WASHINGTON >> President Donald Trump said today that he would not apologize for campaign statements calling for a “Muslim ban,” appearing to undercut an assertion at a Supreme Court argument last week from Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco. In defending Trump’s efforts to restrict travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, Francisco said the president had disavowed the statements.
Francisco’s own assertion contained a mistake, a Justice Department spokeswoman said today.
“The president has made crystal clear on Sept. 25 that he had no intention of imposing the Muslim ban,” Francisco said during the argument. But he got the date wrong by eight months, and critics said the statement he referred to was less than crystal clear.
Trump’s comment and the Justice Department’s clarification arose from an exchange at Wednesday’s argument.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked whether Trump could immunize his order from constitutional challenge by disavowing his campaign statements.
A lawyer for the challengers, Neal K. Katyal, said yes, but he added that Trump and his advisers had never repudiated the campaign statements.
“Instead they embraced them,” Katyal said.
Today, Trump appeared to do so again. Told by a reporter that “the lawyers for the opponents said that if you would simply apologize for some of your rhetoric during the campaign, the whole case would go away,” Trump was skeptical and unrepentant.
“I don’t think it would, No. 1,” he said. “And there’s no reason to apologize. Our immigration laws in this country are a total disaster. They’re laughed at all over the world — they’re laughed at for their stupidity, and we have to have strong immigration laws. So I think if I apologize, it wouldn’t make 10 cents’ worth of difference to them. There’s nothing to apologize for.”
At the argument, Francisco’s reference to a Sept. 25 statement from Trump confused many observers. That was the day after Trump issued his latest travel ban, and such a statement would have shed timely light on what he had intended it to accomplish. But Francisco misspoke. He had meant to refer to an interview Trump gave on Jan. 25, 2017, not long before he issued his original travel ban, the first of three.
“It’s not the Muslim ban,” Trump said in the interview. “But it’s countries that have tremendous terror.”
Critics of the administration said the interview was not the “crystal clear” statement Francisco had described.
Leah Litman, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, wrote on Take Care, a legal blog, that the interview included no disavowal of or apology for Trump’s campaign pledge to impose a “Muslim ban.”