A newly unsealed opinion in a still sealed D.C. case, first reported by Politico, details how Twitter resisted a search warrant from the special counsel for data from Donald Trump’s account. The case is listed on a different docket from the indictment filed publicly against Trump at the beginning of August.
The opinion explains how on Jan. 17, 2023, the government applied for and obtained a search warrant that “directed Twitter to produce data and records related to the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account” based on affidavits submitted by the special counsel to the district court finding “probable cause to search the Twitter account for evidence of criminal offenses.”
The government also applied for and received a nondisclosure order which barred Twitter from disclosing anything about the search warrant, including its existence, to anybody.
The district court found that the nondisclosure order was necessary, according to the opinion, because there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that if Trump knew about the warrant it “would seriously jeopardize the ongoing investigation” by letting him have “an opportunity to destroy evidence, change patterns of behavior [or] notify confederates.”
The district court also ruled that the nondisclosure order was necessary because Trump might “flee prosecution,” though the government later walked that back and said it had “errantly included flight from prosecution as a predicate,” the opinion says.
According to the opinion, the government also had problems serving Twitter with both the warrant and the nondisclosure order.
The opinion recounts how the government tried first on Jan. 17, 2023, through a website Twitter had set up for legal requests. But the website wasn’t working. It wasn’t until two days later, on Jan. 19, that the government managed to successfully serve the papers over the website to Twitter.
When the government contacted Twitter’s legal counsel for an update on Jan. 25, she told them that she “had not heard anything about [the] [w]arrant.”
Twitter waited until Feb. 1—four days after the deadline for compliance, to file an objection, according to the opinion. But Twitter didn’t challenge the warrant. Instead, Twitter questioned the nondisclosure order, which it argued violated the company’s First Amendment right to communicate with Trump.
Twitter argued that complying with the order without informing Trump would “preclude the former President from asserting executive privilege to shield communications made using his Twitter account,” the opinion said.
On Feb. 7 the district court held a hearing where it issued an oral ruling rejecting Twitter’s argument, the opinion said. Twitter was found in contempt of court, and the court asked the government what sort of fines it should face. The government suggested $50,000 a day, which would double every day it remained in contempt. The court ordered Twitter to produce the records by 5:00pm on Feb. 7. If it didn’t, the court said it would order “escalating daily fines,” according to the opinion.
Twitter produced some files but missed the 5:00pm deadline. And the company didn’t produce all the files the government has asked it for either. On March 3, the court hit Twitter with the $350,000 fine. Twitter appealed, but was instructed to pay the $350,000 fine into a district court escrow account while its appeal was judged.
The newly released opinion rejected Twitter’s appeal.
“Lmao what happens when you have a staff of like 12 for something this big,” reacted Twitter user @BDeMayo, referencing the big cuts in staff Elon Musk put in place after taking over the website.
“Elon Musk refused to comply with a federal judge approved search warrant,” wrote @ChidiNwatu. “Color me surprised.”
Trump supporters weren’t happy though.
“Obama judge Beryl Howell held Twitter in contempt and imposed 6-figure fine for not turning over Trump’s Twitter account to Biden’s special counsel so Jack Smith could look at Trump’s deleted tweets,” wrote Twitter user @julie_kelly2. “A Biden judge upheld Howell on appeal. Joke country.”
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*First Published: Aug 9, 2023, 2:00 pm CDT