By Frank Fang
Several Republicans from the House and Senate are voicing concerns over the Biden administration’s decision to create the new Disinformation Governance Board under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Their concerns are not limited to what the new agency will do but also the administration’s choice to tap Nina Jankowicz, a former disinformation fellow at Washington-based think tank Wilson Center, as its executive director. DHS chief Alejandro Mayorkas revealed the new agency on April 27.
In a letter (pdf) sent to Mayorkas dated April 29, 19 Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, headed by Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.), said the “Orwellian-named” agency will “suppress free speech.”
“The United States’ internal security apparatus must serve to protect the American people from threats to the homeland, not be weaponized by an unpopular President to push false narratives and discredit lawful discourse,” the lawmakers wrote.
The lawmakers questioned Jankowicz’s qualification for heading the new agency, pointing to her past public statements.
“Ms. Jankowicz recently derided defenders of the First Amendment as ‘free speech absolutists’ engaged in ‘abuse’ against ‘marginalized communities,’” the letter reads, pointing to her remarks make during an interview with NPR in April.
Steele and Hunter Biden
Her support for former British spy Christopher Steele and false narratives on Hunter Biden’s alleged laptop were particularly concerning, the lawmakers said.
Steele is best known for being the author of the now-discredited Steele dossier, which contained false and fabricated claims accusing former President Donald Trump of colluding with Russia. Steele’s primary source for the dossier, Igor Danchenko, was charged with five counts of making false statements to the FBI in November last year.
Steele put together the dossier after being hired by Fusion GPS during the 2016 elections to conduct opposition research on Trump. Fusion GPS was retained by Washington-based law firm Perkins Coie on behalf of the Democratic National Committee.
In August 2020, Jankowicz wrote on Twitter about Steele’s appearance on the Infotagion podcast, saying: “Listened to this last night- Chris Steele (yes THAT Chris Steele) provides some great historical context about the evolution of disinfo. Worth a listen.”
In 2017, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked a question on Twitter, saying, “Was there collusion between DOJ and Fusion GPS to use Democratic funded dossier for political and legal purposes?” In response, Jankowicz wrote, “Your party funded the dossier first.”
Jankowicz repeated her claim on Twitter in April 2020. She wrote, “You’re probably aware that [the Steele dossier] began as a Republican opposition research project.”
Just before the November 2020 presidential election, the New York Post and Senate committees were among the first to obtain and review emails from Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop in Delaware. The emails revealed how Joe Biden, his brother James, and his son Hunter, were involved in various foreign business ventures, in countries such as Ukraine, Russia, and China.
At the time, Jankowicz also tried to dismiss the revelations associated with the laptop. She was quoted by The Associated Press in October 2020 saying that, “We should view it as a Trump campaign product.”
On Oct. 22, 2020, she took to Twitter to dismiss the New York Post’s story on Hunter Biden’s laptop, before posting on the same day that “emails don’t need to be altered to be part of an influence campaign.”
The very next day, Jankowicz reposted Biden’s comment on the laptop during the second presidential debate. She wrote, “Biden notes 50 former natsec officials and 5 former CIA heads that believe the laptop is a Russian influence op.”
On Oct. 24, 2020, she posted a Washington Post article calling it a “great piece … on the nuance of the alleged Biden laptop kerfuffle.”
Surprisingly, the idea of a government disinformation body that she now heads seemed unacceptable to her back in 2020. That year, she said during an interview that she opposed the concept of the Trump administration being able to determine what is “fake news.”
“Imagine that, you know, with President Trump right now calling all of these news organizations that have—inconvenient for him—stories that they’re getting out there, that he’s calling ‘fake news,’ and now lashing out at platforms,” she said.
She added, “I would never want to see our executive branch have that sort of power.”
“Her public comments indicate that she is a partisan; neither a defender of the First Amendment, nor possessing instincts that would make her a credible arbiter of truth,” the Oversight Committee Republican lawmakers wrote.
They added: “Her many public statements undermining First Amendment freedoms further call into question the purpose of the ‘Disinformation Governance Board,’ and signal that it is likely being set up to provide political cover for an unpopular Administration and to launder political attacks against its opponents.”
On April 29, the White House defended the choice to hire Jankowicz, with press secretary Jen Psaki saying that she is “an expert on online disinformation.”
“Any hiring decisions are up to the Department of Homeland Security, but this is a person with extensive qualifications,” Psaki added.
The lawmakers wanted Mayorkas to provide them with documents and information before May 13, including “all documents and communications regarding the selection of Nina Jankowicz as the executive director.”
They also wanted the DHS to provide documents on “any DHS definition of or criteria for determining what constitutes ‘disinformation,’ as well as the names of employees “authorized to make” such a determination.
Several Republican senators have also publicly voiced their concerns about the new Disinformation Governance Board, including Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Rick Scott (R-Fla.).
“The @DHSgov new ‘Disinformation Governance Board’ is straight out of Orwell’s 1984,” Scott wrote. “It’s @JoeBiden’s Thought Police & should terrify every American.”
“A Disinformation Governance Board? Seriously? The Biden admin is quite literally taking a page out of 1984,” Ernst wrote. “I won’t be answering to Nina Jankowicz or her ‘Ministry of Truth’ for what I write, speak, or think. No other American should either!”