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Trump threatens to shut down Twitter for fact-checking him

President Donald Trump's tweet response to Twitter's fact-checks

President Donald Trump's tweet response to Twitter's fact-checks of some of his postings. Credit: Bloomberg / Andrew Harrer

Tweets and squawks

Donald Trump sent his first tweet in on May 4, 2009, to plug an appearance on "Late Show with David Letterman." He has tweeted more than 48,000 times since, and it was not until Tuesday, May 26, 2020, that Twitter talked back.

The fact-checks attached by Twitter to a pair of Trump's unsubstantiated claims about mail-in ballots so angered the president that he threatened Wednesday — in a tweet, of course — to crack down on Twitter and perhaps delete the forum for 330 million worldwide users. "Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices," he said. "We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen." Later on Twitter, he also warned: “Big Action to follow." The White House director of strategic communications, Alyssa Farah, said an order of some kind regarding social media will be signed by Trump on Thursday.

The president can’t unilaterally regulate or close the companies, and any effort would likely require action by Congress, The Associated Press writes. In the past, his administration shelved a proposed executive order empowering the Federal Communications Commission to regulate technology companies, citing concerns it wouldn’t pass legal muster. Former federal Judge Michael McConnell, who now directs Stanford Law School’s Constitutional Law Center, told the AP that Trump lacks the legal power to back up his threat. “He has no such authority,” he said in an email. “He is just venting.”

Trump's call to expand regulation also appeared to fly in the face of long-held conservative principles on deregulation. But some Trump allies, who have alleged bias on the part of tech companies, have questioned whether platforms like Twitter and Facebook should continue to enjoy liability protections as “platforms” under federal law — or be treated more like publishers, which can face lawsuits over content.

That change would raise at least a hypothetical question on whether Trump should be careful what he wishes for. He habitually gets on Twitter to accuse foes of crimes — treason comes up a lot — and most recently spewed his baseless murder insinuations against MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. Whatever protection he might claim as president against lawsuits won't follow him out of office. The risk of heightened legal exposure for the social media platforms on which Trump posts such statements would give companies greater incentive to take the messages down.

Democrats have complained that Twitter has been too slow to respond to a litany of abusive, inaccurate or inflammatory tweets from the president, Politico writes. And despite complaints of bias from the right, The Washington Post reports the reality may be more complicated: Twitter has been cracking down on spam, fake accounts and abuse far more aggressively in recent years, a move that has affected left and right alike.

Right-wing media figures and the president’s son Eric Trump targeted a Twitter executive, Yoel Roth, who posted anti-Trump tweets several years ago — one called the president a "racist tangerine." They claimed Roth was responsible for the decision to put fact-checks on Trump’s tweets about mail-in voting, the Post said. Brandon Borrman, Twitter’s vice president of global communications, said Roth is one member of a team that contributed to a "company decision" by its general counsel in concert with the acting head of policy. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey signed off on it.

Not noted in passing

Trump made no acknowledgment on Twitter on Wednesday about the toll of confirmed coronavirus deaths going past the 100,000 mark.

Fauci: I'm still a masked man

The president won't wear a mask in public, but Dr. Anthony Fauci says he will keep doing so to set a good example.

"I want to protect myself and protect others, and also because I want to make it be a symbol for people to see that that's the kind of thing you should be doing," Fauci, the government's top infectious diseases expert, said on CNN. Fauci said he believes that while wearing a mask is not "100% effective" against the coronavirus, it is a valuable safeguard and shows "respect for another person."

Unlike Trump, who threatened to pull the Republican National Convention from North Carolina if officials there won't permit a full crowd, Fauci said he will "reserve judgment" for now on whether any convention could be held in person with large crowds. First, he'd want to see a "really significant diminution" in the number of new cases and hospitalizations.

Unlike Trump, Fauci was skeptical on the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment. "The scientific data is really quite evident now about the lack of efficacy for it," Fauci said. He added the danger of "adverse" cardiovascular side effects. France banned the antimalarial drug's use for COVID-19.

Janison: The bad-breakup king

There's a common feature among several of the people Trump & Co. have trashed lately — they once were important friends or allies, even if the relationships were transactional, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Jeff Sessions, as an Alabama senator and hard-line immigration foe, was an early and close backer of Trump in 2016, and was rewarded with the post of attorney general. But Sessions enraged Trump by recusing himself from the Russia investigation. The president kept him around for eight more months, ripping him all the way, and now says "he's not mentally qualified to be attorney general."

