U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a speech at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) annual March Dinner. (Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Bloomberg)

Trump Defeats Challenge Over Use of Message-Deleting Apps

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump defeated a watchdog group’s court challenge to his administration’s use of instant-messaging applications that automatically erase their contents.

In its lawsuit filed last year, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington -- or CREW -- complained that White House staffers were using applications known as Signal and Confide. The former allows users to set a time limit after which messages will delete themselves, while the latter enables a recipient to wipe one with the wave of a finger.

Failure to retain those communiques violated the Presidential Records Act of 1978, the organization alleged. In a ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper said CREW was likely right on the merits, but that he was nevertheless constrained to grant a government request to dismiss the suit on procedural grounds.

"The use of automatically disappearing text messages to conduct White House business would almost certainly run afoul of the Presidential Records Act," Cooper said, but he rejected the complaint, in part because Congress made no provision for private groups to seek its enforcement.

The president, whose unorthodox governing style has included the use of Twitter as a primary means of communicating with the public, also defeated a New York federal court lawsuit asserting he’s allowed foreign governments to enrich him, in violation of the U.S. Constitution. His attorneys have asked federal courts in Washington and Maryland to throw out similar cases filed by Congressional Democrats and the attorneys general of Maryland and D.C.

“We’re obviously disappointed that the judge did not rule for us,” CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz said in an email. “Our legal team is currently reviewing the decision and considering our options.”

In his 21-page ruling, Cooper concluded the White House isn’t a federal agency subject to the Federal Administrative Procedures Act, as CREW claimed, and that the actions it sought to compel -- such as issuance of guidelines barring the use of Confide and Signal -- were too discretionary to satisfy applicable legal standards.

"The battle is made all the more difficult by the discretion accorded the president in determining how to carry out his obligations under the Presidential Record Act," the judge said. "The statute simply directs the president to take such actions ‘as may be necessary’ to preserve records, a phrase necessarily carrying a substantial degree of discretion to determine what steps are necessary."

The case is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Trump, 17-cv-1228, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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