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A terribly named bill would make it illegal to destroy a presidential tweet

A terribly named bill would make it illegal to destroy a presidential tweet


A permanent record of the president’s DMs

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

President Trump’s twitter habit has been a force for chaos since the early days of the campaign — but now, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) has a plan to make sure those tweets end up in a permanent archive. Named after one of Trump’s most bewildering tweets, the COVFEFE Act (short for Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement) would amend the Presidential Records Act to include social media as a documentary material. The proposal has a long way to go, but if it passes, it would result in a legal requirement to ensure all @POTUS tweets, direct messages, and Facebook posts end up in the presidential archive — even if they’re deleted from the service itself. 

Maintaining those tweets is particularly urgent, as the president’s Twitter account has become one of the central means of decoding the administration’s goals and motivations. A circuit court decision earlier today cited a @realDonaldTrump tweet concerning the travel ban as evidence of presidential intent, and the White House has confirmed that tweets from the accounts are to be taken as official statements. A recently launched Twitter account has taken that idea one step further, reformatting @RealDonaldTrump tweets as press releases from the official press secretary. More recently, free speech groups filed a lawsuit arguing that blocking users from the account constitutes a violation of the First Amendment.

At the same time, @realDonaldTrump has far more deleted tweets than the average government account. ProPublica records seven separate deletions since the beginning of May, and eighteen since the inauguration. Those range from simple typos like the “covfefe” tweet to significant political statements, including one tweet that seems to call for a subpoena against former assistant US Attorney Sally Yates. 

In theory, records of those are being maintained as part of an informal understanding between the White House and the National Archives, which holds all presidential records after the end of a president’s term. The National Archives have advised the White House to preserve deleted tweets, and according to a statement to Congress in March, the White House agreed to do so. Still, that’s only an informal agreement, and if the White House violated it, it’s not clear there would be any legal consequences.

For Rep. Quigley, it’s worth making that requirement a full-fledged law. “If the President is going to take to social media to make sudden public policy proclamations, we must ensure that these statements are documented and preserved for future reference,” he said in a statement. “Tweets are powerful, and the President must be held accountable for every post.”