Below is my column in the New York Post on the recent call for a criminal investigation of journalist Matt Taibbi for perjury by the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. It all comes down to Taibbi’s mistake in adding an “A” to “CIS” – a group involved in the expanding censorship system. The allegation is completely meritless but Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) did show that you cannot spell authoritarianism without “A.”
Here is the column:
As every elementary student is told, a single letter can change an entire thought.
Leave off an “S” and your dessert turns into a desert.
A missing “R” turns a friend into a fiend.
For journalist Matt Taibbi, the brief accidental addition of an “A” may not only have changed the identity of a group, but, according to a ranking Democrat, put the convict into the meaning of conviction.
Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, issued a letter that accused Taibbi of possible perjury because of an error that he made, not in testimony but in a tweet he later corrected.
At issue is Taibbi referring to CISA, the government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, when he meant to refer to CIS, the Center for Internet Security.
Plaskett’s threatening letter to Taibbi was immediately pushed on MSNBC by host Mehdi Hasan, who was shocked by the added “A” and called for the journalist to be criminally investigated for having “deliberately & under oath misrepresented” the facts.
(It was an ironic moment, as writer Lee Fang noted, given past allegations made against Hasan over false statements.)
For Taibbi, this is only the latest such unnerving moment.
When he was testifying before Congress on government censorship efforts, the IRS sent an agent to his home to look into irregularities on his taxes from years earlier.
Plaskett also attacked Taibbi in the hearing as a “so-called journalist” and said he (and another journalist witness) were “a direct threat” to the safety of others for having reported the censorship story.
And she insisted he reveal his source for his Twitter Files reporting.
Taibbi and others also objected to a demand from Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan for Musk to “identify all journalists” who had access to the Twitter Files.
I testified before this same subcommittee and warned the Democrats not to adopt McCarthy-like tactics in threatening and targeting critics.
Members seemed to take that warning as more of an invitation than an admonition. Immediately after the hearing, figures like former Sen. (and MSNBC contributor) Claire McCaskill denounced witnesses as “Putin lovers,” while current members accused free-speech advocates of supporting “insurrection.”
Democrats have continued to attack virtually every witness who has appeared to discuss the dangers to free speech or the need for transparency on the government’s censorship efforts.
They often attack witnesses and then refuse to let them respond. Recently, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) used that tactic on a gun-rights advocate in cutting her off as she attempted to explain an answer.
Porter later demanded a perjury investigation as a result of the testimony.
Most chilling about Plaskett’s threatening letter and the MSNBC’s attacks is that they are entirely baseless.
Plaskett told Taibbi, “This mistake is important because, by adding an ‘A,’ you weren’t making a harmless spelling error. Rather, you were alleging that CISA — a government entity — was working with the EIP [Election Integrity Partnership] to have posts removed from social media.”
She added, “When presented with this misinformation, you acknowledged you had made ‘an error’ by intentionally altering the acronym CIS and you subsequently deleted your erroneous tweet.”
The claim that this error was “intentional” is ridiculous. Moreover, and here is the kicker, CISA is involved in the censorship efforts.
But this is not about the added “A.” It’s about the loss of any sense of decency and civility in politics.
As someone who comes from a liberal Democratic family, the shock over the Democratic Party’s embrace of censorship is only exceeded by its vicious treatment of journalists and free-speech advocates attempting to expose government efforts.
Despite these attacks and the assistance of an enabling media, the evidence of the government censorship efforts has continued to mount.
We are learning of an array of grants and government-support programs to target, blacklist and censor citizens.
It’s clear Democratic members will continue to seek to intimidate witnesses and deter them from coming forward with free-speech concerns.
In these hearings, I got off light.
When I testified on the Twitter Files before the hearing with Taibbi, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) criticized me for offering “legal opinions” without actually working at Twitter.
It was akin to saying a witness should not discuss the contents of the Pentagon Papers unless he worked at the Pentagon. It was particularly bizarre because I was asked about the content of the Twitter Files.
The content — like the content of the Pentagon Papers — is “facts.” The implication of those facts are opinions.
As with an attack from Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY), I was cut off like other witnesses in attempting to explain.
Members can cut off, attack and threaten criminal prosecution, but it will not work.
Censorship systems have never succeeded in destroying ideas, and jailing journalists have never stopped reporting.
That does not mean these abusive attacks will not continue or escalate.
There is a whiff of panic in these efforts as House committees force greater transparency and greater public access to this evidence.
Now it appears these efforts to shield government censorship has come down to spelling. Indeed, if Delegate Plaskett has her way, that added “A” may prove the difference between a free press and authoritarianism.
Jonathan Turley is an attorney and a professor at George Washington University Law School.