Federal prosecutors secretly argued in April that if Donald Trump learned of their efforts to access his Twitter account, his public disclosure of the development could “precipitate violence.”
Newly unsealed court filings show that attorneys working for special counsel Jack Smith worried that Trump would publicly announce the search warrant of his Twitter feed just like he announced on Truth Social when his Mar-a-Lago estate was searched by the FBI last year. That announcement was followed by a surge in threats against federal law enforcement, culminating in the fatal shooting of a man who had attempted to breach an FBI building in Cincinnati.
Informing Trump about the Twitter search warrant “could precipitate violence as occurred following the public disclosure of the search warrant executed at Mar-a-Lago,” the prosecutors warned.
The new filings, part of a monthslong legal battle between Twitter, now called X, and the special counsel’s team over whether the social media company, newly purchased by Elon Musk, could inform Trump about the search warrant the investigators had obtained before it complied with its directives. The company suggested that some of Trump’s private communications on the platform could be subject to executive privilege and wanted to afford him to opportunity to assert it.
But prosecutors — and ultimately U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell — scoffed at that suggestion and sharply rejected Twitter’s notion that Trump’s account might contain privileged material. Howell held Twitter in contempt in February and fined the company $350,000 for missing court-ordered deadlines to comply with the prosecutors’ search warrant. Ultimately, the company provided the documents Smith’s prosecutors demanded.
In the new filings, Smith’s team revealed that Trump’s account included just 32 direct messages, “a minuscule” proportion of the overall data it had obtained. Prosecutors also obtained data that could show Trump’s location at the time certain tweets were sent or whether anyone else was accessing his account.
But the newly unsealed filings provide new details Smith’s arguments for keeping Trump in the dark about the search warrant — primarily that Trump presents a “significant risk of tampering with evidence, seeking to influence or intimidate potential witnesses, and ‘otherwise seriously jeopardizing’ the Government’s ongoing investigations.”
“These are not hypothetical considerations in this case,” the prosecutors wrote in a 71-page brief dated April 21. “Following his defeat in the 2020 presidential election, the former President propagated false claims of fraud (including swearing to false allegations in a federal court filing), pressured state and federal officials to violate their legal duties, and retaliated against those who did not comply with his demands, culminating in violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.”
Smith’s team also cited the charges against Trump for seeking to “undermine or otherwise influence the investigation into the potential mishandling of classified information following the end of his presidency, including publicizing the existence of the Mar-a-Lago warrant.”
“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 and repeatedly disparaged the lead prosecutor on his Truth Social platform,” the prosecutors added. “[T]his pattern of obstructive conduct amply supports the district court’s conclusion that the former President presents a significant risk of tampering with evidence, seeking to influence or intimidate potential witnesses, and 'otherwise seriously jeopardizing' the Government’s ongoing investigations.”
Twitter’s response to the prosecutors described the prospect of violence as “facially implausible” and contended that Trump already knew many details about Smith’s investigation into his conduct leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. His knowledge of the search warrant, the company contended, would not alter that equation.
But both Howell and a panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately rejected Twitter’s arguments. The company is now seeking review by the full bench of the D.C. Circuit, arguing that the panel, as well as Howell, failed to consider alternatives to demanding full compliance with the search warrant before giving Trump a chance to assert any privileges. The company says one option would have been to inform a representative for Trump about the warrant, while still keeping its details secret from the former president.
Prosecutors and Howell called such a proposal unworkable.