DC Appellate Judges: “Unprecedented Approach” to Get Trump’s Twitter Files


by Julie Kelly

In January 2023, two months after his appointment as special counsel, Jack Smith applied for a search warrant to obtain all of the data associated with Donald Trump’s long-dormant Twitter account. Smith sought not just public posts but direct messages, drafted and deleted posts, and the identity of any individual with access to the account. Smith also asked for “all users [Trump’s account] has followed, unfollowed, muted, unmuted, blocked, or unblocked, and all users who have followed, unfollowed, muted, unmuted, blocked, or unblocked” Trump’s account.

The application was stunning in scope with no justification as to why the government needed such a limitless trove of information—particularly one that clearly ran afoul of Trump’s right to assert executive privilege. So, Smith neatly settled that matter by additionally asking for a nondisclosure order that prevented Twitter from notifying Trump about the search warrant for 180 days.

Beryl Howell, an Obama appointee and chief judge of the district court in Washington at the time, once again wielded her rubber stamp to give Smith what he wanted. The pair claimed that if Trump found out about the warrant, he might intimidate witnesses or stoke “violence.” At one point, Smith and Howell outlandishly insisted Trump might “flee from prosecution” if Twitter notified the former president.

Lawyers for Twitter—at the time being bought by Elon Musk—sought to vacate the nondisclosure order under the company’s First Amendment rights. Twitter asked Howell to delay production of Trump’s data until the nondisclosure matter could be resolved.

But Smith was having none of it. After setting a near-impossible deadline exacerbated by Smith’s ham handed (perhaps intentional) way of serving the warrant—prosecutors first emailed the unprecedented order to an inoperable website at Twitter, causing days of delays—Smith opposed both Twitter’s motion to vacate and asked Howell to hold the company in contempt for failing to immediately comply.

Howell, once again, granted Smith’s wish. She denied Twitter’s motion to vacate or modify the nondisclosure order and took the unusual step of refusing to put a hold on her order pending appeal.

And twisting the knife deeper into the company on the verge of becoming the biggest free speech platform in the world, something Howell and her government apparatchiks vehemently oppose, Howell fined Twitter $350,000 for roughly two days of alleged “delays” in producing the files. At one point during the February 2023 sealed hearing, Howell asked Twitter’s lawyer if the company was trying to “cozy up” to the former president by filing the appeal.

Twitter produced the requested records but appealed Howell’s rulings on the nondisclosure order, her refusal to “stay” her order pending appeal, and the contempt finding that resulted in the massive fine. (Without standing on the issue, Twitter did not raise executive privilege concerns.)

“We should not have endorsed this gambit”

In August 2023, a three-judge panel of Democratic judges on the court of appeals in Washington upheld all of Howell’s decisions. Writing for the 3-0 majority, Biden appointee Florence Pan, last heard presenting the outlandish “Seal Team Six” hypothetical during oral arguments on Trump’s immunity appeal, gave short shrift to any executive privilege considerations at play. The panel schizophrenically treated Trump like any other Twitter user, immune from special treatment by the government and the courts, while simultaneously referring to him as the “former president.”

For example, in one passage defending Howell’s decision not to allow Twitter to notify Trump about even a portion of the warrant, Pan said, “such action would not have safeguarded the security and integrity of the investigation, as the whole point of the nondisclosure order was to avoid tipping off the former President about the warrant’s existence.”

Not giving up, Twitter then asked the full circuit court for an “en banc,” meaning full court, review of the panel’s decision.

While denying Twitter’s request for reconsideration on January 16, four Republican judges took the unusual step of writing a statement attached to the order. The 12-page missive blasted Smith, Howell, and Pan for violating the Constitution and other “balance of power” protections.

The Special Counsel’s approach obscured and bypassed any assertion of executive privilege and dodged the careful balance Congress struck in the Presidential Records Act. The district court and this court permitted this arrangement without any consideration of the consequential executive privilege issues raised by this unprecedented search. We should not have endorsed this gambit. Rather than follow established precedent, for the first time in American history, a court allowed access to presidential communications before any scrutiny of executive privilege.

Judge Neomi Rao joined by Judges Gregory Katsas, Justin Walker, and Karen Henderson.

Rao condemned Smith for seeking to obtain the records via court order rather than ask the National Archives for the data, which would have automatically triggered notice to the former president, something Smith purposely wanted to avoid. “I can find no precedent for what occurred here, namely the court-ordered disclosure of presidential communications without notice to the President and without any adjudication of executive privilege.” She called the approach an “end-run around executive privilege.”

She continued to excoriate her colleagues in the D.C. courthouse. “The district court (Howell) afforded no opportunity for the former President to invoke executive privilege before disclosure, and this court (Pan) made no mention of the privilege concerns entangled in a third-party search of a President’s social media account. This approach directly contravenes the principles and procedures long used to adjudicate claims of executive privilege.”

Rao said Howell should have considered the records sought by Smith as “presumptively privileged” and allowed Trump to assert privilege, a longstanding practice that was “flipped” by Howell and Smith.

She also contemplated the future consequences of their decisions—something the Department of Justice and federal judges in Washington routinely fail to consider; as long as historical practices, the rule of law, and the Constitution can be turned on their collective head to destroy Trump, the permanent fall-out does not matter.

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This is prosecutorial misconduct. jack shit along with the judge and all others involved in this partisan witch hunt need to be prosecuted themselves and sent to prison.

Trump IS a “former president”. In a criminal investigation he can no longer hide behind claims of executive privilege or presidential immunity.

The panel schizophrenically treated Trump like any other Twitter user, immune from special treatment by the government and the courts, while simultaneously referring to him as the “former president.”

Well, stupid, the communications Jerk Smith is demanding are from when he was President. Your stupid interpretation of rules are not retroactive. It’s all a desperate fishing expedition by a prosecutor that is trying to fill in the blanks.

Maybe before Jerk Smith gets more information, he should be forced to fulfil his discovery obligations. It’s always the same with Democrats, always one sided, always biased in their favor, always their prejudice in control.

Washington D.C. District of Criminals