By John Gruber
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The special counsel’s investigation into Donald Trump and the aftermath of the 2020 election sought the former president’s Twitter direct messages, of which there were many, federal prosecutors and lawyers for Twitter revealed in newly unsealed transcripts from February court hearings about the search warrant. [...]
A lawyer representing Twitter, now called “X,” similarly confirmed in court that Trump’s account had several private messages between users on the platform. “X” was able to find both the sent direct messages and deleted messages for prosecutors, according to the transcripts.
“We were able to determine that there was some volume in that for this account. There are confidential communications,” a lawyer for Twitter said about @realDonaldTrump’s direct messages.
While it remained unclear what sorts of information the messages contained and who exactly may have written them, it was a revelation that there were private messages associated with the Twitter account of Mr. Trump, who has famously been cautious about using written forms of communications in his dealings with aides and allies.
The papers included transcripts of hearings in Federal District Court in Washington in February during which Judge Beryl A. Howell asserted that Mr. Smith’s office had sought Mr. Trump’s direct messages — or DMs — from Twitter as part of a search warrant it executed on the account in January.
In one of the transcripts, a lawyer for Twitter, answering questions from Judge Howell, confirmed that the company had turned over to the special counsel’s office “all direct messages, the DMs” from Mr. Trump’s Twitter account, including those sent, received and “stored in draft form.”
The lawyer for Twitter told Judge Howell that the company had found both “deleted” and “nondeleted” direct messages associated with Mr. Trump’s account.
I am not at all surprised that “deleted” DMs are not in fact deleted, but rather hidden. I am slightly surprised that Trump — famously averse not just to using email and text messages, but even to his own lawyers taking written notes in meetings, so as not to leave a chain of evidence for his lifelong criminal activity — would use, of all things, the infamously unencrypted direct messaging feature on Twitter. To be clear, this is a pleasant surprise.
Kyle Cheney, reporting for Politico, “Special Counsel Obtained Trump DMs Despite ‘Momentous’ Bid by Twitter to Delay, Unsealed Filings Show”:
Among the data the search warrant commanded Twitter to produce:
- Accounts associated with @realdonaldtrump that the former president might have used in the same device.
- Devices used to log into the @realdonaldtrump account.
- IP addresses used to log into the account between October 2020 and January 2021.
- Privacy settings and history.
- All tweets “created, drafted, favorited/liked, or retweeted” by @realdonaldtrump, including any subsequently deleted.
- All direct messages “sent from, received by, stored in draft form in, or otherwise associated with” @realdonaldtrump.
- All records of searches from October 2020 to January 2021.
- Location information for the user of @realdonaldtrump from October 2020 to January 2021.
As I speculated last week, nothing you do on Twitter is private. Not your DMs, not your “deleted” DMs, not your searches, not your location (if you’re foolish enough to grant Twitter/X access to it), not your draft posts.
Elon Musk comes out of this looking like he’d happily fellate Trump:
Ultimately, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell held Twitter in contempt of court in February, fining the company $350,000 for missing a court-ordered deadline to comply with Smith’s search warrant. But the newly unsealed transcripts of the proceedings in her courtroom show that the fine was the least of the punishment. Howell lit into Twitter for taking “extraordinary” and apparently unprecedented steps to give Trump advance notice about the search warrant — despite prosecutors’ warnings, backed by unspecified evidence, that notifying Trump could cause grave damage to their investigation.
“Is this to make Donald Trump feel like he is a particularly welcomed new renewed user of Twitter?” Howell asked.
“Twitter has no interest other than litigation its constitutional rights,” replied attorney George Varghese of WilmerHale, the firm Twitter deploys for much of its litigation.
But Howell returned to the theme repeatedly during the proceedings, wondering why the company was taking “momentous” steps to protect Trump that it had never taken for other users. In the hearing on Feb. 7, 2023, Howell referenced Musk, asking: “Is it because the new CEO wants to cozy up with the former president?”
The unsealed court filing (PDF) is here, for your reading enjoyment. Hope you stocked up on popcorn, like I did, for indictment season.