US special counsel obtained search warrant for Trump’s Twitter account

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The US special counsel who is investigating Donald Trump obtained a search warrant for the former president’s Twitter account, and the social media platform delayed complying, a court filing on Wednesday showed.

The delay in compliance prompted a federal judge to hold Twitter in contempt and fine it $350,000, the filing showed.

The filing says the team of US special counsel Jack Smith obtained a search warrant in January directing Twitter, which recently rebranded to X, to produce “data and records” related to Trump’s Twitter account as well as a non-disclosure agreement prohibiting Twitter from disclosing the search warrant.

The filing says prosecutors got the search warrant after a court “found probable cause to search the Twitter account for evidence of criminal offenses”. The court found that disclosing the warrant could risk that Trump would “would seriously jeopardize the ongoing investigation” by giving him “an opportunity to destroy evidence, change patterns of behavior”, according to the filing.

It is 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.

Twitter objected to the non-disclosure 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 non-disclosure agreement was a violation of the first amendment and wanted the court to assess the legality of the agreement before it handed any information over.

The warrant ordered Twitter to provide the records by 27 January. A judge found Twitter to be in contempt after a court hearing on 7 February, but gave the company an opportunity to hand over the documents by 5pm that evening. Twitter, however, only turned over some records that day. It didn’t fully comply with the order until 9 February, the ruling says. The delay in compliance prompted the court to Twitter in contempt, and on Wednesday, the federal court in Washington upheld that decision.

Smith has charged Trump over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in an attempt to stay in power in a criminal indictment unsealed last week.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiracy against rights.

Trump says he is innocent and has portrayed the investigation as politically motivated. His legal team has indicated it will argue that Trump was relying on the advice of lawyers around him in 2020 and had the right to challenge an election he believed was rigged.

Trump had been a prolific user of Twitter, both before and during his presidency. Amassing more than 88 million followers, he used the platform to attack opponents, promote racist ideology, encourage violence against journalists, and even threaten nuclear war.

Trump was banned from the platform following the 6 January 2021 insurrection at the Capitol for inciting violence.

Trump’s account was reinstated in November 2022, following Tesla billionaire Elon Musk’s takeover of the platform. The decision was condemned by online safety and civil rights advocates who say Trump’s online presence has created risks of real-world violence.

Trump has yet to tweet after being allowed back on to Twitter, preferring his own platform, Truth Social. His campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the former president posted to Truth Social 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.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report