Twitter gave Justice Department 32 direct messages found in Trump’s account, prosecutors say

Twitter gave Justice Department 32 direct messages found in Trump’s account, prosecutors say

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Washington — Special counsel Jack Smith obtained at least 32 direct messages found in Donald Trump’s Twitter account as part of the investigation into the former president’s alleged efforts to thwart the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election, according to a court filing unsealed Friday.

The disclosure regarding the messages that Twitter, now known as X, turned over came in a brief from Smith’s team that was filed under seal in April with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The court made the document public Friday, along with a slew of other filings and transcripts related to a dispute between the special counsel and Twitter over a warrant for information pertaining to Trump’s account, @realDonaldTrump. 

Twitter was fighting a ruling from the federal district court in Washington that held the company in contempt for failing to comply with an earlier order to turn over materials responsive to a search warrant and imposed a $350,000 sanction. In addition to the court-authorized search warrant issued by Smith’s team in January for information regarding Trump’s account — such as tweets created or drafted, contact information, and devices used to access it — U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell issued an order requiring Twitter not to disclose the warrant to anyone, including Trump.

The social media company unsuccessfully sought to alter the nondisclosure order, which Twitter said violated its First Amendment rights. The company also argued that Trump may want to assert claims of executive privilege over some of the information contained in his account. The district court disagreed, and Twitter appealed. The D.C. Circuit ruled against the company in July.

“Twitter offers no reason to conclude that the former president, with the full array of communication technologies available to the head of the Executive Branch, would have used Twitter’s direct message function to carry out confidential communications with Executive Branch advisors,” prosecutors wrote in their appellate brief. “Indeed, the materials Twitter produced to the Government included only 32 direct-message items, constituting a minuscule proportion of the total production.”

Prosecutors did not include any details about the nature of the messages, including whether they were drafts or messages sent from Trump’s account, messages he received or both.

In their filing arguing in favor of the nondisclosure order, federal prosecutors noted that the investigation into Trump was ongoing at the time, and the need to maintain the integrity of the probe was “all the more compelling” given that it involved alleged efforts to interfere with the transfer of presidential power and certification of the Electoral College vote by Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. 

Trump had not yet been indicted on federal charges stemming from Smith’s probe at the time the battle between the special counsel and Twitter was playing out behind closed doors. He pleaded not guilty to four counts related to the 2020 presidential election that were brought against him in August.

In pushing for continued secrecy surrounding the warrant to Twitter, federal prosecutors wrote in their April brief to the D.C. Circuit that Trump raised false claims of voter fraud after his defeat in 2020, allegedly pressured state and federal officials to “violate their legal duties, and retaliated against those who did not comply with his demands, culminating in violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.”

They argued the former president had also attempted to “undermine or otherwise influence” a separate federal investigation into his alleged mishandling of sensitive government records after he left the White House, including by publicizing the existence of a court-authorized search warrant executed by the FBI at his South Florida property, Mar-a-Lago, in August 2022.

Trump was charged by Smith this summer with 40 counts stemming from the documents probe and has pleaded not guilty. He first revealed the FBI’s search by posting on his social media platform Truth Social that Mar-a-Lago had been “raided.”

“The former president’s obstructive efforts continue unabated with respect to this investigation here, in which he has determined to pay the legal fees of potential witnesses against him and repeatedly disparaged the lead prosecutor on his Truth Social platform,” Justice Department lawyers wrote of the 2020 election-related probe, adding that Trump’s “pattern of obstructive conduct amply supports the district court’s conclusion that the former president presents a significant risk of tampering with evidence, seeking to influence or intimidate potential witnesses, and ‘otherwise seriously jeopardizing’ the Government’s ongoing investigations.”

The special counsel’s team warned that if Twitter gave the warrant to Trump, it would “provide him with considerable ammunition to engage in the same kind of obstructive efforts” it described to the court.

In their brief, prosecutors pushed back on narrower alternatives to the nondisclosure order suggested by Twitter and said the proposals would fail to “adequately protect [the] investigation … and could precipitate violence as occurred following the public disclosure of the search warrant executed at Mar-a-Lago.”

The full scope of the material prosecutors obtained from Twitter is unclear, as is the role that information played in Smith’s investigation into the former president’s actions surrounding the 2020 election.

An appendix unsealed Friday that featured a trove of documents related to Twitter’s challenge to the warrant and nondisclosure order included a copy of the warrant, authorized by Howell on Jan. 17. The social media company was given until Jan. 27 to comply.

Prosecutors sought “all business records and subscriber information” pertaining to Trump’s account, including identity and contact information; all usernames associated with his account; devices used to log in or access the account; privacy and account settings; and communications between Twitter and any person regarding the account, according to the warrant.

Twitter was also required to produce “all content, records, and other information relating to communications sent from or received by” Trump’s account from October 2020 to January 2021, including the content of all tweets created, drafted, favorited or retweeted by Trump, as well as the content of all direct messages his account either sent or received, or “stored in draft form.”

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