Donald Trump on Wednesday morning tweeted his support for the people of Iran currently engaged in widespread protests against their country’s oppressive government. He then deleted and rewrote the tweet with milder language, possibly violating federal records laws in the process.
As Newsweek reports, at about 8:37 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, the president posted a message of support for the Iranian protesters.
“Such respect for the people of Iran as they fight to take back their corrupt and poorly run country. The United States will be with you at the appropriate time!”
Forty-nine seconds later, Trump deleted the tweet. Not long after the deletion, he posted another message, this time using less incendiary language, as well as rewording his sentence in support of the Iranian people.
“Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!”
In deleting this tweet and several others during his presidency, Trump may have violated federal law. After the Nixon administration, during which then-president Richard Nixon had attempted to destroy records pertaining to Watergate, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act, which prohibits the president from destroying public records.
Not your father’s GOP: On this day in 1969, Richard Nixon signed a sweeping tax reform bill, cutting taxes for most Americans, but raising them on the rich. It also exempted nine million low-income citizens from paying any taxes at all and sharply raised Social Security benefits pic.twitter.com/uzFh1pzpAC
— West Wing Reports (@WestWingReport) December 30, 2017
However, the matter is far from settled when it comes to presidential tweets. Some experts contend that presidential tweets are matters of public record and that deleting them is thus illegal. Other legal experts say that Trump is simply sharing his personal views in a modern way, in which case he may legally delete and edit his tweets as he sees fit. It will likely take a court decision to settle the matter. And in fact, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive have both sued the Trump administration over the 45th president’s habit of deleting tweets.
Regardless, nothing posted on Twitter is gone forever, particularly if you’re a politician. Investigative group ProPublica has been documenting all of Trump’s deleted and edited tweets on its website Politwoops, and the originals are there for all to see, with annotations about how long the tweets were left up before being deleted.
Since the beginning of his presidency, the group has recorded nearly 70 deleted tweets from the three Twitter accounts Trump uses, including his personal account (@realDonaldTrump), his POTUS account (@POTUS), and the White House official account (@WhiteHouse). Many include mundane spelling errors, such as the much-documented “Covfefe” incident in May. Others, including one from last week, show that the 45th president either misspoke or thought better of what he’d just tweeted. In last week’s example, Trump tweeted about a loss in territory held by ISIS, but his source (The Washington Examiner) had done the math wrong and later corrected the error, according to Vox, and Trump deleted the tweet.