The Biden administration must turn over emails that press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top officials sent to social media companies as part of a lawsuit claiming the White House colluded with Big Tech to censor viewpoints it disagreed with as “misinformation,” a federal judge in Louisiana has ruled.
US District Judge Terry Doughty’s Tuesday order was the latest development in a lawsuit filed in May by Attorneys General Eric Schmitt of Missouri and Jeff Landry of Louisiana, who charged the executive branch acted in cahoots with social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to “censor freedom of speech” on a number of topics, including the COVID-19 pandemic and elections.
“This Court believes Plaintiffs are entitled to external communications by Jean-Pierre and Dr. Fauci in their capacities as White House Press Secretary and Chief Medical Advisor to the President to third-party social media platforms,” Doughty, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, wrote in his 10-page order.
“The White House has waived its claim of privilege in relation to specific documents that it voluntarily revealed to third parties outside the White House,” he continued before ordering the documents to be turned over within 21 days.
Schmitt and Landry, both Republicans, have been involved in weeks of back-and-forth with the White House over which documents to release and whether executive privilege protects the communications from being made public.
“Up until this point, the Department of Justice has refused to cooperate with our requests for discovery from top officials in the Biden Administration under the guise of ‘executive privilege,’” Schmitt said in a Tuesday statement. “The American people deserve answers on how the federal government has colluded with social media companies to censor free speech on these major platforms.”
The state AGs said in court documents filed Aug. 31 that some agencies have complied with discovery so far.
That information, they said, “provides a tantalizing snapshot into a massive, sprawling federal ‘Censorship Enterprise,’ which includes dozens of federal officials across at least eleven federal agencies and components identified so far, who communicate with social-media platforms about misinformation, disinformation, and the suppression of private speech on social media.”
They said the intent of those communications was to pressure “social-media platforms to censor and suppress private speech that federal officials disfavor.”
“Under the First Amendment, the federal Government should have no role in policing private speech or picking winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas. But that is what federal officials are doing, on a massive scale — a scale whose full scope and impact is yet to be determined,” the two wrote in their motion of expedited discovery, which Doughty granted Tuesday.
The documents Schmitt and Landry used to highlight the scope of the “censorship enterprise” included an email sent from a top Facebook executive to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in July 2021.
“I know our teams met today to better understand the scope of what the White House expects from us on misinformation going forward,” the Facebook official said.
That same Facebook executive days later sent an email to an official at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The message said the tech giant was taking steps against users known as “the disinfo dozen” who had posted claims about COVID-19 vaccines.
“[W]e removed 17 additional Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts tied to the disinfo dozen (so a total of 39 Profiles, Pages, Groups and IG accounts deleted thus far, resulting in every member of the disinfo dozen having had at least one such entity removed),” the email read.
“We also expanded the group of false claims that we remove to keep up with recent trends of misinformation that we are seeing,” it went on.
Schmitt and Landry said they have identified at least 45 people within HHS and the Department of Homeland Security who communicated with social media companies about “misinformation.”
They also allege that officials at other agencies, including the Census Bureau, the Food and Drug Administration, the FBI, the State Department and the Treasury Department were at least aware of the “Censorship Enterprise.”