Donald Trump’s Twitter account, seen on a mobile screen.OLIVIER DOULIERY (AFP)
Jack Smith’s team, the special prosecutor appointed by the US Department of Justice to investigate Donald Trump, obtained a search warrant for the former president’s Twitter account in January, but Elon Musk’s platform was late in complying with it, according to court documents filed Wednesday. The delay in compliance led a federal judge to hold the San Francisco company in contempt and fine it $350,000.
Three of the proper names that have made the most headlines in the US these weeks, those of Trump, Musk and prosecutor Smith – who has charged the former president twice since June for withholding classified documents and for trying to reverse the 2020 electoral result -, coincide in a case that was revealed when resorting to the old platform known as Twitter, which today operates under the letter X, alleging that a lower court judge was wrong to declare it in contempt and impose the sanction. The details of the litigation appear in the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which has rejected the appeal of Musk’s company.
The file released this Wednesday says that Smith obtained a search warrant ordering Twitter to produce “data and records” from the Republican candidate’s Twitter account related to the criminal investigation into the 2020 elections. The government also obtained the guarantee of a confidentiality agreement that prohibited Twitter from disclosing the search warrant. The indictment says that the prosecution “found probable cause to search the Twitter account for evidence of criminal offences.”
Litigation between Twitter and the government has largely played out in secret court proceedings until today, when the Washington DC Circuit ordered the release of a redacted version of its July 18 ruling. The ruling shows that a three-judge panel unanimously upheld the civil contempt penalty, as well as a trial judge’s decision to uphold the nondisclosure or gag order. The members of the court have been appointed by the Democratic presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Twitter had argued that the non-disclosure order violated its First Amendment protection of free speech, and that it should not comply with it until that issue was fully resolved. A district judge ruled against the company and ordered Twitter to comply with the injunction by February 7. Twitter missed that deadline and did not submit the requested information until the night of February 9, which led to the fine. In his request, Smith had stressed the need for the utmost confidentiality in the matter, arguing that revealing the order to Trump would “seriously jeopardize the ongoing investigation” by giving him the opportunity to destroy evidence or change his behavior.
The case is striking because Twitter closed Trump’s account after the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The magnate then created his own platform, Truth Social, a bulletin board in which he reports on the judicial offensive of which He claims to be a victim for political reasons and, above all, in which he lashes out with great capital letters against his persecutors, with prosecutor Smith and President Biden’s Administration at the helm. When Elon Musk, a self-declared free-speech absolutist, bought Twitter last year for $44 billion, he announced among his first moves his intention to return the account to the Republican. But the ex-president, who has conceded three accusations since April in addition to facing several civil causes, has not returned. As a result of the assault on the headquarters of Congress, the tycoon was also deprived of access to his accounts on Facebook and Instagram, but Meta announced in January that he too would lift the veto.
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Musk makes headlines day after day, from his failing health to his next supposedly imminent cockfight with Marck Zuckerberg, so keeping court-imposed silence on the search warrant must have taken him quite a bit, probably Like Trump if he knew. None of those involved have yet ruled on the disclosure of the dispute by the appeals court.
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