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Special prosecutor obtained Twitter records related to Trump

An indictment over efforts to overturn the 2020 election mentioned the former president’s social media use

Special counsel John L. "Jack" Smith delivers remarks earlier this month on an unsealed indictment alleging four felony counts against former President Donald Trump.
Special counsel John L. "Jack" Smith delivers remarks earlier this month on an unsealed indictment alleging four felony counts against former President Donald Trump. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The special counsel leading two investigations of Donald Trump obtained a search warrant for records related to the former president’s Twitter account in January, according to an appeals court opinion released Wednesday.

The revelation comes a week after Trump was arraigned on four federal charges related to his effort to overturn his loss in the 2020 election, with an indictment that mentioned the former president’s social media use.

A unanimous opinion from three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with special counsel John L. “Jack” Smith’s effort to not only obtain information related to @realDonaldTrump, but keep the warrant secret from Trump and fine Twitter for not complying promptly.

Twitter had challenged part of the warrant that prevented it from disclosing it to Trump. District Judge Beryl Howell ruled against Twitter’s objections and ultimately found the company in contempt and sanctioned the company $350,000 for a delay.

Howell had ruled that allowing Twitter to discuss the warrant could jeopardize the investigation into Trump. The company, which is now called X, complied with the warrant in February.

Twitter then appealed and the D.C. Circuit upheld the district court’s order in a sealed ruling last month, which was released in public Wednesday.

The “whole point” of the nondisclosure order was to keep it from tipping off the target of the probe, in this case Trump, Judge Florence Pan wrote for the appeals panel.

Although the nondisclosure restriction in the warrant was a potential restriction on Twitter’s free speech, it was justified to preserve a criminal investigation, Pan wrote.

Smith cited the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol to defend the order that barred Twitter’s disclosure of the warrant.

Last week, Smith unveiled a grand jury indictment against Trump on four counts related to his effort to overturn his election loss. The indictment alleged Trump engaged in a broad scheme to overturn his loss, which included Trump’s effort to spread false allegations of election fraud and enlist his supporters to go to the Capitol for the counting of Electoral College votes.

The indictment cited Trump’s tweets numerous times, including a message at 4 p.m. on Jan. 6 calling for his supporters to leave the Capitol hours after it had been breached.

Two days after the attack, Twitter suspended Trump’s account permanently. In an announcement from the company at the time, Twitter said his ongoing tweets about the 2020 election could be used to “incite violence” by his followers.

Prosecutors and Trump’s defense team are still fighting over protection for evidence in the case, which could include the information Smith obtained from Trump’s Twitter account. Both sides are set to go back to court Friday for a hearing over evidence rules, which Trump is not expected to attend.

The parties are set to head to court a second time later this month to potentially set a trial date in the third criminal case against the former president. Trump is already slated to face two criminal trials next year.

The first will be a March trial over allegations in New York state that Trump falsified business records connected to his 2016 presidential campaign. The second is a May trial in Florida in a separate federal case where he allegedly kept dozens of classified documents after the end of his presidency.

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