WASHINGTON (CN) – The D.C. Circuit on Tuesday struck down a government watchdog group's lawsuit seeking to stop White House personnel from using secured messaging services to discuss official business.
After press reports that White House employees were discussing official government business using services like Signal that encrypt messages and delete them after they are read, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a lawsuit in June 2017 claiming the officials were violating the Presidential Records Act.
The PRA puts in place requirements for how the White House categorizes and maintains the hoards of documents that flow across the president's desk or through the hands and email inboxes of advisers.
In its complaint, CREW sought a declaration that the Trump administration was violating the law and an order directing it to follow the rules set out in the PRA.
A federal judge in Washington dismissed the case in March 2018 and a unanimous three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit affirmed Tuesday, saying CREW had not done enough to show the White House is breaking the law with its recordkeeping practices.
After all, U.S. Circuit Judge David Tatel wrote, the White House issued a memo in 2017 reminding staff of their obligations under the PRA and the potential consequences of violating its requirements.
The memo specifically told staff they could not use secured messaging apps or email other than their official accounts, reminders that do "just what the PRA requires," Tatel wrote.
"To be sure, the memo may not guarantee full compliance with the PRA, but…under the law of this circuit we would have no jurisdiction to order the correction of any defects in the White House's day-to-day compliance with the memo's records-preservation policy," Tatel wrote. (Emphasis in original.)
Citing the court's precedent in dealing with past disputes over presidential records, Tatel said courts cannot "micromanage the president's day-to-day compliance" with the PRA.
In a statement Tuesday, CREW spokesman Aaron Rodriguez said the group's lawyers are looking to see what the next steps will be for their claims.
"We're obviously disappointed in the decision in this case," Rodriguez said in a statement. "Our legal team is currently reviewing the decision to determine what our next steps are."
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