In a blistering oversight letter, 16 prominent House Republicans are accusing the Homeland Security Department of using a private group to "silence narratives" during elections and directly challenging the honesty of Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas concerning allegations he made against border patrol agents.
The letter sent Wednesday night to Mayorkas was organized by Rep. James Comer, the likely chairman of the House Oversight Committee if the GOP wins control of Congress in next week's midterms. It includes signatures from many other top Republicans on oversight committees, including Reps. Jim Jordan of House Judiciary and Virginia Foxx, the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.
"While the Administration publicly paused the creation of its Disinformation Governance Board, DHS continues to suppress dissenting viewpoints," the lawmakers wrote, citing a series of Just the News articles last month that highlighted how Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) collaborated with and endorsed the censorship activities of a private consortium called the Election Integrity Partnership.
Just the News reported the collaboration led to numerous requests to social media companies to censor, throttle or label as disinformation content involving 20 news sites, two dozen conservative influencers and nearly 22 million tweets during the 2020 election. The partnership recently announced it is back in action in 2022 and that some of its members got grants from the Biden administration.
Comer told Just the News that Republicans will make the censorship investigation a top priority, if they are in charge of the House next year.
“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a responsibility to protect the American people, not deliberately target and discredit Americans opposed to the Biden Administration’s radical agenda,” he said. “Any operation by the Department to stifle Americans’ free speech is unacceptable, an abuse of taxpayer dollars, and warrants an immediate congressional investigation.”
The lawmakers wrote that "the Biden Administration continues to suppress free speech and discredit legitimate criticism as mis-, dis-, or mal- information" and that the collaboration with the Election Integrity Partnership appeared aimed at using "third parties to silence narratives that contradict the Administration's preferred perspectives on issues important to the national discourse."
You can read the full letter here:
The letter noted, as the Just the News stories did, that the collaboration allowed some federal agencies and the Democrat Party to file tickets seeking the private group's help censoring content, allowed federal officials to monitor the tickets and included a Harvard University center cofounded by Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager Robby Mook.
"Tickets uploaded into the computer system by users are viewable by federal employees and are resolved by actions taken by the tech company on whose platform the offending post appears," the letter noted. "Tickets were frequently resolved by taking one of several actions: 1) banning the user from posting his or her lawful speech or de-platforming the individual entirely, 2) algorithmically restricting the reach of the speech on the platform or 3) adding other information such as a warning label to the post alerting users to the post's disfavored status."
"The federal government should not be censoring free speech," the letter added.
The lawmakers said they were concerned by the legal interpretation that CISA has used to justify its participation with the EIP's censorship activities. "CISA is framing any dissenting opinion disseminated online as a cyber threat to critical infrastructure," they noted.
The lawmakers also made their objections personal, saying Mayorkas' agency was "poorly positioned to moderate speech on social media" given recent revelations about the honesty of the secretary's own comments about the conduct of horse-mounted border patrol agents falsely accused of whipping illegal migrants in a photo from 2021.
"You deliberately spread disinformation in a White House press conference last year surrounding false allegations that your Border Patrol Agents were whipping Haitian migrants at the border in Del Rio, Texas," the lawmakers alleged.
"At that press conference, you stated that 'we — our entire nation — saw horrifying images' that 'painfully conjured up the worst elements of our nation's ongoing battle against systemic racism,'" the letter added. "E-mails now reveal that you were made aware — hours before these comments — that the photographer who captured the images you were referring to told news outlets that he and his colleagues never saw agents whipping anyone.
"Armed with the truth, you still perpetuated a false narrative that agents were whipping migrants at the border."
The letter demands the department turn over to the Republican lawmakers "all documents and communications referring or relating to the inception and operation of the Election Integrity Partnership or any other online content monitoring program hosted by or in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security," including communications with partners and any tickets filed into the system.
With Democrats currently in control of the House, the letter may not generate an immediate response from the department. But it puts the agency on notice that if Republicans take control of the House in January they will be investigating the censorship activities and will have the power to compel the evidence sought in the letter, congressional aides told Just the News.
In addition to Comer, Jordan and Foxx, other signatories of the letter included: Reps. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, Michael Cloud of Texas, Bob Gibbs of Ohio, Clay Higgins of Louisiana, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Pete Sessions of Texas, Fred Keller of Pennsylvania, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Scott Franklin of Florida, Byron Donalds of Florida, Pat Fallon of Texas, and Mike Flood of Nebraska.