ACLU and other legal opponents celebrate Trump’s use of term as Kellyanne Conway’s husband, a lawyer, suggests president is undermining own case
In the aftermath of the London terror attack, Donald Trump on Monday returned the offensive over security, renewing his criticism of US courts for blocking his attempted travel ban against people from six Muslim-majority countries.
“People,” the president tweeted, “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!”
His comments drew criticism from legal experts, including a supreme court lawyer representing Hawaii against the White House and George Conway, husband of Trump’s aide Kellyanne Conway and an attorney who has been considered for senior federal posts.
Trump also added to his widely reviled criticism of the mayor of London, writing: “Pathetic excuse by London mayor Sadiq Khan, who had to think fast on his ‘no reason to be alarmed’ statement. [Mainstream media] is working hard to sell it!”
Trump’s executive order restricting entry to the US from Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Syria – a first version included Iraq – has been blocked by federal courts in Maryland and Hawaii. The White House has appealed to the supreme court.
Rulings against the order have concerned Trump and associates’ references to the order as a “ban”, and references to Muslims being its target. A ban on entry to the US based on religion – as a ban on the countries concerned would be on a de facto basis – would be unconstitutional on grounds of religious discrimination.
On the campaign trail last year, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the US.
Among the people who have insisted that Trump’s policy does not amount to a “ban” is the president’s own press secretary. In January, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters: “It’s not a Muslim ban. It’s not a travel ban. It’s a vetting system to keep America safe.”
Trump tweeted about his travel ban on Saturday night, as events in London were unfolding. Seven people died and 48 were injured, 18 critically, when three attackers drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and then attacked people with knives in Borough Market. All three attackers were shot dead by police.
“We need to be smart, vigilant and tough,” Trump wrote then, in the first of a number of widely criticised tweeted responses to the London attack. “We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the travel ban as an extra level of safety!”
In response, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) pointed to Trump’s potential legal misstep when it tweeted: “Glad we both agree the ban is a ban.”
On Monday, Trump carried on regardless, writing: “The Justice Dept should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to [the supreme court].
“The Justice Dept should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down travel ban before the supreme court – and seek much tougher version!
“In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the US in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!”
In response to Trump’s comment that the justice department “should have stayed with the original Travel Ban”, a message posted on the lawyer George Conway’s Twitter account said: “These tweets may make some ppl feel better, but they certainly won’t help OSG [Office of the Solicitor General] get 5 votes in SCOTUS [the US supreme court], which is what actually matters. Sad”.
The solicitor general supervises supreme court litigation. Conway, a partner at the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, was previously under consideration for the role. He withdrew from consideration for a different justice department post last week, saying it was “not the right time” to leave the private sector for a federal role, though he continued to support the Trump administration.
Conway’s Twitter account is not verified. In an email to the Guardian, he confirmed it was his. He subsequently tweeted a link to a Washington Post piece titled “Trump’s latest tweets could hurt effort to restore travel ban”, with the comment: “Very good analysis.”
Conway’s wife, Kellyanne Conway, told NBC’s Today show on Monday morning the media had an “obsession” with covering Trump’s comments posted on Twitter.
George Conway also published a statement via Twitter. “Just to be clear,” he wrote, “and in response to inquiries, I still VERY, VERY STRONGLY support POTUS, his Admin, policies, the executive order and of course, my wonderful wife. Which is why I said what I said this morning.
“Every sensible lawyer in WHCO and every political appointee at DOJ wd agree with me (as some have already told me). The pt cannot be stressed enough that tweets on legal matters seriously undermine Admin agenda and POTUS – and those who support him, as I do, need to reinforce that pt and not be shy about it.”
Elsewhere, Neil Katyal, a supreme court lawyer, tweeted in response to the president: “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!”
White House social media director Dan Scavino has denied reports that as the Trump White House struggles with its legislative agenda and FBI and congressional investigations into ties between Trump aides and Russia, lawyers are now monitoring the president’s tweets.
Additional reporting by Jon Swaine
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