Elon Musk’s X Fined $350k For Delaying DOJ’s Trump Investigation

While Musk is no stranger to legal troubles, is Twitter's hampering of the DoJ's Trump investigation a new low?

In Elon Musk's latest legal quandary, X – the rebranded social media company formerly known as Twitter – has been fined $350,000 for failing to hand over Donald Trump's Twitter data to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on time.

While Musk eventually cooperated with authorities, the court ruling declares that the Executive Chair “initially delayed production of the materials,” after arguing the requests violated his First Amendment rights.

Purposely disrupting the special counsel's investigation into a former President might represent a new low for serial tech entrepreneur Musk, but it's not his first eye-roll moment this month. X recently drummed up controversy for blinding local residents with an obnoxious flashing ‘X' sign on Twitter HQ, before suing a non-profit campaigning against digital hate.

Elon Musk vs the DOJ

Elon Musk's X-Corp has landed itself in legal water yet again for failing to comply with the Department of Justice over data relating to Trump's involvement with the 2021 insurrection on the Capitol.

Special counsel member Jack Smith issued a search warrant to Twitter in January, requesting access to Donald Trump's @realDonaldTrump account.

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Smith also asked the company not to disclose this warrant to anyone – including the former President – as this may jeopardize the investigation by giving him an “opportunity to destroy evidence, change patterns of behavior [or] notify confederates.”

Unfortunately for the DOJ, Musk didn't want to play ball. In an appeal that has since been rejected, Twitter argued the nondisclosure order violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. On February 7, US district court judge Beryl Howell found Twitter in contempt of court and gave the company until 5 pm to hand over the account information.

After Musk ignored this request, the social media company was fined $50,000 a day, with the sum doubling each successive day. The South-African billionaire finally handed over the documents three days after the court-ordered deadline, with the total outstanding fee amounting to $350,000.

Is Musk Cozying Up to Donald Trump?

After news of Twitter's noncompliance broke, Musk has been accused by multiple outlets of delaying the government's access to evidence on purpose. While X-Corp hasn't released an official statement on the matter, Musk's ties to the former President are hardly a secret.

Despite being former rivals of sorts when Trump briefly launched his own Twitter alternative, Musk made headlines last November for reinstating Donald Trump on the platform, alongside equally controversial music artist Kanye West. Both figures had previously been blocked from the app after breaking content moderation rules and Tweeting offensive content.

While Musk and Trump may seem like unlikely allies – with the X-Corp boss describing himself as “neither left nor right” and previously claiming the former President is “too old to be chief executive of anything, let alone the United States of America” – the two public figures are both united against censorship on the platform.

However, whether Musk's noncompliance was ideological is yet to be determined. The DoJ's spar with Elon Musk hasn't been the only controversy X-Corp has been shrouded in this month, though.

X's Kamakazi Mission Continues

After Twitter's unexpected rebrand to “X-Corp” late last month, the social media company faced legal action from Meta and Microsoft as both companies already own “X” trademarks. X-Corp also received a fine from San Francisco authorities after affixing a giant flashing X sign on the top of Twitter HQ, and has since been asked to take it down.

More recently, the social platform has been fined by AFP, the world's oldest news agency, for failing to compensate the publisher for displaying its news on its site. Whether Musk decides to comply with the AFP and make a payout, or continue burying his head in the sand, this chaotic sequence of events suggests that days at the newly branded X-Corp are definitely numbed.

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Written by:
Isobel O'Sullivan (BSc) is a senior writer at Tech.co with over four years of experience covering business and technology news. Since studying Digital Anthropology at University College London (UCL), she’s been a regular contributor to Market Finance’s blog and has also worked as a freelance tech researcher. Isobel’s always up to date with the topics in employment and data security and has a specialist focus on POS and VoIP systems.
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