Sen. Ted Cruz demands a federal investigation into Twitter, claiming it's violating US sanctions against Iran by letting the country's leaders have accounts

pleskin@businessinsider.com (Paige Leskin)
Sen. Ted Cruz, left, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

AP/Jacquelyn Martin; AP/Jose Luis Magana

  • Sen. Ted Cruz sent a letter Friday to the US Justice and Treasury departments requesting they launch a criminal investigation into Twitter.
  • Cruz alleges Twitter is in violation of US sanctions against Iran by allowing two state leaders — Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — to run accounts on the platform.
  • In the letter, Cruz is claiming that Twitter is in violation of an executive order, which Donald Trump signed in June 2019, that "blocks" US businesses from providing any goods or services to Iran's Supreme Leader and other top state officials.
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Sen. Ted Cruz is calling for a federal investigation into Twitter over alleged violations of US law by allowing Iran's top leader to maintain an account of the platform.

In a letter sent Friday to the heads of the US Justice and Treasury departments, Cruz says Twitter is in violation of US sanctions against Iran. Cruz alleges Twitter is violating federal law by allowing the presence of accounts for two Iranian leaders: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (@khamenei_ir) and foreign minister Javad Zarif (@JZarif).

The Iranian sanctions that Twitter has apparently infringed upon were enacted just last year. President Donald Trump signed an executive order in June 2019 that "blocks" all US businesses from providing goods and services to Khamenei or any Iranian state official. According to the New York Times, the addition of further sanctions was designed to increase pressure on Iranian leaders and damage the country's economy.

Although the Times called the executive order "symbolic" at the time, it appears Cruz is harnessing it to apply to Twitter. 

Cruz's request for a criminal investigation comes nearly four months after a group of four Republican senators (including Cruz) penned a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. The senators claimed Khamenei is not afforded protection of free speech under the First Amendment, and he "enjoys zero protection from the United States Bill of Rights."

Twitter declined to provide comment to Business Insider on Cruz's letter to the DOJ and Treasury Department.

However, Twitter did address the allegations in April, in response to the senators' letter to Dorsey. In the letter, Twitter legal chief Vijaya Gadde argued the platform is "broadly exempted" from the executive order because its service is provided as a "tool of communication." Gadde also told senators that the "power of a uniquely open service" like Twitter is especially poignant amid the coronavirus outbreak, and is used as a platform where state officials can communicate with its citizens about the pandemic.

Nevertheless, Cruz maintained in its letter to the US government that Twitter's violations of US sanctions is "blatant and willful."

Twitter is already battling the federal government over actions it took to fact-check a recent tweet from Trump, as well as label another as "glorifying violence." Trump issued an executive order Thursday threatening social platforms over their alleged bias against conservatives. The order targets Section 230, a statute that allows social media companies to regulate content on their platforms and also removes them from any liability in what users post. 

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