Axios - May 29, 2020
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), in a letter Friday to the Justice and Treasury departments, is calling for a criminal investigation of Twitter over allegations the company is violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Why it matters: Twitter is already under fire from President Trump for adding fact checks and a warning label, respectively, to misleading and incendiary tweets he made in recent days. Cruz's letter adds another dimension to the tech company's woes in Washington.
Details: Twitter allows Iranian leaders to maintain accounts on its service, and Cruz is asking Attorney General Bill Barr and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to probe whether that violates U.S. sanctions prohibiting American companies from providing goods or services to the country's top officials.
- "I believe that the primary goal of (the International Emergency Economic Powers Act) and sanctions law should be to change the behavior of designated individuals and regimes, not American companies," Cruz wrote."But when a company willfully and openly violates the law after receiving formal notice that it is unlawfully supporting designated individuals, the federal government should take action."
The big picture: Twitter has said it's in the public interest to have political figures' speech on its platform, even if some find that speech objectionable.
- The company on Friday labeled a tweet from Trump about the unrest in Minneapolis as breaking its rules on "glorifying violence."
- The White House and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, among other prominent conservatives, questioned why Twitter hasn't applied similar labels to tweets from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Background: Cruz led an earlier letter from Republican senators to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in February, calling on the company to ban Iranian leaders, including Khamenei and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The senators suggested providing the accounts may violate U.S. sanctions.
- Twitter responded in April, arguing that its service is exempt from the sanctions, and that the public conversation on the platform is critically important during the coronavirus pandemic.
- "Fundamental values of openness, free expression, public accountability, and mutual understanding matter now more than ever," Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's legal, public policy & trust and safety lead, wrote. "Regardless of the political agenda of a particular nation state, to deny our service to their leaders at a time like this would be antithetical to the purpose of our company, which is to serve the global public conversation."
- Twitter declined to comment on the new Cruz letter.
Flashback: Cruz talked to Axios' Dan Primack on the Pro Rata podcast last year to discuss allegations that major tech platforms are biased against conservatives.