Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him @DeanObeidallah@masto.ai. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
The internal Twitter documents that Elon Musk chose to release recently about the FBI’s interactions with the social media platform have stirred a strong reaction from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
The revelations include the bureau allegedly pressuring Twitter to moderate content and corresponding with it to identify alleged foreign influence and election tampering “of all kinds.”
In response to the documents known as the “Twitter Files,” GOP Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told Fox News that the FBI “needs to be dismantled.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Ted Lieu of California — recently elected vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus — slammed one of the journalists that Musk picked to share the files, disputing the allegation that the FBI had stopped investigating “child sex predators or terrorists” to focus on a “surveillance operation” of people using the platform.
The reality is that the release of these documents has raised far more questions than answers.
First and foremost, Musk has only allowed two journalists he chose access to the files, conservative columnist Bari Weiss and Matt Taibbi, a former Rolling Stone writer who now has a newsletter on Substack. But when other media outlets sought access to the files, no copies of the documents were forthcoming. There’s no way to ensure that the documents are complete or that key information has not been withheld.
It’s unclear what the relationship is between these two journalists and Musk in terms of editorial freedom. Taibbi told me Sunday morning via a Twitter direct message that “I do not work for Musk in any way, shape, or form.”
However, the thin-skinned Musk temporarily banned reporters from Twitter whom he falsely claimed shared his “exact real-time” location — and even those who just asked him for a quote, as The Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz found out Saturday night. Would Musk do the same if these journalists don’t peddle the exact story line he wants? It’s impossible to know.
As CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy noted last week, “Musk has relied on a set of handpicked gatekeeping writers to cover the story, while keeping the raw materials — and context — locked away from the rest of the news media and broader public.”
That is why we need Congress to subpoena a complete set of the so-called Twitter Files as well as compel past Twitter chiefs and Musk to testify under oath on national TV.
Beyond that, the FBI’s leadership should testify after this fact-finding has been completed. The bureau should welcome this opportunity, given the smears by certain GOP lawmakers such as Comer that “the FBI had its own ministry of propaganda.”
For starters, in the run-up to the 2020 election, representatives of the FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security met with social media giants such as Twitter to discuss threats posed by foreign actors to influence our elections.
But why did officials from then-President Donald Trump’s own administration raise concerns about a state actor’s possible release of misinformation about then-candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter?
It’s odd that the FBI — which is under the umbrella of the Department of Justice, then headed by Attorney General William Barr, appointed by Trump — would flag this knowing that warning might become public before the election and rile up the Trump base? (The documents released do not show that the FBI, Democratic officials or the Biden campaign asked Twitter not to allow a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop to be shared on the platform.)
Beyond that, Taibbi alleges that the FBI began flagging certain Twitter accounts because of their content, starting in January 2020 — again under the Trump administration.
Per Taibbi, the requests continued through last month and targeted people on both the right and left, including actor and progressive activist Billy Baldwin, the brother of Alec Baldwin — whom Trump had long attacked over the actor’s impersonation of him on “Saturday Night Live.”
The then-President tweeted that the Federal Communications Commission should investigate “SNL” and even asked whether the Justice Department could do the same, The Daily Beast reported.
In response to the latest Twitter Files release, an FBI spokesperson told Fox News Digital: “The FBI regularly engages with private sector entities to provide information specific to identified foreign malign influence actors’ subversive, undeclared, covert, or criminal activities,” adding, “Private sector entities independently make decisions about what, if any, action they take on their platforms and for their customers after the FBI has notified them.”
In the end, the bureau may simply be protecting our nation from threats — as it should. Or Musk could be trying to attract more users on the right by going after the FBI, given that some celebrities and others have left the platform since he took over in late October. Or there could be FBI wrongdoing.
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But given that the pieces of information Musk has curated for public consumption have animated lawmakers in both parties, it’s time for the complete collection of Twitter Files to be released to Congress and the public. Americans need to know the truth about the FBI’s procedures when it comes to social media platforms — and we especially need to know the truth about Elon Musk’s Twitter Files.