Speaking for the first time publicly since a federal court blocked U.S. government agencies from colluding with social media companies to censor disfavored content, FBI Director Christopher Wray denied to a House panel that the bureau engages in censorship.
“We are going to comply with the court’s order, the court’s preliminary injunction,” Wray said Wednesday during testimony.
Wray said that since the matter is still in litigation, he can’t speak to it.
“What I would say is, the FBI is not in the business of moderating content or causing any social media company to suppress or censor,” the FBI director told the House Judiciary Committee.
Wray’s much-anticipated testimony touched on several topics, including the Hunter Biden investigation, the raid on the Florida home of former President Donald Trump, and the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021.
He was responding to a question about a temporary injunction issued July 4 by U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of the Western District of Louisiana, ordering the Biden administration to stop pressuring Facebook and other Big Tech companies into silencing Americans’ free speech online. The Biden administration asked for a stay of the order, but the judge rejected it.
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., asked Wray about the federal judge’s 155-page opinion.
“It explains in detail that the FBI has been directly involved in what the court says is arguably the most massive attack against free speech in United States history,” Johnson said.
Johnson asked Wray: “Are you deeply disturbed about what they’ve told you about the ruling, if you haven’t read it yourself?”
Wray said the FBI would comply, at least for now.
“Obviously, we are going to comply with the court’s order, the court’s preliminary injunction. We sent out guidance to field [offices] and headquarters about how to do that,” Wray said. “Needless to say, the injunction itself is the subject of ongoing litigation, and so I’ll decline to comment further.”
However, it wasn’t needless to say for Johnson, who sought more answers from the FBI director, asserting: “It should be the first thing you think about every morning and the last thing you think about at night.”
The Louisiana Republican told Wray:
The court found a massive effort to suppress disfavored conservative speech and blatantly ignore the First Amendment right to free speech. The evidence shows the FBI threatened adverse consequences to social media companies that did not comply with its censorship requests. The court found that this seemingly unrelenting pressure by the FBI and other defendants had the intended result of suppressing millions of protected free speech postings by American citizens.
Johnson listed some of the topics suppressed at the request of FBI officials, including the contents of Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop n 2020; the lab leak theory about the origins of COVID-19 in China; questions about the effectiveness of face masks as the pandemic spread; various election integrity issues, a parody of the president; and speech criticizing the economy under the Biden administration.
Wray defended the FBI, noting that it was the first agency to conclude that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 likely originated at a research lab in Wuhan, China.
“They made social media platforms pull that information off the internet if it came from conservative sources. They did this under the guise that it was disinformation,” Johnson said. “Can you define what disinformation is?”
After some back-and-forth, Wray answered: “Our focus is on malign, foreign disinformation; that is, foreign, hostile actors that engage in covert efforts to use our social media platforms.”
Johnson again referred to the court ruling.
“Mr. Wray, that’s not accurate. You need to read this court opinion, because you are in charge of enforcing it,” Johnson said. “The court has found and [FBI agent] Elvis Chan testified under oath, in charge of this for you, he [cited a] 50% success rate of having alleged election disinformation taken down or censored. That wasn’t just foreign adversaries, sir. That was American citizens. How do you answer for that?”
Wray shot back: “What I would say is the FBI is not in the business of moderating content or causing any social media company to suppress or censor.”
Johnson said, “That is not what the court has found.”
Speaking to members of Congress for the first time since presidential son Hunter Biden reached a plea agreement with the Justice Department, Wray told the panel that the FBI is “absolutely not” protecting the Biden family from evidence of corruption and bribery.
Wray also declined to answer questions from several Republican lawmakers about whether undercover FBI agents and confidential informants were in the crowd that turned into a mob at the Capitol only 14 days before President Biden was sworn in to succeed Trump on Jan 20, 2021.
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