How Trump’s travel ban tweets could hurt his case

JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: to a part of the Trump agenda that the administration still has not been able to implement: his travel ban on visitors from six mostly Muslim countries.

The revised version of the ban remains on hold by federal court order, and the president this morning aired out his grievances once again.

John Yang reports.

JOHN YANG: This afternoon, the White House deputy press secretary said it didn't matter what President Trump's executive order on immigration is called.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, Deputy White House Press Secretary: I think that the president isn't concerned with what you call it. He's concerned with national security and protecting people in this country.

JOHN YANG: This morning, the president was very concerned, stating: "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."

In fact, it his own aides who refused to call it that.

SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: It's not a travel ban. It's a — it's a vetting system to keep America safe. That's it, plain and simple.

JOHN KELLY, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary: It's not a travel ban, remember. It's a travel pause. What the president said, for 90 days, we were going to pause in terms of people from those countries coming to the United States that would give me time to look at additional vetting.

JOHN YANG: Mr. Trump also slammed his own Justice Department, saying it should have stuck with the original executive order, "not the watered-down, politically correct current version," even though it was the president himself who revoked the original version when he signed the new one.

Mr. Trump has asked the Justice Department to seek a quick Supreme Court hearing to reinstate the order after lower courts blocked it from taking effect. It's up to the justices to decide how quickly they will act.

For the PBS NewsHour, I'm John Yang.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Separately, there's word tonight that the FBI has arrested a federal contract employee on charges of leaking a secret document on Russian election hacking. NBC News reports that a Georgia woman allegedly gave the National Security Agency document to "The Intercept," an online magazine.

It says it shows Russian military intelligence engineered a cyber-attack on at least one U.S. supplier of voting software last year. Hackers also tried to dupe elections officials into handing over log-in credentials. It's the first evidence that Moscow tried to go beyond swaying public opinion and interfere in election machinery.

For more on all this and more, we turn to Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

So, Amy and Tam, this is a story that has just been breaking literally within the last hour. We learned about this online magazine, Amy, a few hours ago, but now we're learning about the arrest.

If it is the case that the Russians were able to in some way interfere or get close to interfering with the machinery of an election, what does that mean?

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Well, that's just one more piece of what has been this never-ending puzzle called the Russian impact on this election.

And what's difficult about sifting through all of this, Judy, it's a little bit like one of those games where there's a picture made up of a lot of different tiles. You don't know what that picture is until you flip over all the tiles to get the picture. And all we're getting the one tile here and one tile there and one tile over here. So we have little pieces, but we don't know what the big picture is, and I don't know that we're going ever going to find out the big picture.

Then put on top of it all of the politics around it, whether it's the president saying he doesn't know really if the Russians interfered in this, the push by Democrats to really politicize a lot of this, the Russian — including Hillary Clinton, who says that the Russian interference cost her the election.

And now, of course, we have James Comey, the FBI director, coming to the Hill to talk more about this Thursday.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And speaking of which, Tam, the White House did announce today, as we reported, that the president is not going to step in and exert what we call executive privilege to prevent James Comey from doing that.

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: No, there was a question of whether they could actually assert that privilege and whether they'd succeed.

But, yes, they're saying that the president will not do that. There was also a question of, politically, whether it was a good idea for the president to try to interfere with Comey testifying, because that would just cause a lot of people to say, well, what is he hiding?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Amy, there was a lot of speculation about this, people saying, if the president did that, it would be explosive.

AMY WALTER: Absolutely.

Let him go and testify, and then respond to that. If you block him from testifying in the first place, the first thing everybody is going to say is, well, of course the White House has something to hide, that's why they don't want him to testify.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, let's go back, Tam, to this other story we have been dealing with for several hours today, and that is the storm of tweets that you just heard John Yang reporting on from the president today, basically doubling down on his original travel ban, saying, I don't care what anybody calls it, I want the travel ban, and I don't like what the Justice Department did and so on and so on.

Does he help himself with this, or is it — is it there some risk?

TAMARA KEITH: Is that a serious question?

