May 29, 2020

Cruz Asks For Criminal Probe Into Twitter Over Alleged Violations Of Iranian Sanctions

Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX, penned a letter Friday to Attorney General William Barr and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin urging them to pursue a probe against Twitter “for possible criminal violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) (50 U.S.C. §§ 1701 et seq.) and sanctionable activities prohibited by Executive Order 13876 (E.O. 13876).”

In his letter, Cruz referred the officials back to his February 6th letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey “informing him that Twitter and its principals face criminal liability and sanctions exposure for providing social media accounts to Iranian persons designated as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) pursuant to E.O. 13876. You were copied on that letter, as were President Trump and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Anderson.”

Twitter, however, still allows officials such as Ali Khamenei (@khamenei_ir), the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, and Javad Zarif (@JZarif), the Iranian Foreign Minister to hold accounts. Cruz added that that action is a direct violation of “IEEPA to issue E.O. 13876, which prohibits ‘the making of any contribution or provision of… goods[] or services’ to persons designated pursuant to that order” and called on Dorsey to remove them from the platform. Violating the IEEPA could result in the payment of $1 million in fines and up to 20 years in prison.

In an April 3rd response to Cruz, Twitter argued that it would violate the platform’s policy saying “to deny our service to [Iran’s] leaders at a time like this would be antithetical to the purpose of our company.” Moreover, they stated that it’s 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,” Cruz said in his Friday letter. “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.”

Still, Twitter maintains that they’re not violating IEEPA saying “[m]aking the Twitter platform available for use . . . as a tool of communication[] is broadly exempted from OFAC prohibitions.” According to Cruz, Twitter’s justification is baseless according to “The General License D-1 (GL D-1) to which Twitter implicitly refers creates an exception for services and software incident to Internet-based communication.” adding that “it expressly ‘does not authorize’ the services ‘to any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to any part of 31 C.F.R. chapter V, other than persons whose property and interests in property are blocked solely pursuant to Executive Order 13599 as the Government of Iran[.]’

Cruz continued, “Khamenei and Zarif are designated pursuant to E.O. 13876 and so the exception does not apply” adding that “E.O. 13876 authorizes sanctions against ‘any person’ who is determined to have ‘provided technological support for, or goods or services to’ such designated persons.”

Copied on the letter are President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Christopher Wray, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California David L. Anderson, and District Attorney of New York County, New York Cyrus R. Vance Jr.