WASHINGTON — Utterances before and after the election by Donald Trump and his allies about the purpose of his travel ban executive order have been giving the administration headaches as it has sought to defend its constitutionality.

The argument that the ban is purely secular has not fared well with judges when the Trump campaign website stated in advance that its purpose was “preventing Muslim immigration,” which has sounded to a number of courts like an unconstitutional religion-based restriction.

The same contradiction keeps coming up in public, too.

Monday, for example, a reporter asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer why “if this White House is no longer calling this a ‘Muslim ban’ . . . why does the President’s website still explicitly call for ‘preventing Muslim immigration?’ ”

“I’m not aware of what’s on the campaign website,” Spicer responded.

At that particular moment, the website did indeed include “DONALD J. TRUMP STATEMENT ON PREVENTING MUSLIM IMMIGRATION.”

It went on: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

But then the text on the same Web page went blank. Nothing.

ABC’s Cecilia Vega appears to have been the first to figure it out. “Minutes after we asked the WH why the President’s campaign website still called for a Muslim ban, it appears the statement was deleted,” she tweeted.

That was just hours after judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is reviewing a district-court ruling declaring the ban unconstitutional, questioned administration lawyers about “statements of the president on the campaign trail,” specifically the one someone tried to erase Monday, only to be told that they shouldn’t be looking at those.

“Is it still there today?” one of the judges asked the lawyer challenging the ban. The lawyer said it was there the last time he looked, a few weeks ago.

As of early Tuesday morning, there was a telltale URL which includes the forbidden words “preventing Muslim immigration.”

The Internet archive called the “Way Back Machine” still houses the original statement.

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