NATIONAL NEWS

Special counsel got a search warrant for Twitter to turn over info on Trump’s account, documents say

Aug 9, 2023, 9:58 AM | Updated: 12:12 pm

FILE - Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to the media about an indictment of former President Donal...

FILE - Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to the media about an indictment of former President Donald Trump, Aug. 1, 2023, at an office of the Department of Justice in Washington. As Donald Trump faces the prospect of being held accountable for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, threats to democracy in the United States persist heading into the next campaign. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Special counsel Jack Smith’s team obtained a search warrant in January for records related to former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, and a judge levied a $350,000 fine on the company for missing the deadline to comply, according to court documents released Wednesday.

The new details were included in a ruling from the federal appeals court in Washington over a legal battle surrounding the warrant that has played out under seal for months. The court rejected Twitter’s claim that it should not have been held in contempt or sanctioned.

Smith’s team repeatedly mentioned Trump’s tweets in an indictment unsealed last week that charges the former president with conspiring to subvert the will of voters and cling to power after he lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden.

Trump, a Republican, has pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of Congress’ certification of Biden’s win. He posted on his Truth Social platform on Wednesday that the Justice Department “secretly attacked” his Twitter account, and he characterized the investigation as an attempt to “infringe” on his bid to reclaim the White House in 2024.

It’s unclear what information Smith may have sought from Trump’s Twitter account. Possibilities include data about when and where the posts were written, their engagement and the identities of other accounts that reposted Trump’s content.

The search warrant underscores the breadth of the investigation and the lengths Smith has gone to to obtain evidence to build his case. In a recent signal that Smith’s investigation is continuing, former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik met Monday with investigators from special counsel Smith’s team.

Prosecutors obtained the search warrant on Jan. 17 directing Twitter to produce information on Trump’s account after a court “found probable cause to search the account for evidence of criminal offenses,” according to the ruling. The government also obtained a nondisclosure agreement that had prohibited Twitter from disclosing the search warrant, the filing says.

The court found that disclosing the warrant could risk that Trump could jeopardize the ongoing investigation by giving him “an opportunity to destroy evidence, change patterns of behavior” or notify his allies, the filing says.

Twitter objected to the nondisclosure agreement, saying four days after the compliance deadline that it would not produce any of the account information, according to the ruling. The judges wrote that Twitter “did not question the validity of the search warrant” but argued that the nondisclosure agreement violated its First Amendment right to communicate with Trump

Twitter said if it had to turn over the records before the judge assessed the legality of the nondisclosure agreement, it would prevent Trump “from asserting executive privilege to shield communications made using his Twitter account,” the document says.

The warrant ordered Twitter to provide the records by Jan. 27. A judge found Twitter to be in contempt after a court hearing on Feb. 7, but gave the company an opportunity to hand over the documents by 5 p.m. that evening. Twitter, however, only turned over some records that day. It didn’t fully comply with the order until Feb. 9, the ruling says.

X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, sent an automated reply to a request for comment, saying it would respond soon.

In the broader case against Trump, his legal team has indicated it will argue that he was relying on the advice of lawyers in 2020 and had the right to challenge an election he believed was rigged.

Trump used his Twitter account in the weeks leading up to his supporters’ attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to spread false statements about the election that prosecutors allege were designed to sow mistrust in the democratic process. The indictment details how Trump over Twitter encouraged his followers to come to Washington on Jan. 6, pressured his Vice President Mike Pence to reject the certification and falsely suggested that the mob at the Capitol — which beat police officers and smashed windows — was peaceful.

The warrant arrived at Twitter amid rapid changes instituted by Musk, who purchased the platform last year. Since taking over he’s transformed the influential site, laying off much of its staff, including workers dedicated to ferreting out misinformation and hate speech.

He also eliminated Twitter’s policy on COVID-19 misinformation and welcomed back a long list of users who had been previously banned, including neo-Nazis, COVID deniers and Trump, who was kicked off after the attack on the Capitol for glorifying violence.

Trump has yet to post to the site since being allowed back on. As Trump once did, Musk has used the platform as a partisan megaphone.

Last year Musk urged his many online followers to vote Republican in the midterm elections. This year he hosted Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis for a glitch-filled campaign kickoff.

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment on the warrant or what it sought.

___

Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press reporters Michelle Price, David Klepper and Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this report.

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