Democrats Threaten Matt Taibbi With Jail Time Over Twitter Files Testimony
Stacey Plaskett, a Democrat, is the delegate from the Virgin Islands to the U.S. Congress. Last month, when independent writers Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger testified before the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, she described them as “so-called journalists” and sought to undermine their testimony about government pressure to restrict speech on Twitter.
She has now gone much further.
Plaskett recently sent a letter to Taibbi accusing him of perjury and suggesting that he could face up to five years in jail. The letter was obtained by Lee Fang, a writer who works with Taibbi and publishes on Substack. In it, Plaskett notes that providing false testimony to Congress “is punishable by up to five years imprisonment.”
The congresswoman’s basis for accusing Taibbi of perjury is a handful of errors that he made during the publication of the Twitter Files. These mistakes caught the attention of MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan, who skewered Taibbi in an interview and suggested the entire Twitter Files project rested upon a house of cards.
It is true that Taibbi made some errors: In one of his tweets about the web of organizations engaged in identifying so-called misinformation on Twitter, he confused CISA, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency—an organ of the federal government—with CIS, the Center for Internet Security—a nonprofit. Hasan has never sufficiently explained why this mistake would render the Twitter Files obsolete; in fact, both organizations participated in the Election Integrity Partnership, a Stanford University project that sought to monitor the election-related discourse on social media. Taibbi pointed out this fact in a tweet admitting to the mistake.
Regardless, it is obviously not the case that Taibbi committed perjury. Plaskett’s letter describes the CISA/CIS mistake as an “intentional” one; this is simply false. Taibbi did not willfully mischaracterize the two organizations; when he rewrote “CIS” as “CISA,” he honestly thought the tweet in question had referred to the government agency rather than the nonprofit.
Aaron Terr, director of public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), described Plaskett’s letter as shocking.
“The mistake in Taibbi’s tweet does not show that he knowingly lied to Congress,” says Terr. “It’s hard to think of anything more chilling to a free press than threatening a journalist with prison time based on a single, corrected mistake in their reporting.”
Accuracy is vital to the project of journalism, and it was important for Taibbi to set the record straight, even if the impact of these errors has been overstated by Democratic partisans. But Plaskett’s suggestion that Taibbi’s testimony should put him at risk of prosecution was wildly inappropriate.
There’s a profound irony here. Plaskett’s likely agenda was to undermine the work of the subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government, and the manner in which she chose to do this was to threaten a journalist with jail time. Weaponization, indeed.