Before he entered politics, Trump reveled in banter during his frequent on-air appearances with Howard Stern. But after Stern opined two weeks ago that Trump secretly despises the people who support him, Donald Trump Jr. rained abuse on the radio comic as "Hollywood Howard."

Those seeing the president's wild accusations against Scarborough might not guess that he and his co-host Mika Brzezinski fawned on Trump so blatantly in 2016 that the candidate told them at one point: "I watched your show this morning. You have me almost as a legendary figure, I like that.”

At different times, Trump forged mutually beneficial links with the Clintons, FBI Director James Comey, porn actor Stormy Daniels and lawyer Michael Cohen. He ended up calling Hillary Clinton "crooked," Comey a "dirty cop," Daniels a "horse face" and Cohen a "rat." 

Scarborough foul

Some of Trump's usual defenders in media and Congress have parted ways with him over the Scarborough smear, The New York Times notes.

A Wall Street Journal editorial called the accusation "ugly even for him" and lamented: “Perhaps he even thinks this helps him politically, though we can’t imagine how. But Mr. Trump is debasing his office, and he’s hurting the country in doing so.” Washington Examiner's editorialists, noting the crackpot story's origins with left-wing conspiracy theorists in the 2000s, said it is "unfortunate that the latest person to trumpet and repeat this vile slander is the president supposedly leading this nation through a time of crisis." Readers of Trump's "crazed Twitter rant … could hardly be blamed for … doubting his fitness to lead," the Examiner said.

The New York Post said of Trump's attacks on Scarborough: “Trust us, you did not look like the bigger man.”

While most Republicans in Congress, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, stayed out of it, the No. 3 House Republican, Wyoming's Rep. Liz Cheney, said of Trump: "I would urge him to stop it."

Trump got a more understanding take from radio host Rush Limbaugh, who said it was a "clever" way to get even with a critic: "Do you think Trump cares whether Scarborough murdered anybody or not? No, of course he doesn’t care … Trump is just throwing gasoline on a fire here, and he’s having fun watching the flames." 

Cuomo to Trump: Let's build stuff

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo urged Trump in a meeting Wednesday at the White House to “supercharge the reopening” of the economy ravaged by the coronavirus by fast-tracking major infrastructure projects, including cross-Hudson River tunnels for Amtrak, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

"I think he understands that these are projects that need to be done," Cuomo said after the meeting. “ … He’s a builder, he’s a developer. He gets it.”

Cuomo spent a good part of his daily coronavirus briefing scolding Senate Republicans and conservative economists who have derided proposals for federal aid to places hardest hit by the pandemic as a “blue state bailout.” Cuomo said, “How can you tell one-third of the country to go to heck, and then think you're going to see an economic rebound?”

More coronavirus news

Cuomo’s visit to Washington came as Long Island began reopening “nonessential” parts of its economy for the first time in more than two months. See a roundup of the pandemic developments from the region and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany is promoting Trump's attacks on states trying to make access to mail-in voting easier, but she personally seems to like the option. A check of records by her hometown newspaper Tampa Bay Times found she has voted by mail 11 times over the last 10 years.
  • Trump said he asked the Justice Department and FBI to expedite an investigation into the "very sad and tragic death" of George Floyd, a black man who died after Minneapolis police pinned him on the ground with a knee to his neck. Earlier, Joe Biden called for a federal civil rights investigation.
  • Biden spoke on the coronavirus toll: "There are moments in our history so grim, so heart-rending, that they're forever fixed in each of our hearts as shared grief. Today is one of those moments. One hundred thousand lives have now been lost to this virus. To those hurting, I'm so sorry for your loss. The nation grieves with you."
  • The president, Vice President Mike Pence, first lady Melania Trump and Pence's wife, Karen Pence, flew to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday to watch the first manned launch of Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket, but bad weather forced a postponement of the mission until at least Saturday. Trump said he'll come back for the next try.
  • Trump is threatening to veto legislation reauthorizing expired government surveillance tools if it passes in the House, charging there was a “massive abuse” of such powers in the Russia investigation. Republicans who once supported the measure took the cue to switch sides, and with Democrats divided, its passage was in doubt. A vote planned for Wednesday night was called off.
  • Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who put special counsel Robert Mueller in charge of the Russia investigation after Trump fired Comey, will testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing next Wednesday on the origins of the probe and how it was conducted.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he certified to Congress Wednesday that Hong Kong no longer enjoys a high degree of autonomy from China — a decision that could result in the loss of Hong Kong's special trading status with the U.S. and could undercut its position as an international financial hub. Beijing is seeking tighter control over the former British colony that it took back in 1997.

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