A coalition of news organizations—including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Associated Press—filed a brief in federal court on August 21 asking for access to court records that led to US prosecutors obtaining former President Trump’s direct messages on Twitter, as well as other data, as part of as part of special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The news companies want to know more about how Smith got those records. On August 9, the US District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia released a document that included transcripts of two hearings that involved the US and Twitter, which is now known as X. The hearings took place in February and resulted in a $350,000 fine for Twitter because it did not produce the records on time. The records from those hearings were sealed until August. The US District Court for the District of Columbia released more records on August 16.
The Press Coalition, as the group refers to itself in the filing, concedes that sealing the records may have been justified at the time, but that “further secrecy is no longer appropriate.” They ask to see the government’s warrant application, the docket for the case, motions that relate to sealing the files, and other judicial records including audio recordings of hearings.
The news organizations represented by the filing are Advance Publications, ABC News, the AP, Bloomberg, CNN, CBS News, Dow Jones & Company (which publishes the Wall Street Journal), E.W. Scripps, Fox News, USA Today, Gray Television, the Los Angeles Times, C-SPAN, NBC News, the Times, Politico, the Radio Television Digital News Association, Reuters, TEGNA, Telemundo and Univision, and the Post. Ballard Spahr, the law firm handling this case, also represents Washingtonian in some matters. Washingtonian happened upon this document during its regular read of documents filed in the US District Court for DC.
A Washington Post spokesperson told Washingtonian the paper is “declining to share additional information.” But the filing is clear on why the organizations seek the records: The coalition argues that access to court records is fundamental to an independent judiciary and that “Nowhere is the maintenance of integrity and legitimacy more important than in a case like this one, involving the historic and closely-watched investigation of a former President.”
The fact that the records remain sealed, the coalition argues, makes little sense now that the Department of Justice has indicted Trump over his attempts to remain in power. It continues: “Even if the Special Counsel’s investigation continues, therefore, the Government cannot credibly assert at this late date that disclosure of these particular records would compromise any aspect of the investigation.” Trump, they argue, has no privacy interests that require keeping these records sealed, and “there are no findings on the public record demonstrating that blanket withholding is essential to preserving any higher values.”
The government has opposed the coalition’s application, the group says in its filing, and Twitter consented with a few exceptions: It wants to continue to redact the name of Twitter’s senior counsel who signed the company’s declaration to the court, and it wants to withhold “the name of the person who the record reflects held the email account associated with the Twitter account @realDonaldTrump.” (Trump famously avoids email, though since leaving office he has reportedly started to text.) The news organizations say they agreed to not seek the name of Twitter’s lawyer, but they “ask the Court to remove the redaction of the person who held the email account associated with @realDonaldTrump.”
Here’s the brief: