The social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, provided data and records related to the Twitter account of former President Donald Trump to special counsel Jack Smith in response to a secret search warrant.
As the document details, Twitter initially didn’t comply with the warrant and, after missing the deadline by four days, informed the special counsel that it wouldn’t comply and instead challenge in court a nondisclosure order that required the company to keep the warrant secret, even from President Trump, for 180 days.
Twitter did file its challenge in the D.C. federal district court on Feb. 2, while Mr. Smith moved to have Twitter held in contempt for noncompliance.
Twitter argued that the nondisclosure order impermissibly violated its First Amendment right to communicate with its users, Mr. Trump in this case.
The court sided with Mr. Smith in the argument that Twitter still needed to comply with the warrant even while challenging the nondisclosure order. On Feb. 7, the court conditionally held Twitter in contempt, giving the company several hours to comply to avoid sanctions.
The lawyer representing Twitter affirmed the deadline and didn’t object to an unusual sanctions regime proposed by the prosecutors—a daily fine that would start at $50,000 and would double each additional day. At such a pace, the fine would reach more than $6 million in a week, more than $800 million in two weeks, upwards of $100 billion in three weeks, and exceed the world's gross domestic product in a month.
X wasn’t able to provide all the data by the deadline and ended up taking some 50 hours to comply completely, and was fined $350,000. It appealed the ruling to the D.C. Circuit appeals court, which affirmed the fine on July 18.
The court ruled that the prosecutors had the right to curtail Twitter's right because they had an "unquestionably compelling" interest in pursuing their investigation of Mr. Trump and keeping it secret from him and also because the order was "narrowly tailored," such as by limiting its duration to 180 days.
Representatives of X didn't respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.
On June 20, the prosecutors filed a motion to extend and limit the nondisclosure order so as to allow Twitter to disclose it to Mr. Trump but still "withhold the identity of the case agent assigned to the investigation."
Twitter was taken over by billionaire Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla, in October 2022. Musk brought to the company a greater emphasis on free speech.
The charges against Mr. Trump rest on the premise that he didn’t really believe his own claims that the victory in the 2020 election was illegally taken from him.
“Without doubt, the Court’s decision to vary from the default Local Rules and allow President Trump less than one business day to respond to this important Motion is a concerning development, inconsistent with his due process rights,” the lawyers said in a court filing, asking the judge to provide the regular 14 days in the future.
Subsequently, Mr. Trump asked for a few days' delay in scheduling a hearing on the gag order. The judge didn't accommodate the request.
The lawyers have argued that the gag order proposed by Mr. Smith is too broad, as it would bar the former president from discussing evidence provided to his defense by the prosecutors. Instead, they propose a protective order that would only cover information labeled by the prosecutors as "sensitive."
Mr. Trump also faces charges, brought by Mr. Smith in Florida, of illegal retention of national defense information, obstruction, and lying. Another slew of charges, for alleged falsifying of business records, was brought by a New York state prosecutor in Manhattan. Mr. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. Yet more charges are expected to come from a district attorney in Georgia, also related to Trump's efforts to challenge the 2020 election.