Key Figure Departs From Biden Administration, Accused of Leading ‘Vast Censorship Enterprise’

Key Figure Departs From Biden Administration, Accused of Leading ‘Vast Censorship Enterprise’
The White House in Washington, D.C. on July 4, 2019. (Office of U.S. First Lady)
Tom Ozimek

President Joe Biden’s digital director Rob Flaherty, a central figure in the administration’s efforts to shape social media narratives as part of a censorship-by-proxy effort, is leaving the White House by the end of the month, a court filing shows.

Flaherty, a veteran of Biden’s 2020 campaign, has been overseeing the biggest-ever White House digital team as the director of the Office of Digital Strategy.

His last day on the job will be June 30, 2023, according to a recent court document (pdf) filed as part of a lawsuit by Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana that accused the Biden administration of violating the First Amendment by censoring users on social media.
The evidence presented by the plaintiffs—Louisiana attorney general Jeff Landry and former Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt—led to the judge overseeing the case approving the depositions of eight officials believed to be or confirmed to be part of the administration’s censorship campaign, with Flaherty one of those flagged for deposition.

However, due to Flaherty’s imminent departure, his as yet unnamed successor will take his place as a defendant in the lawsuit, per the court document, which was filed in the U.S. District Court Western District of Louisiana on June 16.

“Mr. Flaherty will no longer hold that position and will no longer be employed in any capacity by the U.S. Government,” the filing states, with the defendants expected to file a notice of substitution once Flaherty’s successor is named.

On the same day as the court filing was made, Biden also announced that Flaherty would be leaving the White House but with no details about the timing and a hint that the two would work together again in some capacity in the future.

“Under Rob’s leadership, we’ve built the largest Office of Digital Strategy in history,” Biden said in a statement.

“His team has pioneered new methods of communication, and operated with unparalleled creativity, innovative spirit and a bias toward action,” the president continued, adding that he looks forward to “our continued work together in the future.”

There have been unconfirmed rumors that Flaherty will join Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign. The Epoch Times has reached out to the White House with a request for confirmation but did not receive an immediate reply.

In a statement reacting to news of Flaherty’s imminent departure, the former Missouri attorney general wrote on social media: “Rob Flaherty is gone. He was a central figure in the Biden Administration’s vast censorship machine.”
Schmitt is now serving as a U.S. Senator and has been superseded in his role as Missouri AG by Andrew Bailey.

Judge to Decide If Government Improperly Censored Social Media Users

The judge overseeing the suit against the Biden administration in a March ruling (pdf) refused to dismiss the case, finding Louisiana and Missouri’s free-speech claims plausible and worthy of further litigation.

The judge, Terry A. Doughty, also permitted the plaintiffs to collect evidence, such as email communications between the White House and social media companies.

While there are other lawsuits accusing the Biden administration of censorship-by-proxy by leaning on social media companies to suspend accounts or take down posts, this case has advanced further than any other.

“This suit arises out of the alleged coercion by the Biden Administration and various government agencies and officials of social-media companies, urging those companies ’to censor viewpoints and speakers disfavored by the Left,'” the judge wrote in his March ruling that denied the Biden administration’s request to dismiss.

According to the judge, the plaintiffs allege that “this censorship was encouraged—perhaps even mandated—by the Biden Administration and several key governmental departments.”

Over 50 officials in the Biden administration across a dozen agencies were involved in efforts to pressure big tech companies to censor alleged misinformation, according to documents released last year.
Emails disclosed in court cases and through Freedom of Information Act requests have shown that U.S. officials—including Flaherty—pressured Facebook and Instagram to take action regarding social media posts.

One email showed that Flaherty pushed Facebook to take action against “mis- and -disinformation” as well as “hesitancy-inducing content.”

“What we uncovered in our lawsuit Louisiana and Missouri v. Biden et al. was that the decision to vaporize you went all the way to the top—or as Biden’s director of digital media, Rob Flaherty, emphasized in an email to a major social media platform, it went all the way to ’the highest (and I mean highest) levels of the White House,'” Landry wrote in a recent op-ed for The Epoch Times.

Landry referred to a court hearing in early June at which Doughty asked the White House lawyer if statements made on social media such as “the vaccines don’t work” or “the 2020 election was stolen” were considered protected speech under the First Amendment.

“He answered that it depends on whether those statements were spoken by a Russian operative,” Landry wrote, while characterizing the statements made by the White House attorney as a defense of censorship-by-proxy on grounds that asking social media companies to take action on content ostensibly premised on violations of their terms of service weren’t illegal.

“Like a cancer, this violation of the First Amendment has seeded itself deep within our federal institutions, and these government actors neither believe what they did was wrong nor have any qualms about doing it again,” Landry wrote.

The Louisiana AG vowed to continue pressing the case forward.

“We will continue to fight for your First Amendment right to be an individual, to speak your mind, and to create the future you envision—both online and off,” he wrote.

This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that Schmitt is no longer serving as Missouri AG and has been superseded in this role by Andrew Bailey.
Tom Ozimek is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times. He has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education.
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