Congressmen Want to Know Whether It's Legal for the President to Delete Tweets

Donald Trump is the first real Twitter president. President Obama used the platform as well but not to the extent of his successor. Now Congress wants answers about whether deleted tweets constitute a violation of federal law.


The two top lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee want to know how the Trump administration preserves electronic records. Their requests to White House Counsel Don McGahn — detailed in a letter sent Wednesday — and federal agencies were triggered by two issues:

  • President Trump’s use of “at least two Twitter accounts” (the official @POTUS and his longtime handle, @realDonaldTrump) and his penchant for deleting some tweets. The lawmakers said that if those deleted tweets “were not archived it could pose a violation of the Presidential Records Act.”

  • The reported use by federal employees of encrypted chat apps “that could result in the creation of presidential or federal records that would be unlikely or impossible to preserve.” Confide, Signal and WhatsApp in particular get mentions in the letters. “The need for data security … does not justify circumventing requirements established by federal recordkeeping and transparency laws,” the lawmakers said.

President Obama used two Twitter accounts as well. His @BarackObama account was mostly farmed out to his Organizing for Action cultists but would occasionally be used by Obama himself. I find it hard to believe that no tweets were deleted under the Obama administration.

Trump is in a league of his own as far as using Twitter though. He tweets fast and loose often in a rambling stream of consciousness. His angry “wiretapping” tweet drove the news cycle for a week. (Imagine the nature of the coverage had he deleted that one.)


Most political consultants would probably tell you that letting a candidate run his own Twitter feed is a bad idea.  Good luck to anyone trying to get Trump to follow that advice.

As with anything Trump, his big fans love his tweets but for everyone else they either induce cringing or outrage.

I think the idea that tweeting helps him get around the media filter is overblown given how many of his tweets make spurious claims. It’s all just part of the Presidential Reality Show.

It’s an interesting question though. Does deleting a tweet violate the Presidential Records Act? What if it was deleted just to correct a typo? What about canceling retweets or favorites? What constitutes a “Presidential Record” on social media?

Technology and culture have moved beyond the law. The old laws may need to be amended or replaced.


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