By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Revelations in the “Twitter Files” could prompt congressional investigations into both social media workings and the FBI, according to Wyoming’s junior Republican U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis.
The Twitter Files are a public thread on Twitter in which Substack journalist Matt Taibbi exposed Twitter workers’ efforts to suppress a 2020 New York Post story about then-presidential candidate Joe Biden and son Hunter Biden’s alleged Ukrainian business dealings.
Taibbi, who authored the thread at new Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s prompting, did not assert that the government colluded to suppress the Post story.
Lummis said there’s finger-pointing on Capitol Hill regardless.
“Some fingers are getting pointed at the FBI’s Washington, D.C., office in ways that are really troubling,” Lummis told Cowboy State Daily in a Monday phone call. “The accumulation of accusations pointed at the FBI’s Washington, D.C., bureau, I think, make it ripe for serious investigation by Congress.”
Lummis said the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, of which she was a member in the past, “has the most tools at its disposal to investigate this type of government wrongdoing.
“And I don’t use the term ‘wrongdoing’ lightly,” Lummis continued. “I think that this involves government wrongdoing.”
‘That Was Not True’
When the New York Post story broke, more than 50 former intelligence experts dispatched a letter that same week saying the story resembled Russian disinformation. Biden, then campaigning for president, agreed with the categorization, calling the Hunter Biden laptop story “a bunch of garbage.”
Lummis said the House Committee should investigate the Russian disinformation narrative’s origins.
“That’s why it’s important that the House Committee … investigate why the Hunter Biden laptop was alleged to have been a Russian-generated falsehood – when that was not true,” she said.
Whether the government was involved in Twitter’s suppression will be a crucial finding either way.
Twitter was, and is, not government owned. Its suppression of links and posts doesn’t rise to the level of First Amendment violation unless government collusion can be proved.
Paul Levinson, professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University, wrote a Tuesday op-ed for CBS News criticizing Musk for what Levinson described as a weak understanding of First Amendment rights.
“Any state or local government cannot abridge or limit speech or the press,” wrote Levinson. “Elon Musk, as far as I know, is not part of any government.”
And neither is Twitter, Levinson added.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from government, not private-sector limitations on speech.
Others, including “Dilbert” comic-strip author Scott Adams, criticized Taibbi for teasing the public with the revelation that Twitter honored requests from both the President Donald Trump White House and the Biden campaign to remove or review other tweets.
But Taibbi did not publish examples of suppression requests by Trump.
“How is it that we still have no examples of what the Trump administration tried to suppress at Twitter?” asked Adams in a Monday tweet. “That destroys the credibility of the Matt Taibbi #Twittergate investigation. With bias that thick, you have to discount the whole presentation.”
Meanwhile, On Truth Social
Trump was outraged after Taibbi’s revelations. He took to his own social media platform Truth Social to call the 2020 election “fraudulent.”
“A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” Trump fumed. “Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”
Major figures on both the political right and left condemned Trump’s indication that the Constitution could be suspended following the Twitter Files.
Lummis learned of Trump’s reaction during her Cowboy State Daily interview.
“Well, I was unaware of his reaction,” she began. “He was the target of what appears to be government interference, in ways, that may have influenced the outcome of the 2020 election. So, I can see why he’s angry and frustrated.”
But Lummis didn’t favor Trump’s indicated strategy.
“I don’t think that rises to the level of suspending constitutional rights; but it certainly bears some serious looking into and perhaps legislative consequences,” she said.
Report Every Instance
Lummis signed on to Internet reform legislation long before the Twitter Files emerged.
She and three other Republican lawmakers co-sponsored 2021 legislation by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, that would compel social media platforms to report publicly every instance of government entities asking for content moderation.
Each report would include “specific” information about the request, which government entity and person made it, the rationale and any steps the social media company took in response.
Failure to report would result in $50,000 fines per day against the social media companies, according to the bill text.
The bill has been introduced but has cleared neither the Senate nor the House.
Lummis said Taibbi’s thread confirmed an inkling she had all along that some major social media companies meddle in political campaigns.
“I just thought it was such interesting reading,” Lummis told Cowboy State Daily, “because it, in some ways, validated some concerns that I had that employees at Twitter were putting their hands on the scales to determine what material would be taken down and what material would not be taken down.”
The Twitter influence seemed to favor liberal political content over conservative, Lummis said.
“Having this kind of erosion of free speech, based entirely on political biases as opposed to concerns about confidential information being revealed, is of genuine concern,” she said.
No Censorship Here
Lummis said she does not think she has been suppressed or censored on social media. But she said her Republican colleagues have reported their emailed requests for campaign donations being sent to Gmail spam boxes, though they believe Democratic candidates’ requests have reached Gmail users’ inboxes more reliably.
Gmail is a Google email service.
“It’s markedly affecting Republican candidates more than Democratic candidates,” said Lummis. “The problems here are not just related to Twitter.”
Those Three Days
Lummis, who was elected to the Senate in 2020, was not on Capitol Hill during the Oct. 14-16, 2020, time period scrutinized in Taibbi’s report.
But Wyoming’s senior Republican U.S. Sen. John Barrasso was.
Barrasso’s staff said he was unable to interview by phone Tuesday. He sent a comment to Cowboy State Daily referencing Taibbi’s report that the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign were involved in moderating other tweets.
Taibbi did not link either entity to the laptop suppression.
“Twitter has a long history of unfairly censoring conservative voices. We learned recently that those actions to ban certain people and ideas were coordinated with Democrat officials and pervasive,” said Barrasso. “I’m hopeful that under new ownership, with new free speech policies, many of these partisan tactics will end.”