How Trump’s Twitter Data Could Help Jack Smith


The detailed information that federal prosecutors quietly obtained from Twitter about former President Donald Trump earlier this year could help them figure out what he was thinking and who he was secretly talking to during his attempted coup in 2021—and hold him directly responsible for specific crimes at trial, according to former investigators.

Earlier this year, Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith got data on what links Trump clicked on before publicly lying about 2020 election fraud, who he communicated with privately before entering meetings to concoct his plan to stay in the White House, and whether his phone was the one used to post tweets and engage in private chats. Prosecutors even have a log of his Twitter searches.

“It definitely gives more context. You get an idea of what he’s thinking about, his state of mind. It's potentially really great stuff,” Georgia State University law school professor Caren Morrison, a former prosecutor.

She likened it to the damning information cops routinely get when tracking down killers.

“They do that in murder cases all the time, when someone looks at ‘how to poison someone and make it look like a natural death,’” she said.

Jack Smith Has Trump’s Draft Tweets and Direct Messages

Late Tuesday night, court documents unsealed in Washington revealed how Twitter in January was forced to turn over a treasure trove of Trump’s account data to Smith’s team. The news further explained why exactly billionaire Elon Musk’s company, now named X, had to pay a $350,000 fine for dragging its feet and ignoring a federal judge.

But the latest batch of court transcripts shows that Smith’s prosecutors were keen on obtaining particular types of information from Trump’s Twitter account: private messages, deleted ones, and even what online material he viewed at specific times.

“Prosecutors can put together a more comprehensive story about the president's actions those days, not just his public tweets,” said Jeffrey M. Cohen, a former federal prosecutor who worked on public corruption cases and now teaches at Boston College Law School.

As part of the special counsel’s coup investigation, which culminated in a four-count indictment earlier this month, Smith’s team on January 17 got a court-approved search warrant demanding that Twitter turn over all kinds of information related to the former president’s account.

Twitter’s lawyers pushed back, noting the company had already turned over basic account information—even Direct Messages—that served as official presidential records to the NationalArchives and Records Administration on Trump’s way out of the White House. But at two closed-door hearings in February, prosecutors sparred with Twitter’s counsel and hinted at why they needed to get this information from the company directly.

First, the feds didn’t want to tip off Trump. Going to NARA would have given Trump an opportunity to claim executive privilege under the Presidential Records Act, because former presidents still retain ownership rights of these official documents for 12 years after leaving office.

But more importantly, the feds wanted information that probably wasn’t in NARA’s possession: draft DMs, deleted DMs, and even what online links Trump clicked on to watch videos or read stories at particular times.

Morrison said it could help prosecutors determine if Trump had closer ties to—or was influenced by—violent, far-right paramilitary groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

“It's circumstantial evidence. You can make an inference between what he looked at and what he wrote and tweeted,” Morrison said. “Let's say he's on the Proud Boys Facebook page then he sends a message saying, ‘We're gonna have to fight!’”

Trump Savages Jack Smith Over Accessing His Old Twitter Account

The granular computer data sought by prosecutors also includes hyper-specific location information that would show where Trump was while using the Twitter phone app what device he was using to log in.

“It would be very powerful to show the jury that it was by the president's two thumbs that the DM was drafted,” Cohen said.

This kind of evidence could also be used to knock down any defense Trump would have at trial, namely, that it wasn’t really him behind the proverbial keyboard.

“It would prevent him from claiming that it wasn't him that was doing the tweets, or that he had his press people do it,” Cohen said. “If they can show it was coming from him at two in the morning from the West Wing from his personal device, then it's good evidence he was the one doing it.”

That level of specificity would build on the narrative about the Trump-fueled 2021 insurrection already developed by the House Jan. 6 Committee during its year-long investigation, which described how Trump spent more than two-and-a-half hours sitting in the West Wing’s dining room after aides notified him about the attack by his MAGA loyalists on the Capitol.

Twitter deactivated Trump’s Twitter account shortly after the insurrection in a bold move to refuse the American president a platform to continue inspiring violence and sharing anti-democratic proclamations. Musk, who bought the social media company last year for $44 billion, reinstated Trump’s account in November.

In court, Smith’s prosecution team made clear that they were especially keen on obtaining information about Twitter’s interactions with Trump administration officials. That might shed light on attempts to reinstate Trump’s account in the closing days of his administration.

At a Feb. 9 hearing, a Twitter lawyer noted that prosecutors “this morning communicated to us that they were most interested in communications between government officials and Twitter regarding the subject account.”

Thomas Windom, a member of Smith’s team, elaborated further.

“It can mean campaign officials. It can be anybody acting on behalf of the user of the account, or the user of the account himself,” he said.

Given the breadth and granular nature of the government’s search warrant, Twitter’s lawyers cited “engineering challenges” and noted that an engineer at the company was working until 2 a.m. to gather the information—including deleted DMs.

Although Twitter has a corporate policy that calls for it to automatically wipe deleted tweets and private DMs from its computer servers after 14 days, its lawyers in court revealed that the company preserved some of Trump’s account data around the time of the insurrection.

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