Special Counsel Obtained 32 Private Messages From Trump’s Twitter Account

The federal prosecutors who charged former President Donald J. Trump with a criminal conspiracy over his attempts to overturn the 2020 election obtained 32 private messages from his Twitter account through a search warrant this winter as part of their investigation, court papers unsealed on Friday said.

Questions have lingered about what prosecutors were looking for in Mr. Trump’s Twitter account ever since it was revealed last month that the government had served the warrant on Twitter in January. In an earlier release of documents, prosecutors disclosed that they had obtained some private messages from Mr. Trump’s account but not how many.

The 32 messages, whose content has not been disclosed, were only a small fraction of the larger body of data that Twitter was forced to turn over under the terms of the warrant, the new court papers said. Much of the legal wrangling over the matter focused on the Justice Department’s demand that Twitter, purchased last year by Elon Musk and now known as X, not inform Mr. Trump of the search warrant.

Mr. Trump’s posts on the platform in the chaotic months after the election were mentioned several times in the indictment that the special counsel, Jack Smith, filed against him in Washington last month. What remains unclear is whether Mr. Smith’s team sought the warrant for Mr. Trump’s account merely to confirm that he had posted the messages that appeared in public, or whether they suspected that some private data in the account might also be important.

The newly unsealed documents — an exhaustive record of the legal fight between Twitter and the Justice Department over whether to hide the execution of the warrant from Mr. Trump — added a few new details about what the government may have been seeking.

For example, the materials showed that prosecutors wanted to learn if there were other accounts that Mr. Trump had been logging into from the same internet address he used for his Twitter account, which during his presidency was a main channel for his public statements. But it was not clear whether looking for other accounts was merely a routine step or whether investigators had a specific reason to be asking.

The new materials — unsealed at the request of a coalition of news media organizations, including The New York Times — opened a broader window into the back and forth between the special counsel’s office and Twitter. The dispute touched on how to balance the government’s need to protect a sensitive investigation with the social media company’s desire to be transparent with its most famous user.

The documents were particularly sharp in describing Mr. Trump’s repeated attempts to obstruct federal inquiries — an argument that prosecutors used in securing permission from a judge in Washington not to tell the former president for months that they had obtained the warrant for his account.

In detailing Mr. Trump’s “pattern of obstructive conduct,” the new papers cited his attempts to interfere with the special counsel’s other inquiry — one in which the former president stands accused of illegally holding on to dozens of classified documents after leaving office.

The papers also said that Mr. Trump has “repeatedly disparaged” Mr. Smith on his own social media platform, Truth Social. That move, among others, led Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is overseeing the election interference case, to warn Mr. Trump last month about making threatening statements about the case online.

Moreover, for the first time in public view, the papers suggested that Mr. Trump’s practice of using his fund-raising entity, Save America PAC, to pay the legal fees of associates who have been swept up in the investigations into him, has been viewed by prosecutors as a form of obstruction of justice.

“The former president’s obstructive efforts continue unabated with respect to this investigation here, in which he has determined to pay the legal fees of potential witnesses against him,” the prosecutors wrote.

Mr. Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The newly disclosed materials included a 403-page compendium of filings by prosecutors and lawyers for Twitter, transcripts of two hearings before Judge Beryl A. Howell in Federal District Court in Washington, and a ruling by Judge Howell imposing a $350,000 fine on Twitter for having dragged its feet in complying with a warrant.

Among other details, the hearing transcripts show that Judge Howell was deeply skeptical of arguments made by lawyers for the social-media company that it had a legitimate legal basis to delay complying with the search warrant and to avoid being fined for that delay.

She grilled a lawyer representing the firm about whether its new owner, Mr. Musk, was forcing them to take legally untenable positions — like asserting executive privilege to avoid complying with the subpoena without first telling Mr. Trump about it — to court the former president.

Mr. Trump’s account had a massive following on the service until Twitter barred him after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, saying his posts had run the risk of inciting violence. After Mr. Musk bought the company, he reinstated the former president, but Mr. Trump has only posted once, about his arraignment in Georgia on election charges there.

“Is it because the C.E.O. wants to cozy up with the former president, and that’s why you are here?” Judge Howell asked the lawyer, George P. Varghese, at one point.

At another, she asked whether the company was resisting compliance with the subpoena because it was “trying to make up for the fact that it kicked Donald Trump off Twitter for some period of time” and it wanted “to make Donald Trump feel like he is a particularly welcomed new renewed user of Twitter here?”

Mr. Varghese denied any such ulterior motivation, saying the company was merely focused on legal issues.

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