Sen. Ted Cruz is calling for a criminal investigation into Twitter for allowing Iran’s authoritarian leaders to use its platform to spread disinformation, which he said violates current sanctions against the Islamist country.
In a letter written to Attorney General William Barr and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the Texas Republican called for an investigation into Twitter, citing “possible criminal violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).”
The IEEPA gives the president a broad authority to react to national security threats during a declared national emergency, which includes imposing penalties on any foreign state, person or any other entity which is party to such a threat.
Cruz wrote in the letter Friday that he first informed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey of the alleged IEEPA violation in February, when he also warned the platform it could “face criminal liability and sanctions exposure for providing social media accounts to Iranian persons designated as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).”
The two Twitter accounts Cruz referred to belong to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
“To this day, Twitter continues to provide services to these covered individuals, and, in an April 3, 2020 response letter (see attached), attempted to justify this decision with two untenable arguments,” Cruz wrote.
The company told the senator that “to deny our service to [Iran’s] leaders at a time like this would be antithetical to the purpose of our company” and added that its “goal is to elevate and amplify authoritative health information as far as possible.”
Cruz argued that Twitter is breaking the law by allowing the two accounts to remain active and accused the company of allowing them to use the platform for nefarious purposes.
“Iranian officials ban Iranian citizens from accessing Twitter. In early April, Khamenei and Zarif used their Twitter accounts to post anti-American disinformation and conspiracy theories, not authoritative health information. They use their accounts provided by Twitter to threaten and taunt their enemies real and imagined,” Cruz wrote.
“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,” he added.
“The Department of Treasury and the Department of Justice should investigate what appears to be Twitter’s blatant and willful violation of IEEPA and E.O. 13876 by providing services to Khamenei, Zarif, and other designated Iranian entities, and, to the extent appropriate, enforce any violation through sanctions and by seeking civil and criminal penalties.”
Cruz further noted that intentional violations of the IEEPA can result in up to $1 million in fines and up to 20 years of imprisonment.
“It is also why E.O. 13876 authorizes sanctions against ‘any person’ who is determined to have ‘provided technological support for, or goods or services to’ such designated persons,” Cruz wrote.
Copies of the letter were provided to President Donald Trump, Secretary of Sate Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Christopher Wray and U.S. Attorneys David L. Anderson of the Northern District of California and Cyrus R. Vance Jr. of of New York County.
The Cruz letter asking for an investigation into Twitter was sent as the president has turned the heat up on big tech companies.
Twitter used reports from The Washington Post and CNN to “fact check” posts about voter fraud from Trump on Tuesday.
Early Friday, before Cruz made his letter public, the social media network censored a post from the president about acting to stop ongoing riots in Minneapolis by accusing Trump of “glorifying violence.”
Trump signed an executive order Thursday aiming to take away umbrella protection social media companies such as Twitter enjoy under under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects them from civil liability by deeming them as content hosts and not publishers.
“The choices that Twitter makes when it chooses to suppress, edit, blacklist, shadow, ban are editorial decisions, pure and simple,” the president said Thursday, according to an official White House transcript of his remarks.
“They’re editorial decisions. In those moments, Twitter ceases to be a neutral public platform and they become an editor with a viewpoint, and I think we can say that about others also — whether you’re looking at Google, whether you’re looking at Facebook and perhaps others,” he added.
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