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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Special counsel obtained search warrant for Trump’s Twitter account

Former President Donald Trump arrives at Reagan National Airport in Washington, en route to his arraignment in federal court on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023.

By Alan Feuer

Prosecutors working for Jack Smith, the special counsel who has twice brought indictments against former President Donald Trump, obtained a search warrant early this year for Trump’s long-dormant Twitter account as part of their inquiry into his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, according to court papers unsealed Wednesday.

The warrant, which was signed by a federal judge in Washington in January after Elon Musk took over Twitter, which is now called X, is the first known example of prosecutors directly searching Trump’s communications and adds a new dimension to the scope of the special counsel’s efforts to investigate the former president.

The court papers, which emerged from an appeal by Twitter challenging a part of the judge’s decision to issue the warrant, did not reveal what prosecutors were looking for in Trump’s Twitter account, which the tech company shut down for nearly two years soon after the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

But the papers indicate that prosecutors received permission from the judge not to tell Trump for months that they had obtained the warrant for his account. The prosecutors feared that if Trump learned about the warrant, it “would seriously jeopardize the ongoing investigation” by giving him “an opportunity to destroy evidence, change patterns of behavior, [or] notify confederates,” the papers said.

Trump quickly responded to the news about the warrant on his own social media site, Truth Social.

“Just found out that Crooked Joe Biden’s DOJ secretly attacked my Twitter account, making it a point not to let me know about this major ‘hit’ on my civil rights,” he wrote. “My Political Opponent is going CRAZY trying to infringe on my Campaign for President.”

The existence of the warrant was earlier reported by Politico.

The fact that prosecutors quietly obtained a judge’s permission more than seven months ago to peer into Trump’s Twitter account underscores how much of the special counsel’s work may have taken place out of public view. Much of the investigation into Trump’s efforts to maintain his grip on power and into his other federal case — the one related to his handling of classified materials — has been conducted in front of federal grand juries, which operate under strict rules of secrecy.

In the chaotic period between the election and Jan. 6, Trump’s Twitter account was one of the country’s most prominent platforms on social media, with millions of followers. That prosecutors asked for a warrant to search the account suggests they wanted specific company data or were interested in some nonpublic aspect of the account — though it remains unclear precisely what that may have been.

As part of their sprawling investigation into election interference, prosecutors have seized cellphones and other electronic devices from some of Trump’s close aides and lawyers. Those included at least two people identified as the former president’s co-conspirators in the indictment against him filed this month: John Eastman, a lawyer who advised Trump on a plan to pressure his vice president, Mike Pence, into throwing the election his way at a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, and Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department loyalist whom Trump sought to install as acting attorney general.

The election charges filed against Trump accuse him of three overlapping conspiracies to defraud the United States, to disrupt the certification of the election at a proceeding at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and to deprive people of the right to have their votes counted.

Trump’s relentless use of Twitter is detailed several times in the indictment.

The indictment notes, for instance, how Trump used Twitter on Dec. 19, 2020, to summon his followers to Washington on Jan. 6 for what he described as a “wild” protest. The message ultimately served as a lightning rod for both far-right extremists and ordinary Trump supporters who descended on the city that day, answering Trump’s call.

The indictment also describes how Trump used Twitter in the run-up to Jan. 6 to instill in his followers “the false expectation” that Pence had the authority to use his role in overseeing the certification proceeding at the Capitol “to reverse the election outcome” in Trump’s favor.

On Jan. 6 itself, Trump continued posting messages on Twitter that kept up this drumbeat of “knowingly false statements aimed at pressuring the vice president,” the indictment said. Ultimately, when Pence declined to give in to the pressure, Trump posted yet another tweet blaming the vice president for not having “the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution.”

One minute after the tweet was posted, the indictment said, Secret Service agents were forced to evacuate Pence to a secure location. And throughout that afternoon, it added, rioters roamed the Capitol and its grounds, shouting chants such as “Traitor Pence” and “Hang Mike Pence.”

The court papers revealing the warrant for Trump’s Twitter account emerged from the company’s efforts, under Musk, to challenge the nondisclosure provision barring Twitter from telling Trump it was complying with the government’s demands.

There was an extensive legal battle in U.S. District Court in Washington this winter before Judge Beryl Howell between lawyers for Twitter and prosecutors from the Justice Department concerning the provision. Ultimately, Twitter not only lost the fight but also was found to be in contempt of court and fined $350,000 for delaying complying with the warrant.

Twitter then took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which upheld the lower court’s ruling and unsealed its decision Wednesday.

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