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Trump's tweet on 'total' declassification of Russia docs isn't an order, White House tells judge

The White House chief of staff told the judge to ignore Trump's tweet saying he had authorized the declassification of "any & all documents" related to the Russia probe.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows walks as President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Duluth, Minn., on Sept. 30, 2020.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows at a Trump campaign rally in Duluth, Minn., on Sept. 30.Alex Brandon / AP

When President Donald Trump tweeted that he had authorized the full declassification of all documents having to do with the Russia investigation, he didn't mean it literally and didn't intend to make information from the Mueller investigation public, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said in a court filing Tuesday.

"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 said in a sworn court statement.

Trump tweeted on Oct. 6: "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 was responding to a tweet from conservative journalist and author Paul Sperry, who had written, "When all the documents are finally declassified, and all the redactions removed from reports, the nation will see that the FBI and CIA not only knew the Russia 'collusion' allegations against Trump were a political dirty trick, but that they were in on the trick."

In his court declaration, Meadows said Trump's tweet wasn't about allowing the nation to see the documents; rather, it was about Attorney General William Barr's being able to release them.

The statements were "related to the authorization he had provided the attorney general to declassify documents as part of his ongoing review of intelligence activities related to the 2016 presidential election and certain related matters," Meadows said.

Democrats contend that Barr's investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation is politically motivated and aimed at helping Trump's re-election campaign. Some documents from the investigation have been released by Republican Senate committees conducting similar investigations.

Meadows' filing came in a court case brought by BuzzFeed, CNN and the Electronic Privacy Information Center aimed at unearthing documents from the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Much of the information that has been released so far, including FBI notes from interviews with top White House and Trump campaign officials, has been heavily redacted. The suit also seeks an unredacted version of Mueller's report.

White House lawyers told U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton in Washington, D.C., that Trump's tweet had no relevance to the BuzzFeed case, but Walton said he wanted to know what the president's personal position was.

"It seems to me when a president makes a clear, unambiguous statement of what his intention is that I can't rely on the White House counsel's office saying, 'Well, that was not his intent,'" Walton said at a court hearing last week, according to The Washington Post.

"I think the American public has a right to rely on what the president says his intention is," added Walton, a former presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

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Trump complained this month that Barr and the U.S. attorney he put in charge of the Russia inquiry, John Durham, hadn't issued a report about their findings or brought criminal charges against those who he maintains "spied" on his campaign.

"Look, we have all the evidence in the world," Trump told Fox Business. "In addition to that, I released everything, every document. I don't care what it pertains to, I released everything. I've declassified. I'm the only one in the country that has the power to do that. I've declassified everything.

"Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes — the greatest political crimes in the history of our country — then we're going to get little satisfaction unless I win, and we'll just have to go because I won't forget it," Trump said. "But these people should be indicted. This was the greatest political crime in the history of our country."