Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) speaks during John Durham’s testimony in Congress in Washington on June 21, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on Aug. 17 subpoenaed the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI for materials in connection to claims that the two agencies worked with Big Tech firms to censor content such as the New York Post's Hunter Biden laptop story.
In a letter, Mr. Jordan told FBI Director Christopher Wray (pdf) and Attorney General Merrick Garland (pdf) that documents and communications are needed to determine whether the federal government "coerced and colluded with companies and other intermediaries to censor speech." He then asked the FBI and DOJ to hand over the internal communications and documents relating to moderation, removal, or suppression of content on social media platforms, giving a Sept. 18 deadline.
"Numerous documents that have been made publicly available reflect the weaponization of the federal government’s power to censor speech online directly and by proxy," the letters read. "It is necessary for Congress to gauge the extent to which DOJ officials have coerced, pressured, worked with, or relied upon social media and other tech companies to censor speech. The scope of the Committee’s investigation includes understanding the extent and nature of DOJ’s involvement in this censorship."
It noted that the DOJ and FBI have produced only one document, which was "a publicly available transcript of a civil deposition of Federal Bureau of Investigation Assistant Special Agent in Charge Elvis Chan from Missouri v. Biden," referring to a social media case in which it's alleged that the federal government's contact with social media companies regarding alleged misinformation violated the First Amendment.
That lone document "omits voluminous responsive material, including communications between DOJ and tech companies, internal communications, and communications between DOJ and other executive branch entities," according to Mr. Jordan.
In Missouri v. Biden, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty issued an injunction that ordered the Biden administration to cease certain censorship-related communications with social media firms while the lawsuit was still being heard.
The court found that "‘domestic disinformation’ was also flagged by the FBI for social media platforms." It also found: "Just before the 2020 election, information would be passed from other field offices to the FBI 2020 election command post in San Francisco. The information sent would then be relayed to the social-media platforms where the accounts were detected."
Mr. Jordan's letter, in referring to the case, noted that the ruling included the FBI's and DOJ's interactions with Big Tech firms.
"A federal judge has found that the communications of various executive branch entities with social media platforms, including the Department of Justice, very likely violated Americans’ First Amendment rights," the chairman wrote. "Yet you have produced nothing of substance in response to the Committee’s request."
Neither the DOJ nor the FBI has publicly responded to the subpoena. The Epoch Times contacted the agencies for comment but received none by press time.
Judge Doughty, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, ruled that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the DOJ, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were prohibited from taking a range of actions regarding social media companies.
The agencies and their staff members were prohibited from meeting or contacting by phone, email, or text message or “engaging in any communication of any kind with social-media companies urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner for removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech,” according to the injunction.
The agencies are also barred from flagging content on posts on social media platforms and forwarding them to the companies with requests for action such as removing them or otherwise suppressing their reach. Encouraging social media companies to change their guidelines for the removal, suppression, or reduction of content that contains protected free speech by the government also isn’t allowed.
“This could be arguably one of the most important First Amendment cases in modern history,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, one of the plaintiffs, told EpochTV’s “American Thought Leaders” in an interview after the ruling.
“If you look at the opinion that the judge lays out, he takes from our argument that this is basically one of the most massive undertakings of the federal government to limit American speech in the history of our country,” Mr. Landry continued. “The things that we uncovered, in this case, should be ... shocking, appalling, and concerning for all Americans.”
Although Judge Doughty's ruling was hailed as a victory for free speech, a federal appeals court agreed to place a temporary hold on the order last month.
Earlier this month, Mr. Jordan's office subpoenaed the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other companies for documents in connection to the government's alleged collusion with companies to take down posts and suppress certain types of content. Republicans have long said that those firms have displayed an animus toward conservatives and are more likely to censor them.