(Bloomberg) -- Heading into a crucial week for his presidency, Donald Trump seized on the London terrorist attacks to criticize his own Justice Department for submitting what he called the “politically correct” version of his travel ban for Supreme Court review and not his original measure.
“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 said in a series of messages starting at 6:25 a.m. New York time Monday. “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.,” he said -- the latter a reference to his own revised order that he signed March 6.
The latest version of the travel ban targeting residents of six predominantly Muslim nations was to last only 90 days, but it’s been suspended by federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii, and the Justice Department filed emergency applications last week with the Supreme Court.
Over the weekend, Trump took to Twitter to criticize the mayor of London’s handling of Saturday night’s attacks, call on the courts to restore his travel ban, and link the incident to the U.S. debate over gun control. His comments drew harsh criticism from U.K. leaders, adding to fissures opened by his recent trip to Europe and withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.
Trump took on his own Justice Department -- and the courts -- in his Twitter tirade Monday.
“The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down Travel Ban before the Supreme Court - & seek much tougher version!” Trump said. (Trump’s administration had already requested, last week, an immediate reinstatement of the revised ban, asking the justices to decide before they leave for recess at the end of June whether they will hear the case.)
Trump on Monday also said, “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!” he wrote.
Trump’s focus on the ban renews a tactic that helped him get elected but has shown no benefit so far in helping him govern. It comes days before former FBI Director James Comey is set to testify about his investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. If the tweets were an attempt to cause a distraction ahead of Comey’s appearance, which could be a turning point for the Trump administration, they served only to draw attention from a White House-choreographed roll-out of the president’s own infrastructure plan this week.
At issue is Trump’s executive order temporarily barring entry into the U.S. by people from six mostly Muslim countries in an effort to protect the country from terrorists. The administration asked the high court to let the ban take effect while the justices decide whether to review a lower court ruling that said the policy was "steeped in animus and directed at a single religious group."
The Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 10-3 to uphold a nationwide halt to the policy, saying the travel ban was driven by unconstitutional religious motivations. The majority pointed to Trump’s campaign vow to bar Muslims from entering the country and to the special preference for religious minorities included in an earlier version of the ban. The appeals court’s May 25 opinion also faulted the White House for rushing out the first version without consulting with the national security agencies.
Trump appeared Monday to be contradicting members of his staff who had argued that his executive order was not a “ban.”
“It’s not a Muslim ban. It’s not a travel ban,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Jan. 31. “It’s a vetting system to keep America safe.”
Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior declined to comment.
Trump began his statements on the London attack -- issued from his personal @realDonaldTrump Twitter account -- at 7:17 p.m. New York time on Saturday, shortly after U.S. reports of the London attack. All were sent using the Twitter for iPhone app.
"We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!" he tweeted.
His next tweet, seven minutes later, was sympathetic. “Whatever the United States can do to help out in London and the U. K., we will be there - WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!” he said.
The account was silent for nearly 12 hours. Then, at 7:19 a.m., he said, “We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don’t get smart it will only get worse.”
At 7:31 a.m., he attacked the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!”’
The tweet took Khan’s remark out of context. He had assured his citizens not to be alarmed about an increased police presence on London’s streets after the attack. Trump’s social-media director, Dan Scavino, later tweeted at Khan himself, telling him, "WAKE UP!!!"
At 7:43 a.m., Trump said, “Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck!”
British laws regulating private gun ownership are much more strict than in the U.S.
In the U.K. and the U.S., the blowback began.
“Cheap nasty & unbecoming of a national leader,” David Lindon Lammy, a member of the British Parliament and the Labour Party, said on Twitter. “Sort of thing that makes me want to quit politics on a day like this.”
He added in a separate message, “Put your phone down."
"President Trump’s tweets were inappropriate and do not reflect the views of most Americans," Representative Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement on Sunday. "These attackers did not strike London because of ‘political correctness.’ They did not sow violence and hatred because Britons, Americans, and many others insist on acknowledging the equal dignity of every person among us."
Trump followed on Monday with another tweet disparaging the London mayor. "Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his ‘no reason to be alarmed’ statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!" he wrote, referring to the mainstream media.
It has been a frustrating presidency so far for Trump. He looks to be dogged for the foreseeable future by the Russia investigation, which has been taken over by a special counsel.
Some in the Trump administration are worried that his presidency will forever carry an asterisk, even if no one in his campaign is ever found to have colluded with Russians to meddle in the 2016 election, one official said. The Russian government’s interference in the election, and its connections to Trump figures including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have cast a shadow on his White House.
He meanwhile has no legislative victories of note. Time is running short to score any in the near term, with health-care legislation stalled in the Senate and no agreement, much less movement, on a tax overhaul.
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told NBC on Monday that the media has "this obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little of what he does as president."
Congress will leave town in August for its annual summer recess, and soon after that lawmakers will begin worrying in earnest about the 2018 election. With every controversial tweet, alienating allies and further driving off any Democrats that might have been inclined to cross the aisle, Trump makes his job more difficult.