'We've wasted a week': Federal judge vents frustration that Trump just completely undermined his administration's lawyers
In a call with lawyers on Wednesday, a federal judge was clearly frustrated with President Donald Trump's decision to completely undermine his own legal arguments.
Judge George Hazel held the call to discuss developments in the case over the Trump administration's decision to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 Census. On Tuesday, administration officials announced that the Census would proceed without a citizenship question, in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold a lower court's ruling on the matter. But on Wednesday, Trump tweeted that he would still fight to have the question included on the Census, catching the court — and his administration's own lawyers — off guard.
Joshua Gardner, a lawyer arguing the administration's case, said that his previous claims to the court that the citizenship question was finished reflected his "best understanding of the state of affairs." He noted that even Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had confirmed that this was the administration's position.
"The tweet this morning was the first I heard of the president's position on this issue," Gardner said. "I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture other than what the president tweeted."
Later, Joseph Hunt, assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Justice Department, said explicitly that the administration is following the president's new direction.
"We at the Department of Justice have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court's decision, that would allow us to include the citizenship question on the census," Hunt said. "We think there may be a legally available path under the Supreme Court's decision. We're examining that, looking at near-term options to see whether that's viable and possible."
While he didn't take it out on the lawyers, the judge was clearly frustrated with the way Trump's tweet had disrupted the process.
"I've been told different things, and it's becoming increasingly frustrating," he said. "If you were Facebook and an attorney for Facebook told me one thing, and then I read a press release from Mark Zuckerberg telling me something else, I would be demanding that Mark Zuckerberg appear in court with you the next time because I would be saying I don't think you speak for your client anymore."
This seemed to be a direct admission that were Trump not the president, the judge would demand that he appear before the court.
Lawyers for the groups opposing the citizenship question actually seemed to suggest that the judge should gag Trump from talking publicly about the matter and contradicting his officials, arguing that the chaos the president creates by talking about the matter itself harms the victims of the policy. Judge Hazel, however, did not seem to take this suggestion seriously.
The judge ordered the administration to come back by 2 p.m. on Friday to his court and state either that the citizenship question is officially off the 2020 Census or propose a schedule for how the court will proceed with the lawsuits brought against the administration.
Gardner tried to get the deadline moved to Monday, but the judge was not having it.
"Timing is an issue," he said, adding, "we've wasted a week."