WASHINGTON — Special counsel Jack Smith's office executed a search warrant on former President Donald Trump's Twitter account earlier this year, searching for "evidence of criminal offenses," according to a court ruling made public Wednesday.
The existence of the January search warrant was disclosed in a decision by a federal appeals court in Washington affirming a lower court's decision holding Twitter in contempt of court and sanctioning the company $350,000 for not immediately complying with the warrant.
Elon Musk, who has been a critic of the government's relationship with Twitter, took over the company in 2022 and restored Trump's Twitter account, which had been banned after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol that had been stoked by his bogus stolen election claims.
The company had objected to a nondisclosure order that accompanied the search warrant barring them from informing Trump about the search, contending it "violated the company’s First Amendment right to communicate with its subscriber, former President Trump." It also argued the order "would preclude the former President from asserting executive privilege to shield communications made using his Twitter account."
The lower court and the appeals court noted the Stored Communications Act allows for nondisclosure orders in specific circumstances, and said the special counsel's office had met that bar here.
"Based on ex parte affidavits, the district court found probable cause to search the Twitter account for evidence of criminal offenses. Moreover, the district court found that there were 'reasonable grounds to believe' that disclosing the warrant to former President Trump 'would seriously jeopardize the ongoing investigation' by giving him 'an opportunity to destroy evidence, change patterns of behavior, [or] notify confederates,'” the ruling said.
U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell also found that adopting Twitter's approach to the nondisclosure order would invite tech companies "to delay execution of any [warrant]" while they "litigated challenges based on 'slivers of knowledge' of an investigation's scope."
She held Twitter in contempt and sanctioned the company after she extended the initial deadline for the company to comply with the order by two weeks. It then failed to meet the revised Feb. 7 deadline, and did not turn over the documents until three days later, the ruling said.
The government told Trump's team about the warrant in June, according to the decision.
In a post Wednesday on his social media platform Truth Social, Trump said he'd "Just found out that Crooked Joe Biden’s DOJ secretly attacked my Twitter account, making it a point not to let me know about this major 'hit' on my civil rights."
NBC News has reached out to the company, now called X, and representatives of Trump's for comment.
It's unclear from the ruling what material the government obtained as a result of the search warrant, but last week's indictment charging the former president with using "unlawful means" to remain in power after he lost the 2020 election made numerous references to his tweets, including his calls to supporters to come to D.C. on Jan. 6 and other prodding Vice President Mike Pence to reject certified Electoral College votes.
Trump has pleaded not guilty in the case.