Special counsel Jack Smith obtained a secret search warrant to comb through former President Donald Trump's Twitter account.
unsealed on Wednesday show that
a federal judge approved the warrant in January. The documents do not say, however, what investigators were searching for or what criminal evidence they believed may exist in Trump's account.
The existence of the warrant was revealed in court documents from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Not only did Smith obtain the warrant, but prosecutors hit Twitter with a "nondisclosure order that prohibited Twitter from notifying anyone about the existence or contents of the warrant," court documents said.
The D.C. Appeals Court said:
affidavits, the district court found probable cause to search the Twitter account for evidence of criminal offenses. Moreover, the district court found that there were "reasonable grounds to believe" that disclosing the warrant to former President Trump "would seriously jeopardize the ongoing investigation" by giving him "an opportunity to destroy evidence, change patterns of behavior, [or] notify confederates."
Twitter, however, objected, arguing the nondisclosure order violated the First Amendment and would "preclude [Trump] from asserting executive privilege to shield communications made using his Twitter account." Twitter argued that enforcement of the order should have been halted until a court resolved those objections.
While in the process of litigating the nondisclosure argument, Twitter failed to comply with the search warrant fully until three days after a court-ordered deadline. The district court then held Twitter in contempt of court and levied a $350,000 penalty.
Although the amount of the fine is meaningless to Twitter, the court imposed the fine by taking advantage of Elon Musk's wealth.
"The government suggested sanctions that would accrue at a geometric rate: $50,000 per day, to double every day that Twitter did not comply," the appeals court explained. "The court adopted that suggestion, noting that Twitter was sold for over $40 billion and that its owner's net worth was over $180 billion. Twitter did not object to the sanctions formula."
In the end, Twitter lost its appeal. A three-judge panel consisting of two Biden appointees and one Obama appointee affirmed the district court's actions "in all respects."
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