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Ted Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter

Posted at 10:59 AM, May 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-29 12:59:30-04

Senator Ted Cruz is calling for a criminal investigation of Twitter, accusing the social media company of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Cruz argued that "Twitter and its principals face criminal liability and sanctions exposure for providing social media accounts to Iranian persons" who have been targeted for sanctions by the Treasury Department, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

In the letter, Cruz urged Barr and Mnuchin to investigate whether in providing the accounts, Twitter is violating sanctions that bar American companies from providing goods or services to top Iranian officials.

Cruz previously wrote to Twitter warning that it was operating in violation of the the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by allowing Iranian leaders to maintain the accounts. Twitter responded that it was in the public health interest to allow Iranian leaders to have a platform. Cruz said in his letter to Barr and Mnuchin that Khamenei and Zarif have used their accounts to "post anti-American disinformation and conspiracy theories, not authoritative health information" related to COVID-19.

"I wrote to Twitter before writing to you because I believe that the primary goal of IEEPA and sanctions law should be to change the behavior of designated individuals and regimes, not American companies," Cruz said in his letter. "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."

Cruz's letter comes after Twitter labeled a tweet by President Trump about protesters in Minneapolis as one that breaks its rules for "glorifying violence." In the tweet, Mr. Trump referred to protesters as "thugs" and wrote that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."

Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, raised concerns similar to those of Cruz in a tweet Friday morning, questioning why Twitter had not labeled some of Khamenei's tweets about Israel. Brendan Carr, an FCC commissioner appointed by Mr. Trump, said in a tweet that "Twitter has abandoned any attempt at a good faith application of its rules."

Mr. Trump signed an executive order on Thursday that aims to curb the protections social media companies have to shield against liability for content like comments, posts and videos. The order came after Twitter flagged a tweet by Mr. Trump about mail-in voting as having incorrect information. Under the president's executive order, which is expected to face legal challenges, the FCC will also be asked by the Commerce Department to determine whether Twitter should be regulated by the commission.