Sen. Cruz Pens Letter to DOJ Demanding Investigation into Twitter for Potential Violation of Sanctions on Iran

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Posted: May 29, 2020 10:55 AM
Sen. Cruz Pens Letter to DOJ Demanding Investigation into Twitter for Potential Violation of Sanctions on Iran

Source: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) penned a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin demanding an investigation into Twitter for alleged criminal violations. Sen. Cruz argues that the social media giant is in violation of International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and Executive Order 13876 (EO 13876) as related to sanctions on Iran. 

Sen. Cruz previously argued that Twitter is criminally liable for allowing Iranian officials designated as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) by the Treasury Department to have accounts. Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister and – Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic possess active Twitter accounts, which Sen. Cruz says is a violation of EO 13876. The president invoked his power via this EO in order to further sanctions on Iran, and the order takes aim at preventing the U.S. from providing “goods or services” to those who promote terrorism abroad:

“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,” the order reads.

Twitter contended that the company was not in violation of the law.

“Twitter argues that its corporate values require it to provide these accounts. Twitter stated that it will not eliminate these accounts because “to deny our service to [Iran’s] leaders at a time like this would be antithetical to the purpose of our company,” and because Twitter’s “goal is to elevate and amplify authoritative health information as far as possible.” The position cannot be aligned with Iranian policy as it actually exists or with how designated Iranian officials use Twitter. Iranian officials ban Iranian citizens from accessing Twitter. In early April, Khamenei and Zarif used their Twitter accounts to post anti-American disinformation and conspiracy theories, not authoritative health information. They use their accounts provided by Twitter to threaten and taunt their enemies real and imagined. In any event, Twitter’s corporate values and grave misapprehension of the threat that Khamenei and Zarif pose are irrelevant. An American person’s disagreement with IEEPA or E.O. 13876 is no excuse for noncompliance,” Sen. Cruz writes. “...Twitter incorrectly argues that its actions do not violate IEEPA because “[m]aking the Twitter platform available for use . . . as a tool of communication[] is broadly exempted from OFAC prohibitions.” This is false, and Twitter should know that is false, because our letter explained in no uncertain terms why this broad exemption does not apply to Khamenei and Zarif’s accounts.”

Indeed, Twitter is elevating the voices of anti-American leaders abroad. The broader purpose of EO 13876 was to prevent this very practice in order to target those who promote terrorism and anti-American values. 

“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,” Sen. Cruz continued.

Sen. Cruz’s grievance comes on the heels of the executive order signed by President Trump on Thursday, which imposes regulations on social media companies which selectively editorialize and censor content.