After enthusiastically endorsing an Alabama senator’s campaign for re-election, President Donald Trump distanced himself on Tuesday night from the candidate’s loss in the most Trumpian way possible: He deleted his supportive tweets.
Hours after Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., lost in Tuesday’s primary runoff, Trump excised at least three favorable Twitter posts, including one sent Tuesday morning. In that tweet, posted as the polls in Alabama opened, the president boasted that Strange “has been shooting up in the Alabama polls since my endorsement.”
Strange, who was appointed to the Senate early this year after Jeff Sessions vacated his seat to become attorney general under Trump, conceded on Tuesday night to Roy S. Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court justice whose candidacy was opposed by leading establishment Republicans.
The deleted tweets were archived by ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism website but are no longer public on Twitter, feeding into an intriguing legal debate about whether Trump is breaking the law when he expunges his tweets.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visited Alabama on Friday to attend a rally for Strange. The closely watched campaign was seen by many as a barometer of Trump’s political sway. Strange was the first candidate endorsed by the president to lose an election since Trump took office.
Around the same time the president was deleting tweets about Strange, he also deleted a tweet congratulating Moore on his victory. He later reposted that message, and early Wednesday he tweeted about speaking with Moore by telephone.
It is unclear why the president chose to delete the tweets he did. Several tweets endorsing Strange, whom the president often called “Big Luther,” but which were sent in the weeks before Trump’s visit to Alabama, remain public.
At least two government watchdog groups, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive, believe that when Trump deletes a tweet he may be breaking the law.
The groups filed a lawsuit in June against Trump and the Executive Office of the President, claiming that deleting social media posts violates the Presidential Records Act, a law that requires presidential communications to be archived.