Judge in Trump case asks if Elon Musk tried to cozy up to ex-president

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SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Donald Trump at NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center, May 30, 2020.

Paul Hennessy | SOPA Images | Getty Images

As part of a criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 U.S. presidential election, a federal judge asked if the company formerly known as Twitter was trying to “cozy up” to the ex-president by refusing to hand over data related to his account.

According to a court transcript that was made public Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell grilled Twitter’s legal team during a hearing Feb. 7 over its delay in delivering the materials to special counsel Jack Smith, who had a search warrant for Trump’s Twitter account.

At the time, Twitter wasn’t complying with the warrant, citing various legal arguments and its desire to notify Trump about the probe. Tesla CEO Elon Musk purchased Twitter late last year and soon reinstated Trump’s account; the ex-president had been kicked off the site in January 2021 following the Capitol riot.

“Twitter has had quite some time to comply with the warrant and have everything prepared to turn over, so I am a little bit concerned about where we are,” Howell said, according to the transcript.

Twitter, now known as X, eventually sent Smith’s team the necessary data related to Trump’s Twitter account, on Feb. 9, and was then fined $350,000 as part of a contempt sanction.

Trump was indicted earlier this month on charges related to his attempts to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. The former president now faces 91 felony charges across four criminal cases.

Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to members of the media at the U.S. Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 1, 2023.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

At various points during the February hearing, Howell questioned Twitter’s lawyers about whether they understood the “scope” of the warrant and the information the government sought.

“Is it because the CEO wants to cozy up with the former president, and that’s why you are here?” Howell asked.

The judge and the defense’s legal team engaged in a seemingly tense back-and-forth exchange about the proper ways to search for the material and what kind of data was appropriate for the government to gather as part of its probe.

At several times during the conversation, Howell disputed Twitter’s interpretation of various rights related to the First Amendment and executive privilege, which the company claimed would impede its ability to provide materials to the government as part of an investigation.

“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?” said Howell.

“No, your honor,” replied George Varghese, Twitter’s lawyer, adding that the nature of the search request provided a legal reason for not complying with the order.

Howell continued, asking if the company was trying “to make Donald Trump feel like he is a particularly welcomed new renewed user of Twitter, here.”

Varghese responded by saying, “Twitter has no interest other than litigating its constitutional rights, your honor.”

A spokesperson for X declined to comment.

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