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Federal Judge Secretly Ruled Trump Was Risk For Evidence Tampering, Witness Intimidation

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


A federal judge appointed by then-President Barack Obama made a move against former President Donald Trump earlier this year that will likely lead critics of the legal cases against him to conclude they are mostly political in nature.

Then-chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell of the District of Columbia in January ruled that Trump should not be alerted that special counsel Jack Smith had been granted access via a search warrant to the former president’s Twitter account, ostensibly to prevent Trump from tampering with evidence or trying to intimidate potential witnesses, according to a Friday report by The Messenger.

“The Court finds reasonable grounds to believe that such disclosure will result in destruction of or tampering with evidence, intimidation of potential witnesses, and serious jeopardy to the investigation,” she wrote in an order on Jan. 17, 2023, one of many files recently added to the federal court docket.

The outlet added:

The two-page order is just one of the blockbuster filings in a much larger, 403-page document.

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The newly unsealed order does not mention Trump by name, except by reference to a target account, but it became public on the docket associated with prosecutors’ obtaining a search warrant for the former president’s Twitter account and an order gagging the company from disclosing it.

In the same order, Howell also claimed, quite unreasonably to some experts, that she believed Trump would “flee from prosecution.” However, prosecutors later withdrew that allegation, though Howell said she didn’t rely on that observation as the basis for granting Smith secret access to Trump’s Twitter, now called “X.” Also, the newly unsealed court documents reveal that she later backtracked from that position, arguing that she agreed the rationale was overblown, The Messenger noted.

During a hearing that was initially sealed, X’s attorney George Varghese, from the Washington, D.C.-based firm WilmerHale, said: “Risk of flight for a former President of the United States doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“I would agree with that,” Howell said in response.

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The recently unsealed documents consist of Smith’s initial petition, in which he had requested access to all of Trump’s tweets from October 2020 to January 2021. This request encompassed not only the tweets themselves but also deleted tweets, multimedia content, metadata, logs, direct messages, and other related data, The Messenger reported.

Also recently unsealed is a legal brief prepared by Smith’s team in May that argued disclosing the warrant to Trump “could precipitate violence as occurred following the public disclosure of the search warrant executed at Mar-a-Lago.”

“Twitter had opposed the request and lost, receiving $350,000 in sanctions for non-compliance. In August, unsealed filings revealed that Smith’s legal team obtained access to those direct messages, and the filings indicate that there were only 32 of those messages,” the outlet reported.

In a filing, Smith’s prosecutors argued that Trump’s “pattern of obstructive conduct amply supports the district court’s conclusion that the former President presents a significant risk of tampering with evidence, seeking to  influence or intimidate potential witnesses, and ‘otherwise seriously jeopardizing’ the Government’s ongoing investigations.”

Smith’s request for secret access to Trump’s X account predated the filing of four charges against him in regard to alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election result.

Trump ripped Smith on his Truth Social platform after learning of the special access.

“How dare lowlife prosecutor, Deranged Jack Smith, break into my former Twitter account without informing me and, indeed, trying to completely hide this atrocity from me,” Trump wrote in August. “What could he possibly find out that is not already known. Just like the early morning raid of Mar-a-Lago! Why isn’t the DOJ raiding Crooked Joe Biden, the most CORRUPT (and Incompetent!) President in the history of the United States?”

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