NARA was “informed by White House officials that they are, in fact, doing so.”
Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle and a former NARA litigation director, said that Trump’s White House is in compliance with the law “assuming that the White House adheres to their representations to NARA that they are in fact preserving the President’s deleted tweets.”
White House officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The questions about the legality of Trump’s Twitter deletions gained new attention this week after his account scrubbed three posts that had urged voters to support Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, the incumbent who ended up losing to a more conservative challenger, Roy Moore, according to the ProPublica archives.
In addition, Trump’s account deleted another post related to the Alabama race because of a mistake: It sent one message congratulating Moore for winning the primary and urged the Republican to “WIN in Nov!” After removing that post, it sent a separate message urging Moore to “WIN in Dec!” — using the correct month for the special election.
Other messages Trump has deleted include a post Tuesday referring to the Dallas Cowboys’ protest before a “Monday Night Football” game. At first, the president wrote that the players “ALL stood up for National Anthem.” He took that message down and tried again with a new version that took the word “ALL” out of all caps.
Trump’s critics say the president — by hitting the delete button on his nonpolitical Twitter posts — may be breaking the law. In fact, government watchdog groups Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive filed a lawsuit in June in federal district court that seeks an immediate halt on Trump making more deletions on his social media pages.
Noah Bookbinder, the executive director at CREW, said in an email his group is considering “whether and how to bring the continuing examples” of Trump’s Twitter deletions into its lawsuit.
Trump’s Justice Department has an Oct. 6 deadline to file its reply brief in the case.