House GOP expands Biden ‘censorship’ investigation over Washington Examiner ‘disinformation’ series

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Tuesday, June 6, 2023, in Washington. Evan Vucci/AP

House GOP expands Biden ‘censorship’ investigation over Washington Examiner ‘disinformation’ series

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EXCLUSIVE — House Republicans are demanding a top Biden agency that funded a “disinformation” tracker blacklisting conservatives provide “unredacted” grant records, according to a letter obtained by the Washington Examiner.

Chairman Roger Williams (R-TX) of the Small Business Committee and its Oversight Subcommittee Chairwoman Beth Van Duyne (R-TX) sent a written request on Wednesday to the State Department’s Global Engagement Center for it to turn over all grant recipients and award numbers dating back to 2019. It’s the latest development in the GOP’s multi-pronged “censorship” investigation into the center — which has come under fire following a series of Washington Examiner reports on its $100,000 grant in 2021 to the Global Disinformation Index.

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“As made evident through investigative reporting such as the ‘Twitter Files’ and the Washington Examiner’s ‘Disinformation Inc.’ series, various agencies within the federal government, including the Global Engagement Center (GEC), have been collaborating with the private sector to have user-generated content removed from various internet platforms,” the lawmakers wrote to James Rubin, the GEC’s special envoy and coordinator. “It has become clear that the federal government has undermined First Amendment principles by working to censor certain viewpoints by proxy.”

The letter cited several Washington Examiner stories detailing how the Global Disinformation Index has been covertly feeding blacklists of conservative news outlets to advertisers with the intent of slashing ad dollars from disfavored websites. GDI has alleged that some of the riskiest outlets for “disinformation” are the New York Post, RealClearPolitics, the Federalist, and other right-leaning websites, documents show. Williams and Van Duyne’s letter also cited reporting from “Twitter Files” journalist Matt Taibbi on the center’s ties to “disinformation” tracking.

Between the GEC and the National Endowment for Democracy, a government-funded nonprofit group, GDI was granted roughly $960,000 from 2020 to 2022. The NED has since announced it will no longer provide grants to GDI.

The Republican-led effort to place heightened pressure on the GEC over its ties to the “disinformation” tracking space comes more than a week after the State Department told Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) in a letter that it “stands by” the center’s grant to GDI. Williams and Van Duyne informed the GEC in their letter that the lawmakers seek to “understand the use” of the $100,000 grant, as well as any other similar funding that has “resulted in small businesses’ loss of profits and economic opportunities from the freedom of engaging in uncensored speech on online platforms.”

As previously reported by the Washington Examiner, the $100,000 grant to GDI was part of the U.S.-Paris Tech Challenge, which sought to “advance the development of promising and innovative technologies against disinformation and propaganda across the European Economic Area and the United Kingdom,” according to the Atlantic Council, a think tank that partnered for the challenge. While there isn’t any indication that the $100,000 went toward GDI’s blacklisting efforts in the U.S., Republicans have argued that money is “fungible.”

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“The federal government has no business circumventing the constitutional protections of private citizens,” Williams told the Washington Examiner. “Recent reporting has shown taxpayer dollars have been used to stifle speech online. For many small businesses that rely on the internet to reach their customers, this alleged interference could have wide ranging implications within the digital economy.”

The chairman added that “no small business should be prevented from reaching their customers based on their viewpoints or the values of the business owners.”

In their letter, the Small Business Committee Republicans told the GEC that it does not exist “to facilitate harm to U.S. small businesses through intermediaries because the [Biden] administration disagrees with the speech or politics of the business owner.” The lawmakers also requested “unredacted copies of all GEC Award Purpose and Objective Alignment documents” from 2019 to 2023.

Along with their request related to award numbers, the Republicans set a June 21 deadline for records. The State Department already skirted GDI-linked document demands from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) earlier this year.

The Wednesday request for records also comes as House Republicans weigh whether in 2024 they will reauthorize the GEC, which hasn’t taken proper actions to thwart foreign threats and failed to vet how foreign entities used taxpayer funds, the State Department’s inspector general said in September 2022.

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“It can no longer be business as usual for the GEC, given what we have uncovered about its politically motivated censorship — and our real suspicion that there’s still more to find and expose,” Issa, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees, told the Washington Examiner. “That’s why its future funding should absolutely be on the table, and State hasn’t come close to making the case that it should continue.”

The State Department did not return a request for comment.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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