The Cable

With Tweetstorm on Travel Ban, Trump Makes Court Case for His Opponents

Trump went off script and criticized his Justice Department’s “watered down, politically correct” travel ban.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 01:  U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision for the United States to pull out of the Paris climate agreement in the Rose Garden at the White House June 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump pledged on the campaign trail to withdraw from the accord, which former President Barack Obama and the leaders of 194 other countries signed in 2015. The agreement is intended to encourage the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit global warming to a manageable level.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 01: U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision for the United States to pull out of the Paris climate agreement in the Rose Garden at the White House June 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump pledged on the campaign trail to withdraw from the accord, which former President Barack Obama and the leaders of 194 other countries signed in 2015. The agreement is intended to encourage the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit global warming to a manageable level. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump began Monday morning with a tweetstorm responding to a recent terrorist attack in London and doubling down on his controversial and twice-blocked travel ban.

“People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” Trump wrote.

“The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.” Trump also wrote.

Trump’s effort to block travelers to the United States from several Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, first mandated in a Jan. 27 executive order and since revised, has been engaged in a protracted legal tug-of-war. Last week, the Justice Department filed a petition to the Supreme Court seeking review of a lower court’s decision, and to allow the ban to go into effect in the meantime.

Opponents claim the order is motivated by religious discrimination, and point to Trump’s many statements on the subject  — such as calling on the campaign trail for a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” — as evidence. They’re thrilled Trump can’t stay off Twitter.

The tweets “are kind of unbelievable,” said Justin Cox, an attorney representing International Refugee Assistance Project in the travel ban case currently in front of the Supreme Court.

When he saw the president’s latest missives, he immediately took a screenshot and sent it to his team. “We like it when the president talks about our case,” he said. “If he’s reading this, we certainly encourage him to continue talking.”

The government argues the ban is really a pause, to protect the nation from potential terrorists while the administration reviews vetting procedures. (The initial 90 days that the government wanted the ban to be in place to carry out that review have, of course, come and gone.)

“It’s not a travel ban,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted in January. “When we use words like travel ban, that misrepresents what it is.”

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly also rejected the term “travel ban,” at the time, saying, “this is a temporary pause that allows us to better review the existing refugee and visa vetting system.”

But Trump’s latest comments undercut his own team, and have lawyers sharpening their knives for a possible Supreme Court showdown.

Neal Katyal, a lawyer working on a different case opposing the travel ban, tweeted: “Its kinda odd to have the defendant in HawaiivTrump acting as our co-counsel. We don’t need the help but will take it!”

Legal teams fighting the ban have already collected a long list of statements made by Trump and his staff members on the subject, and used it in multiple courts to demonstrate the intent behind the ban is rooted in “religious animus.”

The cleaned-up second travel ban excluded Iraq from the original list of seven barred countries, lifted an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria, and removed language giving preference to religious minorities. It also exempted green card holders and people with valid visas from the travel pause, but was still blocked in courts.

“They’ve insisted that the revised new ban actually demonstrates the president’s good faith, that the revised ban cures any possible religious discrimination in the first,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project. “None of that is consistent with what the president has said today.”

If the Supreme Court decides to take the case, Trump’s latest tweets will likely further undermine his position. Justice Department lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to ignore Trump’s past statements on the campaign trail, as well as his first executive order, arguing that the second travel ban should be considered narrowly on its own. But on Monday, Trump seemed to throw that out the window.

Even potential allies criticized the president’s statements, including George Conway, the husband of Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway, who recently withdrew from consideration for a top Justice Department job.

“These tweets may make some ppl feel better, but they certainly won’t help OSG get 5 votes in SCOTUS, which is what actually matters. Sad.” Conway wrote on Twitter.

Photo Credit: McNamee/Getty Images

Kavitha Surana is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy, where she produces breaking news and original reports with a particular focus on immigration, counterterrorism, and border security policy. Previously, Kavitha worked at New York magazine’s Bedford + Bowery blog, CNNMoney, The Associated Press in Italy, and Fareed Zakaria GPS and has freelanced from Italy and Germany for publications like Quartz, Al Jazeera America, OZY, and GlobalPost/PRI. In 2015, she was awarded a Fulbright trip to Germany, as well as a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation to report on migration and integration. She also reported from Rwanda and Senegal. Kavitha studied European history at Columbia University and holds a master’s degree in journalism and European studies from New York University. She has studied in Italy and Peru and speaks Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. @ksurana6

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