A district court judge questioned Twitter’s motives for fighting a non-disclosure order preventing it from revealing that Special Counsel Jack Smith had been granted a warrant to search former President Donald Trump’s account, a newly unsealed court documents shows.
“Is it because the CEO wants to cozy up with the former President, and that’s why you are here?” U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia Beryl Howell asked Twitter lawyer George Varghese at the start of the February 7 hearing, according document unsealed Tuesday. Howell granted a warrant to Smith that provided access to a wide range of account data, including location data and tweet drafts, and issued a non-disclosure order preventing Twitter from disclosing the warrant, which the company challenged on First Amendment grounds.
Twitter expressed concern that the information may be protected by executive privilege, which it noted it did not have standing to assert on Trump’s behalf. “All we’re simply trying to do is exercise our First Amendment rights to notify the user so the user may assert that privilege if he chooses,” Varghese explained. (RELATED: Jack Smith Obtained Trump’s DMs, Tweet Drafts And Search History With Twitter Warrant)
After demanding to know how often Twitter challenges non-disclosure orders, Howell again questioned Twitter’s motives for asserting its First Amendment rights later in the hearing.
“It couldn’t be that Twitter is trying to make up for the fact that it kicked Donald Trump off Twitter for some period of time that it now is standing up to protect First Amendment rights here, is it?” she pressed.
“No, Your Honor,” the lawyer said. “This is based on the facially invalid NDO.”
“Is this to make Donald Trump feel like he is a particularly welcomed new renewed user of Twitter here?” Howell continued.
“Twitter has no interest other than litigating its constitutional rights, Your honor,” Varghese replied.
Varghese earlier explained that Twitter did not believe one of the arguments the government had given for the non-disclosure order — that Trump was at risk of fleeing from prosecution — made any sense, given that he has announced he is running again for office and has a “security detail.” Howell agreed, according to the transcript, though the appeals court opinion affirming Howell’s earlier decision noted the district court had “found reason to believe that the President would ‘flee from prosecution'” but did “rely on risk of flight in its ultimate analysis.”
Howell held Twitter in contempt and levied a $350,000 sanction against the company after it produced the requested information three days after the court’s deadline. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld her decision.
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