03.15.2024 0

If H.R. 7521 was only about TikTok, it would only apply to TikTok

By Robert Romano

“The TikTok bill gives Biden the power to ban websites & apps run by ‘a person subject to the direction or control of a foreign person or entity.’ Given that Biden routinely smears political opponents as being under the control of Putin, the danger should be obvious.”

That was entrepreneur David Sacks on X (formerly Twitter) on March 13 noting the fact that H.R. 7521, which has easily passed the House and is now on a fast track in the U.S Senate will give the President, right now it’s Joe Biden but also future presidents, can force divestiture of any website or application or else have it removed from hosting services if the President determines it is run by “a person subject to the direction or control of a foreign person or entity” including Russia, China, North Korea or Iran.

To get there, according to the legislation, the application must be “determined by the President to present a significant threat to the national security of the United States”.

It applies to the Chinese-owned TikTok app, but the bill goes further to leave it to the President for all future determinations about who is “subject to the direction or control” of Russia, China, North Korea or Iran.

That’s actually dangerous because Sacks is right. The U.S. government has been routinely accusing political opponents of being foreign agents who are “subject to the direction or control” of Russia and other countries.

The biggest recent example was Russiagate. In fact, to obtain surveillance of the Trump campaign, as happened in Oct. 2016, the FBI and the Justice Department had to give the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court a “statement of the facts and circumstances relied upon by the applicant to justify his belief that… the target of the electronic surveillance is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power…”

The Oct. 2016 application to the FISA Court stated, “The target of this application is Carter W. Page, a U.S. person, and an agent of a foreign power… The status of the target was determined in or about October 2016 from information provided by the U.S. State Department…”

In part, those allegations relied on the Clinton campaign and DNC-financed Christopher Steele dossier that there was a “well-developed conspiracy” by Russia and the Trump campaign to hack the DNC and give their emails to Wikileaks.

But they also stated as part of the justification for that interference in the Trump campaign that Russia was attempting to convince the Trump campaign to not send weapons to Ukraine and to instead recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, telling the FISA Court that the Trump campaign, per the FISA application, “worked behind the scenes to make sure [the Republican] platform would not call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces” stating Trump “might recognize Crimea as Russian territory and lift punitive U.S. sanctions against Russia,” citing news reports.

The Justice Department also included an Aug. 2016 Politico story highlighting Trump’s opposition to U.S. intervention in Ukraine, including his suggestion the people of Crimea preferred to live in Russia, and his doubts that the territories Russia had seized could be reclaimed suggested without risking World War III.

At a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the Politico report relied upon by the Justice Department quoted Trump saying a military conflict to take back Crimea would risk nuclear war: “You wanna go back? …You want to have World War III to get it back?” And it quoted Trump on ABC’s “This Week” suggesting the people of Crimea supported Russian annexation: “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

So, that was the predicate before the FISA Court: A foreign power was allegedly attempting to influence the candidate, Trump, via campaign volunteers like Page but also hired help like Manafort, to simply recognize Russia’s claims to Ukraine’s sovereign territories in order to avert war. But these are also political and policy differences Trump had with the Obama administration and his opponent, Hillary Clinton. 

During the convention, Paul Manafort was campaign chairman, who was swiftly removed by Trump after the New York Times non-coincidentally ran an erroneous hit piece in Aug. 2016 stating he had corrupt dealings in Ukraine, with a supposed ominous sounding “black ledger.” Manafort was the campaign manager of deposed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych when he was first elected in 2010. He also helped Gerald Ford secure the Republican nomination on the floor against Ronald Reagan in 1976, and then helped Reagan do the same thing in 1980. In 2016, Trump tapped him to win the convention by ensuring Trump delegates he won in the primaries would vote for him on the floor.

Page was similarly removed from the campaign when a Sept. 2016 news story appeared alleging, falsely as it turned out, he was a Russian agent.

Ultimately, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller found there was no Trump campaign conspiracy with Russia to hack the DNC and give the emails to Wikileaks. According to Mueller’s final report to the Attorney General, “the evidence was not sufficient to charge that any member of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with representatives of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.”

The report added, “In particular, the Office did not find evidence likely to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Campaign officials such as Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page acted as agents of the Russian government — or at its direction, control or request — during the relevant time period.”

Manafort was brought up on unrelated tax and bank fraud charges. As for Michael Cohen, “Cohen had never traveled to Prague…” and so, he very well could not have been there meeting with Russian intelligence officials as Steele had alleged.

As for Page, he was never charged with anything.

But all it took for federal intervention in the presidential campaign to occur was a mere accusation of being a foreign agent.

And that is precisely how the TikTok bill could be used against other apps besides TikTok, Sacks now warns.

On March 14, he noted some on X who believe “X is ‘foreign adversary controlled’”.

And others who believed “Tucker Carlson Network is ‘foreign adversary controlled’”.

And others who believed “Rumble is ‘foreign adversary controlled’”.

And others who still believe “Of course Trump is ‘foreign adversary controlled’ — and through him the entire Republican Party.”

The legislation now under consideration, if it became law, and if the President agreed that Donald Trump who also runs Truth Social, Rumble, X and Tucker Carlson were “foreign adversary controlled” then the federal government could force divestiture or else have the websites and apps removed from hosting services.

In the meantime, Congress has not defunded any of the federal government’s so-called anti-misinformation, disinformation and malinformation (MDM) activities whereby the Departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security (including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency unanimously created by Congress in 2018) and Justice have been documented to direct social media to shadowban or even remove content of American citizens via political targeting.

Nor has it passed any FISA reforms that would have prevented the Russiagate fiasco from occurring in the first place.

Instead, it is only looking to expand the President and federal government’s powers to censor website and apps now and in the future based on more allegations of being subjected to foreign adversary control. It applies to whoever is on President Biden’s political enemies list to be smeared as a foreign agent at any given moment.

If the bill was only about TikTok, it would only apply to TikTok.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.

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