The special counsel’s investigation into Donald Trump and the aftermath of the 2020 election sought the former president’s Twitter direct messages, of which there were many, federal prosecutors and lawyers for Twitter revealed in newly unsealed transcripts from February court hearings about the search warrant.
The transcripts provide additional hints into what special counsel Jack Smith was looking for before a federal grand jury indicted Trump on four crimes related to his attempts to overturn the election. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Those charging documents cite public tweets – but no private communications. Yet a prosecutor in February explained in a hearing before Judge Beryl Howell of the DC District Court about the warrant for Trump’s @realDonaldTrump account data “that there were communications between the President and senior advisors that were vital to presidential decision-making, that was our reaction.”
A lawyer representing Twitter, now called “X,” similarly confirmed in court that Trump’s account had several private messages between users on the platform. “X” was able to find both the sent direct messages and deleted messages for prosecutors, according to the transcripts.
“We were able to determine that there was some volume in that for this account. There are confidential communications,” a lawyer for Twitter said about @realDonaldTrump’s direct messages.
“DOJ was most interested in communications between government officials and Twitter regarding the subject account,” the counsel to the company also said.
In other parts of the court hearings, prosecutors indicated they were seeking data on potential other accounts the user of @realDonaldTrump had, and links between associated accounts.
They also were looking for any discussions “X” had with officials and aides around Trump at the time his account was suspended after the US Capitol attack on January 6, 2021.
“It seemed beyond comprehension that there weren’t communications regarding the account when it was suspended and terminated, but that doesn’t mean government officials at least cabined to that,” prosecutor Tom Windom said, according to the transcripts. “It can mean campaign officials. It can be anybody acting on behalf of the user of the account, or the user of the account himself.”
Windom is now the lead prosecutor on the Trump federal election subversion indictment.
The Justice Department also successfully shielded from Trump for months the search of his account’s data, with the judge’s blessing, largely out of fear he could take steps to obstruct the investigation if he knew investigators sought that information.
The transcripts come nearly a week after an unsealed court filing revealed that the special counsel investigation had secured a warrant to search Trump’s account. “X” produced the records, but was fined $350,000 for not handing them over on time.
While the company did not object to handing over the records, it pushed back against a non-disclosure order that banned the social media platform from informing Trump of the search warrant. It argued that the ban violated the First Amendment and the Stored Communications Act.
The order was later amended over the course of the litigation, allowing the company to notify Trump of “the existence and contents of the warrant,” but requiring it to withhold information about the case agent on the investigation.