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The Sloppy, Dirty, Secret Grab of Trump's DMs
Working with the Obama-appointed chief judge of D.C. federal court, Special Counsel Jack Smith squeezed Twitter for Trump's data and a hefty fine for contempt. Both claimed Trump was a flight risk.
They claimed if the government got his direct messages, he would flee the country.
“They” are Special Counsel Jack Smith and D.C. District Court Judge Beryl Howell. “He,” of course, is former President Donald Trump.
Taking advantage of an undoubtedly hectic time a few months after Elon Musk finalized his purchase of Twitter in October 2022, the Department of Justice attempted to serve the company with a court-ordered search warrant seeking all records related to Donald Trump’s Twitter account. But Smith—who has unlimited resources, a large staff of experienced attorneys and investigators, and an (unjustified) reputation among the expert legal class as a by-the-book prosecutor—didn’t do it the old-fashioned way.
One of Smith’s associates apparently filed the search warrant on Twitter’s website under its “legal requests” page on January 17. But that didn’t work. So they tried again two days later, leaving an unprecedented search warrant on a former president of the United States in some rando’s inbox. Hearing no response—no duh—Smith’s office on January 25 contacted Twitter’s legal counsel, who informed the government she hadn’t heard anything about the warrant.
And Smith’s response basically was—too bad. Twitter, Smith warned, had two days to produce the data or else.
Those are just a few of the juicy details contained in a newly released 34-page appellate ruling upholding Howell’s order to force Twitter to hand over everything on Trump’s Twitter account including direct messages, drafts, and possibly deleted tweets. Smith convinced Howell—not a heavy lift for a judge who continues to issue landmark rulings against Trump including piercing attorney-client privilege between the former president and his private lawyer—that the DOJ needed Trump’s private Twitter archive as part of its investigation into efforts “to alter the outcome of a valid national election for the leadership of the Executive Branch of the federal government...and [to assess] whether that activity crossed lines into criminal culpability."
But that wasn’t all that Smith and Howell, an Obama appointee who served as the D.C. district’s chief judge until a few months ago, demanded of the social media company’s new ownership. A nondisclosure order accompanied the search warrant, meaning Twitter could not notify its user, Donald Trump, about the legal proceedings for 180 days.
The basis for the nondisclosure order, Smith and Howell apparently argued in filings and hearings still under seal, was the Stored Communications Act. A provision in the Act allows a judge to instruct service providers not to disclose the existence of a warrant based on five potential harms: endangering the life or physical safety of an individual; flight from prosecution; destruction of or tampering with evidence; intimidation of potential witnesses; or otherwise seriously jeopardizing an investigation or unduly delaying a trial.
At some point—and again, we may never know since the entire case file is under seal with the exception of the appellate court decision—Smith warned that Trump was a flight risk in order to meet the Act’s nondisclosure requirements. Howell concurred, stating that she also “found reason to believe that the former President would ‘flee from prosecution,’” according to a footnote in the appellate court’s opinion.
The footnote also disclosed that Smith had “errantly included flight from prosecution as a predicate” in seeking the nondisclosure order. (Misleading a court is just fine if you are Jack Smith.)
And as if to rescue Howell from her own absurd accusation that one of the most famous men in the world would hop on his golden jetliner to escape to some Godforsaken land upon learning a creepy special counsel and his creepy investigators would be reading his Twitter activity from three years ago, the appellate panel insisted Howell “did not rely on risk of flight in [her] ultimate analysis.”
Democrats Make Elon Pay
Twitter, to its credit, challenged the nondisclosure order. On February 2, Twitter’s lawyers filed a motion to vacate or modify the order based on the company’s First Amendment rights to communicate with its customer. Twitter also raised concerns about producing the former president’s account without giving him a chance to assert executive privilege.
On that same day, a mere eight days after learning about the warrant, Smith’s office asked Howell to hold Twitter in contempt for failing to comply.
During a closed-door hearing on February 7, Howell laid the hammer on Twitter. Not only did she deny the company’s motion objecting to the nondisclosure order, but she also held Twitter in contempt for failing to produce the former president’s Twitter data to Smith by January 27—an outrageous decision considering Smith’s half-ass attempts to serve Twitter and finally reaching the company’s attorney on January 25.
Further, one can only imagine the volume of content on Trump’s Twitter account; he was a prodigious user of Twitter dating back to 2009. And the notion that Twitter should just hand over private records of a former president without any challenge is on its face preposterous and possibly illegal given the protections granted to former presidents on such matters.
Howell, however, gave Twitter a brief respite from the contempt charge. If the company handed over all the information to Smith by 5:00 p.m. that evening, the contempt count would be purged. Howell then asked Smith’s team what sanctions she should apply if Twitter violated the unnecessarily rushed deadline. Twitter, Smith suggested, should pay a fine of $50,000 per day, doubling every day the company failed to comply.
“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,” the appellate panel wrote.
Keep in mind, Democrats are no fan of Elon Musk. Howell, a longtime Democrat and former Democrat Senate staffer, undoubtedly relished the opportunity to smack down the gazillionaire who promised to reform one of the Democratic Party’s most reliable propaganda organs and open up the platform to dissenting political views.
The only contempt in Howell’s courtroom was her own.
Even though Twitter substantially complied with the unreasonable production schedule, and despite Smith’s request for new search terms after the deadline, Howell fined Twitter $350,000 for a 51-hour delay—a delay entirely caused by the special counsel’s office. But what’s a $7,000 an hour fine to someone who has spent most of her adult career living off the public teat and never created a single job?
After an unsuccessful appeal, Twitter paid the $350,000 fine to the court. Another pound of flesh extracted by the most partisan, ruthless judge on the federal bench.
Unsurprisingly, a D.C. appellate panel consisting of two Biden judges and one Obama judge, upheld Howell’s rulings on both the nondisclosure order and the fine. “[We] affirm the district court's rulings in all respects. The district court properly rejected Twitter's First Amendment challenge to the nondisclosure order. The district court followed the appropriate procedures before finding Twitter in contempt of court—including giving Twitter an opportunity to be heard and a chance to purge its contempt to avoid sanctions. Under the circumstances, the court did not abuse its discretion when it ultimately held Twitter in contempt and imposed a $350,000 sanction.”
So now Joe Biden’s Department of Justice has all the data from Donald Trump’s Twitter account. Not only does that represent an egregious, if not voyeuristic, invasion of privacy, it’s only a matter of time before Smith begins selectively leaking tidbits to the regime’s favorite media mouthpieces.