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Trump's Tweets Complicate Task of Defending Travel Ban

by Pete Williams /
Image: President Donald Trump Travel Ban
President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban at the Pentagon on January 27, 2017 in Washington. FileCarlos Barria / Reuters File

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WASHINGTON — New remarks from President Trump on Twitter complicate the task of persuading federal judges to lift court-imposed bans that block enforcement of the president's executive order restricting travel from six Muslim countries.

The Justice Department “should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted,” Trump tweeted Monday morning, one of several online comments he offered after the latest terror attacks in London.

“We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!” he tweeted over the weekend.

Trump's tweeted criticism could complicate the administration's efforts to defend the ban, legal experts said.

The president's latest tweets "will only undermine the government's case before the Supreme Court," said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas' law school

There's no need, Vladeck said, to debate whether a president's campaign statements should count "when, as president, he still says these things."

Opponents of the executive orders have argued — so far successfully — that the restrictions amount to the "Muslim ban" that Trump originally proposed during his campaign. Federal judges previously questioned how much they should consider Trump's campaign comments when weighing the executive order's intent.

In response, the Justice Department has insisted that courts should ignore campaign statements and focus only on what the president says and does after he's elected.

Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday said the administration feels the order should simply be framed as a national security measure.

Late last week, Justice Department lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case. They asked the justices in the meantime to lift the lower court rulings that have blocked enforcement of the restrictions.

In the meantime, Trump's tweets about the ban have raised brows legal circles.

Neal Katyal, a Washington, DC lawyer representing a group of challengers from Hawaii, said in a Tweet, "It's kinda odd to have the defendant in Hawaii v Trump acting as our co-counsel. We don't need the help but will take it!"

George Conway, a D.C. attorney and husband of Kellyane Conway, tweeted a note of caution on Trump's travel ban tweet.

"Every sensible lawyer in the White House counsel and every political appointee at DOJ would agree with me (as some have already told me)," Conway said in response to questions from NBC News. "The point cannot be stressed enough that tweets on legal matters seriously undermine the administration's agenda and president and those who support him, as I do, need to reinforce that point and not be shy about it."

After President Trump's first executive order was blocked, the president signed a second one, imposing a ban on travel from Iran, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days. During that period, the government was to assess the reliability of background information from those countries that the State Department uses to evaluate whether to issue a visa.

Opponents of the travel ban must file a response to the government's latest request by next week. It's safe to predict they will refer to the president's own words from his latest Tweet.

President Trump has previously used the phrase "watered down" to describe his revised executive order. In their filings last week in the Supreme Court, Justice Department lawyers said even so, both versions are "aimed at the same national security objectives — facilitating a few of existing screening and vetting procedures."

To round out the day, Trump tripled-down on the language on Monday evening, tweeting at 9:20 p.m. ET, "That's right, we need a TRAVEL BAN for certain DANGEROUS countries, not some politically correct term that won't help us protect our people!"

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