President Trump set some hairs ablaze in the White House and on Capitol Hill on Thursday morning with a tweet that appeared to rescind the administration's support for a key surveillance program. Trump later clarified that he backed the program -- NBC News reports chief of staff John Kelly crafted the clean-up tweet -- and the bill wound up passing in the House anyway.
But over at Lawfare, Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes argue that it was one of the most damaging tweets of his presidency — upsetting the “exceptionally delicate” politics of a program that is almost universally believed to be vital to national security but also increasingly controversial. And The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey reported that Trump's tweet caused a unique amount of heartburn in the West Wing.
White House aide said to me that Trump's tweets are usually a nuisance but largely harmless to their work and seen internally as an uncontrollable sideshow. Today's tweet was not seen that way.— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) January 11, 2018
Which got me thinking: Which Trump tweets have actually done appreciable damage — either to Trump or someone else? There are plenty of tweets that have offended, astounded and shocked, but how many have been consequential -- either by becoming fodder for judges, undermining something as important as national security or anything else?
Turns out this wasn't even the first one this week. Below are eight I think fit the bill.
1. Firing Michael Flynn
In this tweet from last month, Trump appeared to disclose that he knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI when he fired him in early 2017 — and, more important, when he shortly thereafter asked then-FBI Director James B. Comey for leniency for Flynn, according to Comey. Trump denies that he asked Comey to take it easy on Flynn, but legal experts say this tweet could feed into the obstruction-of-justice investigation into Trump.
Trump's lawyer, John Dowd, said it was actually he who sent the errant tweet and that Trump didn't know Flynn was in trouble. That reaction tells you pretty much all you need to know about how problematic Trump's lawyers think the tweet was.
2. The travel ban
When a federal appeals court in June decided not to reinstate the president's travel ban, it cited this tweet as an indication that the ban was targeted at entire countries, rather than simply at dangerous people within those countries who fit certain criteria. Trump's lawyers had argued that wasn't the case, pointing to exemptions for green-card holders from these nations. But there was Trump's own tweet saying it was aimed at countries.
The travel ban is still working its way through the courts.
In delaying Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program this week, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said the above tweet helped prove that the program was in the public's interest and that it should stay in place as the court case progresses. “We seem to be in the unusual position wherein the ultimate authority over the agency, the Chief Executive, publicly favors the very program the agency has ended,” Alsup wrote. “For the reasons DACA was instituted and for the reasons tweeted by President Trump, this order finds that the public interest will be served by DACA’s continuation.”
4. The NFL anthem protests
While many tweets on this list damaged Trump's cause, his anthem tweets may have had the desired effect for the president. While it's not clear that it affected National Football League TV ratings or attendance — ratings were down sharply last year, but the trend line was on-par with the year before — it did ignite the very culture war that Trump seemed to crave. Soon even more players were kneeling, and NFL team owners were put in the awkward position of commenting on whether their players should be allowed to kneel. It created one giant mess for the league that persists today and shows that Trump's tweets can quickly have an impact on a major business's day-to-day operations.
5. The alleged wiretapping of Trump Tower
Trump's out-of-nowhere March tweet alleging that President Barack Obama had wiretapped his phones is unfounded. We learned later about Trump aides being wrapped up in “incidental” surveillance, but that surveillance wasn't targeted at the Trump campaign or Trump Tower, as the president alleged. Still, this got the ball rolling on a process that would eventually lead Trump ally and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to temporarily step away from his committee's Russia investigation. Nunes faced ethics questions about whether he disclosed classified information that he viewed on White House grounds in an apparent effort to verify Trump's claims.
6. Obamacare subsidies
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in August that Democratic attorneys general in 16 states could sue to force the Trump administration to keep paying subsidies for low-income beneficiaries of Obamacare. Part of its rationale was that Trump had said in tweets like these that he might get rid of the subsidies.
7. The transgender military ban
A federal judge in Washington state blocked Trump's transgender military ban on Halloween, and yet again, it was because Trump's tweets contradicted what his lawyers had said. Those lawyers said the ban was merely being studied, but U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly used images of the tweets and ruled that they proved the administration's intention.
8. Retweeting anti-Muslim videos
Trump's decision to retweet a trio of anti-Muslim videos that had been posted to Twitter by the far-right group Britain First drew widespread condemnation — including from British Prime Minister Theresa May, the leader of one of the United States' longest and most important allies. May's spokesman said plainly that “it is wrong for the president to have done this” — a direct condemnation the likes of which you don't often see in diplomacy between two staunch allies.