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.
Special Counsel’s Probe of Trump Continues
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 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.
A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment on the warrant or what it sought.