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TikTok Refuses to Testify at Hearing About Chinese Influence Amid National Security Investigation

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  • TikTok denied requests by Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) to testify under oath during a Tuesday Congressional hearing concerning fears that the Chinese-owned social media platform is sharing U.S. user data with the Chinese government.
  • According to reports, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S opened a national security investigation into TikTok’s $1 billion purchase of Musical.ly in 2017.
  • For its part, TikTok has repeatedly said that its servers are all outside of China, and therefore, outside of Chinese law. Because of this, it also says it does not censor content.

Sen. Hawley Invites TikTok to Testify

Executives for the social media platform TikTok refused to testify at a Congressional hearing on Tuesday amid ongoing fears that it may pose a national security risk regarding Chinese counter-intelligence.

On Friday, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States reportedly opened an investigation into TikTok, which was created as an international version of the app Douyin and is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. According to anonymous sources, the investigation involves TikTok’s 2017 $1 billion acquisition of Musical.ly.

Both the hearing and the investigation are the latest in a series of concerns that TikTok is sharing American data with China’s Communist Party, particularly that is sharing the data it collects on users’ locations and censoring content.

Tuesday’s hearing organized by Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) focused on two main concerns. The first was business deals between American tech companies and the Chinese government and the second was rapidly growing Chinese companies in America and how they collect U.S. user data.

“[As] these Big Tech companies try to get into the Chinese market, the compromises that they have to make with the Communist Chinese Party — who, let’s not forget, partner with or control every industry of any size in China — what does that do to American security?” Hawley told Axios ahead of the hearing. 

Also prior to the hearing, Hawley blasted TikTok’s decision to decline appearing in a series of tweets. 

Hawley has also been a vocal critic surrounding China’s influence over Hong Kong, having visited the city last month and co-sponsoring the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

Is TikTok Sending Americans’ Data to the Chinese Government?

Last month, Senator Marco Rubio actually asked the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to open an investigation into TikTok because of concerns that the platform was censoring content. 

A couple of weeks later, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) then echoed those concerns by asking U.S. Intelligence officials to open a national security review of the platform.

“With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” both Schumer and Cotton said in a joint statement. “Given these concerns, we ask that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-based content platforms operating in the U.S. and brief Congress on these findings.”

TikTok representatives responded in a blog post the next day saying, “We store all TikTok US user data in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore. Our data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law.

“Let us be very clear: TikTok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China,” the statement read. “We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period.”

Despite TikTok’s assurance that China does not intercept its data, Schumer and Cotton said they fear that TikTok “is still required to adhere to the laws of China” and that could “compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”

U.S. Opens Investigation into TikTok

Following reports that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States had opened a national security investigation, TikTok declined to speak on the confidential matter, but it did issue a statement. 

“While we cannot comment on ongoing regulatory processes,” the statement reads, “TikTok has made clear that we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the U.S. Part of that effort includes working with Congress and we are committed to doing so.”

Schumer then praised the news of the probe, saying it was “validation of our concern that apps like TikTok…may pose serious risks to millions of Americans and deserve greater scrutiny.”

Similar Concerns Over Apple

TikTok isn’t the only social media platform under fire. Hawley also invited Apple to Tuesday’s hearing, but like TikTok, it denied the request.

Regarding Apple, Hawley is particularly interested in the tech giant’s business deals with China and where it stores encryption keys for iCloud data.

“My question is, are they storing encryption keys in China? “ Hawley asked ahead of the hearing. “The answer to that is yes. Then what kind of data are they storing in China? Whose data? Any American data? What about people who have Chinese relatives or business partners or other ventures, so they’re communicating with people in China? Does that expose American users to potential surveillance by the Chinese state?”

Although Apple did not directly respond to Hawley’s question, in the past, it has said that it retains its encryption keys, not its Chinese partner.

See what others are saying: (Axios) (Washington Post) (BBC)

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Josh Hawley Claims Ethics Complaint Against Him Is “Cancel Culture”

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  • Seven Democratic Senators filed an ethics complaint against Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz last week over their efforts in leading objections to the certification of the presidential election.
  • The group urged the Ethics Committee to launch an investigation into whether Cruz and Hawley’s actions inspired violence or if there were any connections between the two Senators, their staffers, and the insurrectionists.
  • Hawley filed a counter-complaint against the seven Democrats Monday, arguing that they were engaging in cancel culture. 
  • “Your baseless allegations are in that sense unfortunately typical of today’s leftwing cancel culture, a culture that tramples on the democratic traditions that left and right once defended together,” he wrote.

