White House Twitter account attacks Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris over ICE

Both posts ended with the message, “You must not know what ICE really does.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, on Saturday in Boston at a rally against Trump’s immigration policies. –Craig F. Walker / The Boston Globe

WASHINGTON — The White House used its official Twitter account Monday to attack two Democratic senators who oppose President Donald Trump’s immigration agenda, falsely equating their criticisms of Immigration and Customs Enforcement with support for criminals and murderous gangs.

@SenWarren, why are you supporting criminals moving weapons, drugs, and victims across our nation’s borders?” said a tweet addressed to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., from the @WhiteHouse account.

@SenKamalaHarris, why are you supporting the animals of MS-13?” read a tweet posted by the same account about an hour later to Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., which referred to the transnational gang with roots in El Salvador.

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Both posts ended with the message, “You must not know what ICE really does,” and linked to news releases detailing the agency’s work confronting threats at the border and apprehending criminals.

Although Trump often attacks political rivals from his personal Twitter account, it is rare for a government entity to directly criticize a sitting member of Congress.

“The White House is using government taxpayer resources to target a senator with complete and utter falsehoods,” Lily Adams, communications director for Harris, said on Twitter.

Neither senator has ever expressed public support for criminals or for the brutal MS-13 gang, but both are considered potential contenders for the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge Trump in 2020, and they have been sharply critical of ICE, the agency that handles the detention and deportation of unauthorized immigrants, among other responsibilities. Warren has called for the department’s abolition, while Harris has said it needs wholesale changes to rethink its mission and tactics.

Sen. Kamala Harris, on Saturday in Los Angeles at the Families Belong Together march against Trump’s immigration policies. —Willy Sanjuan / Invision / AP

Trump has been quick to seize upon the demand by some Democrats to abolish ICE as evidence that the party is opposed to any border enforcement, and he has repeatedly charged, without evidence, that Democrats care more about protecting criminal immigrants than they do about safeguarding American citizens.

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“Many Democrats are deeply concerned about the fact that their ‘leadership’ wants to denounce and abandon the great men and women of ICE, thereby declaring war on Law & Order,” Trump tweeted Monday night. “These people will be voting for Republicans in November and, in many cases, joining the Republican Party!”

On Monday morning, he recirculated a message from the Department of Homeland Security that said Customs and Border Protection and ICE would be “sharing stories of the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day with the sole objective of protecting our nation.” The two agencies posted news of their work breaking up a human smuggling ring, shutting down a drug trafficking operation and apprehending “wanted criminals” at the border, including a man in Laredo, Texas, wanted for sex-related offenses against a child.

But when the White House shared the stories, it used them to attack senators whom Trump considers political rivals. The White House did not respond to a request for comment about the tweets.

Harris responded with a Twitter broadside against the Trump administration and its practice — recently suspended — of separating migrant children from their parents to carry out a zero-tolerance policy of subjecting all immigrants who cross the border unlawfully to criminal prosecution.

“As a career prosecutor, I actually went after gangs and transnational criminal organizations,” Harris wrote. “That’s being a leader on public safety. What is not, is ripping babies from their mothers.”

She also tried to capitalize financially on Trump’s attack, asking supporters to sign on with her political organization.

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“No matter what they say, I will never stop fighting to hold Trump and his administration accountable and I will never stop speaking out against their immoral policies like separating parents from their families,” Harris said in a tweet with a link to her sign-up page.

It was not clear whether the White House messages violated any ethics rules, but they did break with the practice of past administrations of refraining from posting overtly partisan content singling out public figures on official accounts. The Trump administration has shown little regard for such traditions and has not hesitated to use agencies’ social media accounts to boost the president personally, such as when the White House instructed Cabinet officials to mark his 500th day in office and some responded with fawning tweets praising him.

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