(LAUGHTER)

TAMARA KEITH: Lawyers would say, many lawyers would say, stop talking.

Those lawyers include George Conway, who is someone who was up for potentially a job, a high-level job in the Justice Department, pulled out of that job last week, happens to be the husband of Kellyanne Conway, said in a series of tweets, basically, the president's tweets may make people feel good, but they are not helping his legal case.

Also, the lawyer who is representing Hawaii in one of these cases that has led to the travel ban being blocked essentially said, wow, thank you, President Trump. You're certainly helping us. Didn't realize you were going to be co-counsel.

(LAUGHTER)

AMY WALTER: And that's what — part of the reason that the courts didn't enact the travel ban in the first place was based on statements that Trump made on the campaign trail.

And so it is clear that his own words have made this that much more difficult, that the actual text of the ban is as much an issue as what he said in his campaign about wanting to ban Muslims, and now going to Twitter and also making the case against himself. So he has made it that much harder, if not — to get beyond just the text of this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, on top of all this, at the same time, Tam, Kellyanne Conway, who we mentioned a moment ago because her husband was tweeting criticism of the president, was telling reporters this morning — she was interviewed on one of the morning television shows — just don't pay attention to the tweets.

TAMARA KEITH: Right. Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That you should be focused on what the president is getting done.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, why focus on the tweets, she says.

Well, because they are statements of the president of the United States. And when the president of the United States says something, it matters. Now, sometimes, his statements come on letterhead from the White House that say this is an official statement of the president of the United States.

But the reality is that, often, he goes on Twitter and contradicts the things that are on the official letterhead. And, really, his tweets are this unprecedented access to what is in the mind of the president of the United States. It is unfiltered.

His spokeswoman was asked today, are these tweets being vetted yet? Are lawyers vetting the tweets? And she said, I don't think so.

So, actually, this is what the president thinks.

AMY WALTER: And says. And it shouldn't be any different if he says it on Twitter than if he says it at a press conference or if he sent something on official letterhead.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I should say we at the NewsHour view the tweets as another form of statement from the president, from the White House.

AMY WALTER: Absolutely. Absolutely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There are official statements. There are executive orders, any number of other ways. They can give interviews. They can make speeches.

(CROSSTALK)

AMY WALTER: And Twitter is another one of those methods.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Twitter is …

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: … of communicating.

AMY WALTER: And everything he says as a private — when he was a private citizen is very different than when he is president of the president of the United States.

No matter what he says, in what venue he says it, it carries the weight of the president of the United States. It carries the weight of being the leader of this country.

TAMARA KEITH: Though I think that he considers the tweets to be sort of a direct message to his base, whereas the more official statements are seen for a wider audience.

But I think he sees those tweets as going directly with the base, going around the media. But everybody else is watching, including leaders from around the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Everybody is watching who focuses on this administration.

Quickly, Tam, meantime, the White House was trying to today to regroup. They said this is going to be infrastructure week. They had a little briefing for the news media where they said, we're going to be focusing on a plan to pour a lot of effort and money into rebuilding the nation's infrastructure.

It's still not clear about the details and the cost, but they're trying to change the subject.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, infrastructure week is going really well. It started with the president tweeting at 6:00 in the morning about something completely unrelated to infrastructure.

But they did announce a proposal on privatizing air traffic control. The president held a big, flashy signing ceremony to sign a memo being sent to Congress to say that these are the ideas that he supports.

That is not a bill signing. That is a memo signing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, regrouping.

AMY WALTER: Well, and for President Trump, this should be his biggest, most powerful statement. He was elected to Congress as a businessman, as a deal-maker, as a builder of things, to put together an infrastructure bill that Democrats, Republicans can agree on, that he can promote.

This should be one of the easiest things for him to do, and yet, both by his own tweets and by the fact that this bill itself, as it stands, is not going to get support from Democrats.

(CROSSTALK)

TAMARA KEITH: Also, there is no infrastructure bill, just to be clear, at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will keep watching. I know you will too.

AMY WALTER: We will keep watching, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy, Tam, thank you.

TAMARA KEITH: Thank you.

Recently in Politics Monday