President Donald Trump lashed out at his own Justice Department Monday for seeking the U.S. Supreme Court's backing for a "watered down, politically correct version" of the travel ban he signed in March instead of a broader directive that was also blocked by the courts.
In a series of early morning tweets, Trump urged the Justice Department to ask for an "expedited hearing" at the high court and seek a "much tougher version" of the order temporarily blocking entry to the U.S. from a half-dozen majority Muslim countries. He called the courts, which have blocked both versions of the travel ban, "slow and political."
It's unclear whether the president has conveyed his requests to the Justice Department, which he oversees, in a forum other than Twitter.
The president has renewed his push for the travel ban in the wake of the vehicle and knife attack in London that left seven people dead and dozens injured. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Trump also stressed that his proposal was a "travel ban," a description his surrogates both on his communications team and the lawyers advocating for his position in court have resisted. He said on Twitter that others "can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!"
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!— @realDonaldTrump
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!— @realDonaldTrump
White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in Monday afternoon's press briefing Trump isn't worried the tweets will compromise the government's legal arguments as the case continues to wind its way through the courts, possibly all the way to the Supreme Court.
"The president isn't concerned with what you call it, he's concerned about national security and protecting people in this country," said Huckabee Sanders.
The president was tweeting again Monday evening.
That's right, we need a TRAVEL BAN for certain DANGEROUS countries, not some politically correct term that won't help us protect our people!— @realDonaldTrump
The president spent much of the weekend responding to the attack on Twitter. In one instance, he levelled an inaccurate criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, saying the mayor was telling people there was "no reason to be alarmed" about the attack. The mayor had instead been telling London residents not to be concerned by a stepped-up police presence in the city following the attack.
"No reason to be alarmed," Khan said, describing a more visible presence as "one of things the police and all of us need to do to make sure we are as safe as we possibly can be."
Later, the mayor's spokesman said he was too busy to respond to Trump's "ill-informed" tweet.
Given that the mayor didn't respond to Trump's initial tweet, it was difficult to assess the meaning of a follow-up volley on Monday morning, in which the president continued to lash out at Khan and the media.
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!— @realDonaldTrump
Huckabee Sanders denied that Trump misinterpreted Khan's statement.
"I don't think that's actually true, I think that the media wants to spin it that way," said Sanders.
Both Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. have previously criticized Khan on Twitter for what they perceive to be his softness on terrorism.
Huckabee Sanders said any suggestion that Khan has been in the crosshairs of the Trumps because he is Muslim is "utterly ridiculous."
Trump also addressed the London attack Sunday night at the conclusion of a fundraiser for Ford's Theater, scene of one of the most famous acts of bloodshed in American history: the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
"America sends our thoughts and prayers and our deepest sympathies to the victims of this evil slaughter and we renew our resolve, stronger than ever before, to protect the United States and its allies from a vile enemy that has waged war on innocent life, and it's gone on too long," Trump said.
Iraq, Saudi Arabia not on list
Trump said he had spoken with British Prime Minister Theresa May to express America's "unwavering support" and offer U.S. assistance as the British government works to protect its citizens and bring the guilty to justice.
British authorities say that they have identified the three attackers, but they haven't revealed anything further.
Trump has used attacks around the world to justify his pursuit of the travel and immigration ban, one of his first acts since taking office. The first order, which was signed at the end of his first week in office, was hastily unveiled without significant input from top Trump national security advisers or the agencies tasked with implementing the order.
After that order was struck down by the courts, the administration decided to write a second directive rather than appeal the initial ban to the Supreme Court. The narrower order would temporarily halt entry to the U.S. from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Trump says it's necessary to protect U.S. national security, a stance echoed by Huckabee Sanders on Monday.
"Let's be really clear about what this is: These are six countries that were identified not just by this administration but by the Obama administration and by Congress that are dangerous that are unstable, they're volatile," she said. "They're not capable or [willing] to even vet people coming in and out."
Saudi Arabia was not on either list, despite the fact several of the 9/11 attackers were Saudis. Iraq was removed from the list of banned countries in the second order and an indefinite halt to entry from Syrian refugees was replaced by a temporary pause.
Still, the courts have also blocked that directive.
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who opposes the ban, said on Trump's tweets Monday on the issue "clearly shows his intent" and his disdain for the judicial branch.
"The courts have ruled, and the courts said this abused the executive powers. His lawyers tried to justify it by saying it wasn't a travel ban, that it was just extreme vetting," Cardin told CNN. "The president's made that very clear: it is a travel ban."
Last week, the Justice Department formally asked the Supreme Court to let a ban be put in place. The high court also is being asked to uphold the constitutionality of the Trump travel policy, which lower courts have blocked because it shows anti-Muslim prejudice.
A date for the court to hear arguments in the case was not immediately set.