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WASHINGTON — House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan subpoenaed FBI agent Elvis Chan Friday to testify about the bureau’s efforts to “censor” social media — as the Biden administration argued it was merely using its “bully pulpit.”
Jordan (R-Ohio) wrote that Chan did not appear for a scheduled interview and therefore would be compelled to testify in order to establish the “extent the Executive Branch has coerced and colluded with companies and other intermediaries to censor speech.“
Chan worked out of San Francisco as the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force liaison to companies such as Facebook and Twitter, including ahead of the 2020 election, and was interviewed last year by attorneys representing the Louisiana and Missouri attorneys general.
“[T]he Committee has uncovered evidence that appears to contradict several statements in your deposition in Missouri v. Biden, particularly as they relate to your communications with social media platforms,” Jordan wrote, without specifying further.
The Ohioan indicated that the FBI agent didn’t appear voluntarily due to a committee rule that required him to choose between having a personal or FBI lawyer present.
Missouri and Louisiana are challenging the federal government’s pressure on social media platforms to censor alleged misinformation, including about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and mask requirements.
The case, Missouri v. Biden, could be decided by the Supreme Court, which is considering a Biden administration request to reverse the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with lower court Judge Terry Doughty’s finding that officials overstepped in pressuring companies to remove content.
Doughty issued a preliminary injunction July 4 forbidding federal officials from pressuring companies to remove constitutionally protected speech.
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to overturn the lower courts, writing that there would be “startling” implications to putting “unprecedented limits on the ability of the President’s closest aides to use the bully pulpit to address matters of public concern, on the FBI’s ability to address threats to the Nation’s security, and on the CDC’s ability to relay public-health information at platforms’ request.”
Free speech advocates note that many topics that have initially been censored over federal claims about foreign influence campaigns and health misinformation later gained broad acceptance.
Formerly censored topics that now are widely accepted include The Post’s reporting on documents from first son Hunter Biden’s laptop that linked President Biden to his relatives’ foreign business dealings and the widely debated theory that COVID-19 leaked from a Chinese lab that was doing risky research.
“The First Amendment prohibits government officials from imposing viewpoint-based censorship restrictions,” Jordan wrote to Chan.
“State action doctrine stands for the proposition that government officials may not circumvent constitutional strictures by using private actors—whether through coercion, encouragement, entwinement, or joint participation—to accomplish what the government cannot directly.”
The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.