Ethics Committee Complaints

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) filed a counter-complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee Monday alleging that a group of Democratic senators were engaging in “cancel culture” by calling for a recent investigation into his conduct.

Last week, seven Democratic senators, lead by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), filed an ethics complaint against Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) for leading the objection to the certification of the presidential election

In the complaint, the members accused Hawley and Cruz of legitimizing the false claims that prompted the insurrection in the first place and then continuing to “amplify the claims of fraud that they likely knew to be baseless and that had led to violence earlier that day,” by still voting to object.

The letter also noted that both Cruz and Hawley touted their plan to object to the certification as a way to collect more campaign donations. It argued that they continued to do so while the Capitol was literally under siege and even after the insurrection. 

As a result, the seven Democrats urged the Ethics Committee to investigate whether there was any coordination between Hawley, Cruz, or their staffers and the insurrectionists, if they knew about the plans for the Jan. 6 rally, or if they took donations from people and organizations involved.

They also implored the committee to look into whether the actions of the two Senators actions inspired violence or “otherwise engaged in criminal conduct, or unethical or improper behavior.” If any evidence is found, the Democrats recommended the committee take “strong disciplinary action, including up to expulsion or censure.”

Hawley Speaks Out

In his counter-complaint, Hawley accused the Democrats of trampling on free speech in an attempt to “cancel” him.

“This line of thinking is, however, sadly consistent with the new woke-mob mentality that you should cancel anyone who disagrees with your views,” he wrote. “Your baseless allegations are in that sense unfortunately typical of today’s leftwing cancel culture, a culture that tramples on the democratic traditions that left and right once defended together.”

Hawley also echoed that sentiment in a cover essay published by The New York Post on Monday, where claimed he has been “canceled” and “muzzled” over his attempts to stop the Democratic election of President Joe Biden from being certified.

Both the letter and the article attracted significant backlash online and in the media. In a particularly scathing critique, CNN Tonight host Don Lemon condemned Hawley for claiming he was being censored.

“No one has muzzled Josh Hawley. What happened to Josh Hawley isn’t cancel culture. It’s called consequences,” Lemon said. “That’s how the First Amendment works. Say whatever you want, but you gotta pay the price if you say something stupid, or you do something stupid or treasonous, or if you try to overturn a duly elected president, right?”

“Don’t fall for this, people,” he continued. “Think about the actions in the Capitol. Think about what happened, think about the people who died, think about the cops who were beaten by people. Think about all that.”

See what others are saying: (Politico) (Vox) (CNN)

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Dominion Files $1.3 Billion Defamation Suit Against Rudy Giuliani

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  • Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani seeking $1.3 billion in damages for false claims he made about the company, including that the manufacturer led an effort to flip votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
  • The lawsuit alleges Giuliani, the former president’s personal lawyer, spread the disinformation in large part to enrich himself through legal fees and his podcast.
  • It also links his false claims about Dominion to the Capitol insurrection, noting that he mentioned the company while speaking at a rally before the attack and on social media numerous times during.
  • This is the second suit Dominion has filed against a Trump campaign lawyer, and an attorney for the company said it might bring similar cases against pro-Trump media outlets or Trump himself.

Dominion Sues Giuliani

Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani, former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, seeking $1.3 billion in damages for false claims he made about the company.

Dominion, which is one of the largest voting machine manufacturers in the U.S., became the main target for widespread election fraud conspiracies spread by Giuliani and other Trump allies. Those individuals falsely claimed with no evidence that Dominion machines, widely used in key battleground states, were flipping votes from Trump to President Joe Biden.

Now, the company claims that Giuliani and his allies “manufactured and disseminated the Big Lie, which foreseeably went viral and deceived millions of people into believing that Dominion had stolen their votes and fixed the election.”

The lawsuit alleges that he did this in large part to enrich himself through legal fees and his podcast. It notes that Trump’s top lawyer “reportedly demanded $20,000 per day” for his legal services to the president, and arguing that he “cashed in by hosting a podcast where he exploited election falsehoods to market gold coins, supplements, cigars and protection from ‘cyberthieves.’”

The 107-page suit also specifically outlines more than 50 statements Giuliani made on Twitter, his podcast, to the conservative media, and during legislative hearings. Notably, the company points out that he never mentioned Dominion in court where he could face legal ramifications because he knew what he was claiming was false.

