New court documents show that Jack Smith previously obtained a search warrant for Trump’s Twitter


Newly disclosed court documents show that special counsel Jack Smith obtained a search warrant for records and data from former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account earlier this year.

The existence of the search warrant was confirmed in an order issued Wednesday by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which upheld a $350,000 fine against Twitter imposed by a D.C. District Court judge who found the company in contempt for initially failing to comply with Smith’s warrant.

The newly released opinion describes an extraordinary legal dispute when Smith’s office sought information from Trump’s Twitter account, and — after apparent technical problems — Twitter resisted compliance, claiming constitutional protection, ultimately resulting in a six-figure contempt penalty from the court.

The appeal opinion states that Smith’s office obtained a warrant on Trump’s Twitter account information on January 17, as well as a non-disclosure order that would have prevented the company from sharing the existence of the search warrant with anyone, including Trump himself.

At the time the warrant was issued, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell found there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that disclosure of the warrant to Trump “would seriously jeopardize the ongoing investigation” by giving him “an opportunity to destroy evidence”. changing patterns of conduct, or notifying allies,” the appeals opinion states.

It is not clear why Smith sought records from Trump’s account.

Smith was appointed as special counsel last year to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into Trump. Since then, his team has indicted Trump in two federal cases, in Florida and Washington: one involving Trump’s alleged mishandling of government secrets and the other involving Trump’s push to annul the results of the 2020 election. He has pleaded not guilty and denies all wrongdoing.

Trump’s Twitter account was permanently suspended two days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol because of what the company said at the time was “the risk of further incitement to violence.”

Elon Musk reinstated Trump’s account shortly after he took control of the company last year, which he has now renamed X, though Trump has yet to return to using his old account while continuing to use his own digital platform, Truth Social.

The appeals court opinion states that when the government initially ordered Twitter to obtain data from Trump’s account, it encountered what appeared to be technical difficulties followed by a formal objection to the data handover by the company on February 1 – four days later. Compliance deadline.

“Although the company did not question the validity of the search warrant, it maintained that the non-disclosure order was prima facie invalid under the First Amendment,” the appeals court wrote in its opinion. Twitter has notified the government that it will not comply with the arrest warrant until the local court assesses the legality of the non-disclosure order.

While Twitter moved to court to quietly challenge the order, the government asked the judge to order Twitter to explain why it would not be held in contempt of court.

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump speaks before boarding his plane at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, Aug. 3, 2023, in Arlington, Virginia, after facing a judge on federal conspiracy charges alleging he conspired to sabotage the 2020 election.

Former President Donald Trump speaks before boarding his plane at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, Aug. 3, 2023, in Arlington, Virginia, after facing a judge on federal conspiracy charges alleging he conspired to sabotage the 2020 election.

Alex Brandon/AP

In its argument challenging the nondisclosure order, Twitter argued that complying with it could prevent Trump from asserting executive privilege related to his presidency over communications he made through his Twitter account.

The government responded that, regardless of the company’s objections to the non-disclosure order, it should have complied with the search warrant in a timely manner.

In February, in closed court proceedings, a district judge rejected Twitter’s arguments and charged the company with contempt of court — while giving it an opportunity to cleanse its contempt by providing Trump’s account information.

The government has proposed that penalties for the company be $50,000 per day, doubling each day that Twitter fails to comply — citing the sale of Twitter to Elon Musk and Musk’s reported net worth.

Although Twitter produced some logs from the Twitter account later that day in February, its “production was incomplete.”

It did not turn over the full amount of data required to comply with the arrest warrant until three days later, which the government said would merit a total fine against the company of $350,000.

The district court agreed, finding Twitter in civil contempt and ordering a penalty of $350,000.

While Twitter has appealed this order, the government filed a separate request in June proposing to allow Twitter to notify Trump that there is an arrest warrant against his Twitter account. The government later changed its position on the possibility of moving forward with notifying Trump, given other information that appeared at the time, “about the investigations with the former president.” [that became publicly available]says Opinion Wed.

The three-judge appellate panel that upheld the district court’s order and issued the revised opinion on Wednesday consists of two appointees by President Joe Biden and one appointee by former President Barack Obama.

Finding Twitter’s arguments against the nondisclosure order unconvincing, the justices wrote: “The primary intent of the nondisclosure order was to avoid notifying the former president of the existence of the disclosure order.”

They ruled: “Because the non-disclosure order was a narrowly designed means of pursuing compelling government interests, it has withstood rigorous scrutiny.”

ABC News has reached out to Trump and Twitter for comment.

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