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Ted Cruz Urges AG William Barr to Open Criminal Probe of Twitter for Refusing to Ban Iranian Leaders

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Friday sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin which urged them to open an investigation into whether Twitter violated federal law. The letter came the morning after President Donald Trump signed a social media executive order purporting to defend free speech.

Cruz said Barr and Mnuchin should look into whether Twitter criminally violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). Trump invoked the authority of 50 U.S.C. § 1701 when issuing an executive order to slap Iran with sanctions.  As part of that, Cruz notes, Trump declared [emphasis ours]:

All property and interests in property that are in the United States […] are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in […] the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian Supreme Leader’s Office (SLO) [or] any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State […] to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this section.

Per Cruz, this is a long way of saying Twitter, an American company, is violating the law by providing accounts (technological support for, or goods or services) to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

Cruz said that he sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Feb. 6 warning of potential criminal liability and “sanctions exposure for providing social media accounts to Iranian persons designated as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs).”

The letter comes not long after Twitter fact-checked the president for the first time; not long after that, President Trump responded with an executive order geared towards increasing liability for Big Tech’s decisions to police content online. Cruz also sent the letter on the day that Twitter flagged one of the president’s tweets for “glorifying violence.”

“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Trump wrote in response to the civil unrest and destruction in Minneapolis. “Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Cruz quote-tweeted FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s “serious question” for Twitter about the tweets sent by Iran’s Supreme Leader.

“Exactly, [Aji Pai]. That’s why today I called on AG Barr & [Steven Mnuchin] to open a criminal investigation into Twitter,” Cruz said.

At the end of his letter, Cruz accused Twitter of blatantly and willfully violating Trump’s executive orders and face potential civil or criminal punishment.

“The cohesion and legitimacy of our laws rest on their equal application to all citizens and entities, no matter how large or how powerful. 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,” the letter concluded.

[Image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.