President Donald Trump on Monday emphatically referred to his executive order on immigration as a "travel ban" and said his Justice Department should not have submitted a "watered down, politically correct version" to the Supreme Court.
Trump's suggestion that changes to the ban -- which, among other things, temporarily restricts travel to the US from several Muslim-majority countries -- were due to political correctness could hamper his administration's legal argument that the executive order did not target Muslims. As a candidate, Trump called for a "total and complete shutdown" of Muslim immigration to the United States, and Justice Department lawyers have gone to great lengths to avoid calling it a "travel ban" in court, referring to it as a "temporary pause" or simply "the executive order."
In a string of tweets, Trump reiterated comments he made in light of the London terror attacks that the travel ban was necessary.
"People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN," he tweeted at 6:25 a.m. ET.
"The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C." he added.
He then tweeted: "The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down Travel Ban before the Supreme Court - & seek much tougher version!" before adding, "In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!"
Last week, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to allow the ban after lower courts rebuked his national security justifications for the ban multiple times.
George Conway, the husband of White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway and who was once a top candidate to be the administration's solicitor general, lamented the President's remarks.
"These tweets may make some ppl feel better, but they certainly won't help OSG get 5 votes in SCOTUS, which is what actually matters. Sad," he tweeted.
Sen. Ben Cardin said Trump's latest words attacking his own Justice Department revealed his true desire to use the ban to discriminate on religious grounds.
"It clearly shows his intent," the Maryland Democrat told CNN's Alisyn Camerota on "New Day" Monday. "His lawyers try to justify it by saying it wasn't a travel ban, but it was extreme vetting. The President made that clear. It is a travel ban."
As Justice Department attorneys have worked to convince courts not to look at Trump's statements in weighing the legal justifications of the travel ban, the President is not backing down -- instead, he's commenting more.
While DOJ lawyers argue that the revised ban is a significant change from the original order, Trump is minimizing the differences by calling it a "politically correct version."
Challengers could read his statements Monday morning as intent to disfavor Muslims in the ban, a point that has doomed the executive orders in court so far. In court briefs, DOJ lawyers have said the orders are "religion-neutral" in operation, drawing "distinctions among countries based on national-security risks identified by Congress and the Executive Branch, not religion, and applies evenhandedly in the six designated countries."
It's also notable that the revised travel ban was authored by Trump's administration and signed by the President himself -- his Justice Department's role is defending its legality.
Sebastian Gorka, a White House national security aide, told CNN's Chris Cuomo on "New Day" Monday in the wake of the President's tweets that the travel ban was essential to protecting the US.
"The fact is, it's been the same since the beginning, from the first executive order to the second executive order. It's one thing, Chris: It's about protecting Americans," he said.
Monday afternoon, the American Civil Liberties Union, which is serving as co-counsel representing the plaintiffs in the case before the Supreme Court, confirmed it was considering using Trump's morning tweets in its argument.
"Yes, we may incorporate @realDonaldTrump's tweets about the ban into our Supreme Court argument," the ACLU tweeted from its flagship account.
And Neal Katyal, who is representing the state of Hawaii, which successfully sued for a nationwide injunction to the revised executive order, rifled off his own tweet:
"Its kinda odd to have the defendant in HawaiivTrump acting as our co-counsel.We don't need the help but will take it!" he wrote.
'Go all the way'
At times, Trump's administration has insisted the executive order is not a "travel ban." In late January, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Trump had made "very clear that this is not a Muslim ban, it's not a travel ban. It's a vetting system to keep America safe. That's it, plain and simple."
Less than a week later, Trump used the term "travel ban" on Twitter, and he has referred to it as such on multiple occasions since then.
And Trump has previously complained about the revised order, which removed Iraq from the initial seven countries listed in the first ban.
"The order he blocked was a watered-down version of the first order," Trump said at a rally in March after a judge in Hawaii blocked the second version of the ban. "I think we ought to go back to the first (ban), and go all the way."
"That's what I wanted to do in the first place," he added.
Trump revived his call for the travel ban shortly after news broke of the weekend's terror attacks in London. He was then harshly criticized when he appeared to misconstrue a statement while launching an attack on London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who said there was "no reason to be alarmed" by the visible increase in police activity in the wake of the attacks.
The President resumed his attacks on Khan Monday morning, tweeting, "Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his 'no reason to be alarmed' statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!"