President Trump made his administration’s defense of his proposed travel ban tougher Monday, legal analysts said, after a series of early-morning tweets blasting his own attorneys and their defense of what he called a “watered down” and “politically correct” executive order.
Mr. Trump also said he wished the Justice Department had defended his original travel ban — which he himself revoked after several court rebukes.
It’s the latest example of the president tripping over his own words in the case, dating back to his original call for a ban on Muslims being allowed to enter the U.S. Judges have repeatedly cited his comments as evidence of animus toward Muslims, and used that as the basis to halt his travel ban.
Mr. Trump gave the courts and his critics still more ammunition this week, mocking his own March 6 executive order as a “watered down” and “politically correct.” He urged lawyers at the Justice Department to instead seek enforcement of a stricter version of the travel ban — akin to the original Jan. 27 order that Mr. Trump himself nixed — as they take their case to the Supreme Court.
“The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down Travel Ban before the Supreme Court - & seek much tougher version!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter early Monday. “In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!”
His tweets came as he was responding to the latest terror attacks in London.
The White House insisted that the president supports the updated March policy, which was rewritten to correct problems that the courts identified in the original travel ban.
“He wants the strongest executive order out there, and he wanted to move as quickly as possible,” said White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders. “He’s trying to protect the citizens of this country. The need for this executive order is very clear. Full stop.”
Legal scholars said Mr. Trump’s comments could seriously dent his case by undermining the legal arguments that the Justice Department has been using.
“The worst aspect of the tweet is that it plays directly into the hands of those challenging his order,” Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University Law School professor who has been watching the travel ban case, wrote on his blog.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month upheld an injunction blocking the travel portion of the order from taking effect. The ruling said the religious animus Mr. Trump showed toward Muslims during his presidential election campaign tainted his second version of the executive order.
The Trump administration’s revised order would block admissions of visitors from the majority-Muslim countries of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days and would impose a 120-day pause on refugee admissions to the United States.
The Justice Department has sought to defend the executive order in court by drawing distinctions between Mr. Trump’s call for a Muslim ban when he was a candidate and his comments as president about how national security concerns justify the executive order.
Whether courts should be able to look back at campaign statements in judging the actions of a president has been at the center of the legal arguments, but analysts said Monday that Mr. Trump may have ended that fight.
“These will also go a long way toward mooting debate over use of campaign statements; no need when, as President, he still says these things,” Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, wrote on Twitter.
Mr. Trump’s tweets even earned a rebuke from White House Counsel Kellyanne Conway’s husband, George Conway, who said the president’s comments about the travel ban were damaging to the Office of the Solicitor General’s efforts to persuade the Supreme Court to reinstate the ban.
“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,” Mr. Conway wrote on Twitter.
Mr. Conway, who had withdrawn his name from consideration for a top post in the Justice Department, went on to clarify that he still supports the president and his policies. But he said he was trying to make the point that “tweets on legal matters seriously undermine Admin agenda and POTUS.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on the president’s tweets or its strategy in the ongoing travel ban litigation.
Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union have until June 12 to respond to the administration’s petition to the Supreme Court and acknowledged Monday that Mr. Trump’s most recent tweets may well be quoted in those documents.
ACLU attorney Omar Jadwat, who argued one of the travel ban challenges brought in Maryland, said Mr. Trump’s tweets make clear that he favors the first version of the order and that the second version of the order was written not to remove religious animus but merely for litigation purposes.
“Those things really undercut the narrative the Justice Department lawyers have been trying to put forward in the cases and underline the danger of adopting the narrative that the government has been pushing,” Mr. Jadwat said.
Others aren’t convinced that Mr. Trump’s comments will create any real stumbling block for Justice Department attorneys.
“The ACLU can bloviate all they want about this, but there is nothing in his tweets that in any way changes the constitutionality and legality of the president’s executive orders,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “There is not a single word in any of the tweets that anyone could say demonstrates discrimination on a religious basis.”
Mr. Turley agreed that Mr. Trump’s comments in no way altered the core of the legal arguments that the Justice Department has put forth in support of the executive order, which he believes favor the administration. But he said the reference to a ban “undermines the thrust of the arguments raised in courts across the country.”
“The only logical conclusion that can be reached is that Trump really does not care if he wins the case,” Mr. Turley said. “The problem is that there is a large and talented team at the Justice Department that is still laboring under the assumption that the president does want to prevail before the Supreme Court.”
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.