Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are requesting documents that include communications between the Biden administration and social media companies as part of the panel’s investigation into what the GOP says were efforts to “suppress free speech and censor content online.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday penned a letter to Brian Boynton, the principal deputy assistant attorney general in the civil division, requesting that the Justice Department turn over documents that it provided in an earlier lawsuit filed by GOP-led states involving purported free speech violations.
The Hill obtained a copy of the letter, which requests that the materials are handed over by Feb. 22.
“The Committee on the Judiciary is conducting oversight of the Executive Branch’s efforts to sidestep the First Amendment by coercing and coordinating with private companies, including social media platforms, to suppress free speech and censor content online,” Jordan wrote.
“As part of our oversight, we write to request a discrete set of documents and information that the Department of Justice has produced as part of discovery in federal litigation over the same subject matter,” he added.
The attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri filed a lawsuit against President Biden and other administration officials in May for “allegedly working” with social media companies — including Meta, Twitter and Youtube — to censor and suppress free speech on topics such as COVID-19 and election integrity.
The lawsuit — brought by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) and then-Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) — named Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Heath and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, among others. It lists a number of stories the Republicans say were suppressed on social media, including the Hunter Biden laptop story and information about the origins of COVID-19.
Last month, Landry released a thread of emails from April 2021 between White House employees and Facebook discussing a video posted by Fox News’s Tucker Carlson that, according to Landry, criticized the COVID-19 vaccine. In the communications, then-White House coronavirus response coordinator Andy Slavitt asked about Carlson’s video, and White House director of digital strategy Rob Flaherty questioned why it did not violate the platform’s regulations.
Landry zeroed in on an email from a Facebook representative, whose email address is redacted, that said, “The video received 50% demotion for seven days while in the queue to be fact checked, and will continue to be demoted even though it was not ultimately fact checked.”
Jordan is now requesting that the Justice Department produce the documents it has provided in the Missouri and Louisiana litigation.
“These documents appear to reveal that the Executive Branch repeatedly pressured social media platforms to censor certain viewpoints,” Jordan wrote. “Congress has an important interest in protecting and advancing fundamental free speech principles, including by examining how the Executive Branch coordinates with or coerces private actors to suppress First Amendment-protected speech.”
“As Congress continues to examine how to best protect Americans’ fundamental freedoms, the documents discovered and produced during the Missouri v. Biden litigation are necessary to assist Congress in understanding the problem and evaluating potential legislative reforms,” he added.
The Hill reached out to the Justice Department for comment.
Jordan’s letter is the latest example of increased scrutiny House Republicans are placing on the suppression of information on social media platforms. On Wednesday, the same day Jordan sent his letter, the House Oversight and Accountability Committee held a hearing that looked into Twitter’s decisions regarding a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden. Former Twitter executives testified at the hearing.
It comes after Republicans have claimed that the social media company suppressed circulation of the story for political purposes in the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election.