Plaintiffs in the high-profile case that’s uncovered evidence of big tech companies and government officials colluding to censor users are seeking to depose 10 top officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri and other plaintiffs asked a U.S. court in a recent motion to allow them to depose Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser; FBI special agent Elvis Chan, former White House press secretary and current MSNBC pundit Jen Psaki, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, a Biden appointee; and Rob Flaherty, deputy assistant to the president.
They also want to question five other officials, including Carol Crawford, chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Digital Media Branch.
While emails and other documents uncovered in discovery have revealed an “enormous and far-reaching” censorship enterprise, the discovery “makes very clear that federal officials have frequently engaged in their most telling and probative communications with social media companies orally, not in writing,” plaintiffs said in a joint statement with defendants.
“Perhaps not surprisingly, the more senior the federal official involved, the more likely they appear to have been to rely on oral, rather than written, communications to pressure social-media platforms to censor,” the statement also said.
Fauci, for instance, communicated in a long-shielded phone call with some scientists who went on to write a paper castigating others who were open to the theory that the COVID-19 virus came from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, where the first COVID-19 cases were detected.
Fauci was also in touch with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but the content of oral communications between the two “is yet to be revealed,” the new filing, dated Oct. 14, says.
Fauci has not made any statements under oath about his communications with big tech firms like Facebook, despite the judge overseeing the case ordering the government to provide answers from Fauci to questions, plaintiffs said.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, the lead plaintiffs and both Republicans, announced recently they planned to seek depositions but had not identified any officials who they would seek to depose.
Plaintiffs want U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, a Trump appointee overseeing the case, to greenlight the 10 requested depositions. If Doughty agrees, the depositions would take place during a 30-day window.
Doughty already agreed to the plaintiff’s request to expedite discovery. That led to the production of hundreds of pages of documents, which bolstered plaintiff claims of Big Tech–government collusion.
In that order, Doughty said plaintiffs could alert defendants to any depositions plaintiffs wished to take, and that the parties would then meet to confer on any deposition requests.
If the parties did not agree on the depositions, then they were to file a joint statement outlining their differences.
Doughty has seven days to rule on the new filing, which included objections from the government.
Plaintiffs said the arguments in opposition were meritless and should be rejected.
The descriptions of some officials as too “high-level” to be deposed is outweighed by the fact that the officials all have firsthand knowledge of the matter and the information they hold cannot be obtained elsewhere, plaintiffs said, referring to a ruling in a separate case, United States v. Newman.
Even if the arguments had merit, Psaki is the only person who would fit the “high-level” designation, and she no longer holds an administration position, the plaintiffs said.
Plaintiffs originally wanted to depose 20 current and former officials, but after discussions, pared their request to 10.
The initial request had included Eric Waldo, senior adviser to Murthy; Max Lesko, chief of staff at the Office of the Surgeon General; Jay Dempsey, a CDC social media team lead; Robert Silvers, a Department of Homeland Security official; Matthew Masterson, a former senior adviser at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA); and Nina Jankowicz, former head of the shuttered Disinformation Governance Board.
Also included were Jennifer Shopkorn, a Census Bureau director; Zachary Henry Schwartz, a senior adviser to the secretary of commerce’s chief of staff; Samaruddin Stewart, a former adviser for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center; and Laura Dehmlow, a top FBI official.
Plaintiffs still want to depose four others in addition to Fauci, Chan, Psaki, Murthy, Flaherty, and Crawford.
They are CISA Director Jen Easterly; Lauren Protentis, an official at the security agency; Andrew Slavitt, a former White House COVID-19 adviser; and Daniel Kimmage, acting coordinator for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center.
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