Last week, Americans learned that special counsel Jack Smith’s team investigating Donald Trump’s efforts to subvert the election issued a search warrant to Twitter for the former president’s account — combining three of the main characters of the news in one unusual headline. Now, court records show that Smith’s probe at the Justice Department gained access to Trump’s direct messages and drafts.
A federal court filing from February made public on Tuesday showed that Smith had sought out “all content, records and other information” related to Trump’s Twitter account. While Twitter initially fought the warrant — leading to a $300,000 fine for the delay — a lawyer for Elon Musk’s social-media platform confirmed in court in February that they had handed over “all direct messages” from the account, including those “stored in draft form” and “deleted” messages. The warrant also required Twitter to hand over any devices used to log into Trump’s account, his privacy settings and history, and any IP addresses used to log in to the account between October 2020 and January 2021.
Twitter’s lawyers did not say in court what was in the messages, or even who may have written them. While Trump had direct access to his Twitter account in his presidency and in the days leading up to the Capitol riot, his aide Dan Scavino was also posting on his account on his behalf. But if Trump were writing some of the messages himself, it would be a departure from his normal routine, in which he was extremely reluctant to use written communication like text and email.
The search warrant for Trump’s DMs is the first document showing that federal prosecutors have directly investigated Trump’s personal communications. In the fight in court over the warrant, Judge Beryl Howell asked Twitter’s lawyers why they were fighting the warrant. “Is this to make Donald Trump feel like he is a particularly welcomed new renewed user of Twitter?” Howell asked. Twitter’s attorney replied that they were only concerned with “constitutional rights.” But Howell pressed the matter again: “Is it because the new CEO wants to cozy up with the former president?”