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Special counsel sought Trump’s Twitter DMs despite ‘extraordinary’ pushback from company, court documents say

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(NEW YORK) — Special counsel Jack Smith earlier this year sought extensive data, including direct messages, tied to former President Donald Trump’s account on X, formerly known as Twitter, court filings unsealed on Tuesday show.

The pursuit came amid pushback from X centered on a non-disclosure agreement that prevented the company from informing Trump about a search warrant centered on his account, according to an opinion issued by the district court judge who ruled on the case.

Balking at X’s maneuver, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell called the effort “extraordinary,” saying the social media platform had never put forth this type of challenge since its founding 17 years prior, the opinion says. Going further, Howell speculated about whether X owner Elon Musk was trying to “cozy up” with Trump, according to a district court hearing transcript.

The Special Counsel’s office argued that the disclosure of the search warrant to Trump would compromise its investigation. Attorneys for X, by contrast, said that the order forbidding it to inform Trump amounted to a violation of its First Amendment right to speak freely, according to the district court opinion’s summary of the case.

Ultimately, a three-judge circuit court panel upheld the district court’s opinion, keeping Twitter bound by the non-disclosure agreement, the circuit court opinion shows. The panel is comprised of two appointees of President Joe Biden and one appointee of former President Barack Obama.

X did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

In its argument challenging the non-disclosure order, X had argued that compliance with it could preclude Trump from asserting executive privilege over communications he made with his account on the platform, the circuit court opinion adds.

In addition, X was held in contempt of court for missing a deadline to comply with the search warrant. As a result, X faced $350,000 in fines, according to the circuit court opinion.

Trump has entered not guilty pleas in two cases brought by the Special Counsel: One that alleges he illegally retained possession of classified documents, and another that accuses him of attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election. He has denied wrongdoing.

The newly unsealed district court documents reveal the extent of the data prosecutors were seeking, including the content of all direct messages sent, received or in draft form, the content of all tweets created and drafted, devices used to login or access Trump’s X account, IP addresses used to create, login or use the account and any privacy settings and communications with X and any person regarding Trump’s account.

In January, a district court filing shows, prosecutors applied for and were granted a search warrant for the data tied to Trump’s account on X.

When the government initially served Twitter for information on Trump’s account, they encountered what appeared to be technical difficulties followed by a formal objection to handing over the data by the company on Feb. 1 — four days after the compliance deadline, according to the district court opinion.

The search warrant was ultimately fulfilled roughly two weeks after the deadline, the opinion shows.

Trump was permanently suspended from X two days after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol over what the company said at the time was “the risk of further incitement of violence.”

Musk reinstated Trump’s account shortly after taking control of the company last year, though Trump has not yet returned to posting with his old account.

In February of this year, in sealed court proceedings, Howell rejected X’s arguments and held the company in contempt — while giving it an opportunity to purge its contempt by producing Trump’s account information.

The government suggested sanctions against the company should accrue at a rate of $50,000 per day, to double each day X failed to comply — citing Twitter’s sale to Musk and Musk’s reported net worth, a circuit court opinion shows.

Although X produced some records from the account later that day, “its production was incomplete,” the Special Counsel’s office said, according to the opinion. X did not hand over the full amount of required data in compliance with the warrant until three days later, which the government argued merited a total fine against the company of $350,000.

The district court agreed, finding X in civil contempt and ordering a $350,000 sanction, according to the court’s opinion.

While X appealed the district court ruling, the government filed a separate motion in June that proposed to permit X to notify Trump of the existence of its warrant against his X account. The government later changed its position due to other information that had surfaced at the time “about investigations of the former President [that became publicly available],” the circuit court order says.

In finding X’s arguments against the non-disclosure order unconvincing, the circuit court judges write, “the whole point of the nondisclosure order was to avoid tipping off the former President about the warrant’s existence.”

“Because the nondisclosure order was a narrowly tailored means of achieving compelling government interests, it withstood strict scrutiny,” they ruled.

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