Despite that, Giuliani continued to push the false narrative, even after Dominion sent him a letter in December warning they were going to take legal action against him. 

The lawsuit also links Giuliani’s false claims about Dominion to the Capitol insurrection, noting that he mentioned the company while speaking at the rally before the attack and on social media numerous times during.

According to reports, even after the insurrection, he has still continued to spread those falsities as recently as last week. 

“Dominion’s founder and employees have been harassed and have received death threats, and Dominion has suffered unprecedented and irreparable harm,” the court document states.

Other Defamation Cases

The case against Giuliani is not the first defamation suit Dominion has brought against Trump allies in recent weeks. 

Earlier this month, the company filed a similar claim against former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell where it also sought $1.3 billion in damages over her false assertions that Dominion was part of a world-wide communist plot to rig the election.

Separately, one of Dominion’s top executives has also filed lawsuits against Giuliani, the Trump campaign, and several pro-Trump media outlets after he was forced into hiding due to conspiracies that he masterminded the plot to steal the election.

These cases could just be the start. According to NPR, an attorney for Dominion said it was possible that the company would file additional suits against pro-Trump media outlets — such as Fox News — and even potentially Trump himself.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (Axios)

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House To Send Impeachment Article Monday, Starting Impeachment Trial Process

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  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the House will send the impeachment article against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday, triggering the start of the impeachment trial process.
  • The news comes one day after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell requested that the trial be delayed until mid-February so that Trump’s legal team could have two weeks to prepare.
  • The senators could still come to their own agreement to delay the start of oral arguments and give Trump’s team more time to file pretrial briefs. 
  • Some Democrats have signaled support for this move because it would give them extra time to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominations before the trial starts.

Pelosi To Send Impeachment Article

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Wednesday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) will send the impeachment article against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday.

The move will officially trigger the start of the impeachment trial process. The announcement comes one day after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) requested that the trial be delayed until mid-February so that Trump’s legal team could have two weeks to prepare.

Despite Pelosi’s decision, the senators still could come to their own agreement to start the ceremonial proceedings but delay the start of oral arguments and give Trump’s team more time to file pretrial briefs.

In fact, Democrats, who have been pushing for a schedule that would allow them to still confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees before the trial proceedings start each day, have signaled that they might not oppose a delay because it would give them extra time for confirmations.

During his announcement this morning, Schumer indicated that the details were still being hashed out.

“I’ve been speaking to the Republican leader about the timing and duration of the trial,” he said. “But make no mistake a trial will be held in the United States Senate and there will be a vote on whether to convict the president.” 

McConnell, for his part, responded by reiterating that his party will continue to press for Trump’s team to be given enough time.

“This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House,” he said. “Senate Republicans strongly believe we need a full and fair process where the former president can mount a defense.”

While the leaders may not have worked out the particulars yet, according to reports, both parties have already agreed that this trial will be shorter than Trump’s first impeachment, which lasted three weeks.

Implications for Power-Sharing Deal

The new impeachment trial deadline could also speed up the currently stalled negotiations between Schumer and McConnell regarding how power will be shared in a Senate with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats.

Democrats effectively control the Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris will be the deciding vote, but she cannot always be there to resolve every dispute.

As a result, McConnell and Schumer have been working to come up with a power-sharing deal for day to day operations, similar to one that was struck in 2001 the last time the Senate was split 50-50. However, those negotiations have hit a roadblock: the legislative filibuster.

The filibuster is the long-standing Senate rule that requires a supermajority of at least 60 senators to vote to end debate on a given piece of legislation before moving to a full floor vote. Technically, all 50 Democrats and Vice President Harris could agree to change the rule to just require a simple majority to legislation advance, or what’s known as the “nuclear option.”

That move, in effect, would allow them to get through controversial legislation without any bipartisan support, as long as every Democrat stays within party lines. Many more progressive Democrats have pushed for this move, arguing that the filibuster stands in the way of many of their and Biden’s top priorities.

Given this possibility, McConnell has demanded that Democrats agree to protect the filibuster and promise not to pursue the nuclear option as part of the power-sharing deal. 

But top Democrats have rejected that demand, with many arguing that having the threat of filibuster is necessary to get Republicans to compromise.

In other words: if Republicans fear that Democrats will “go nuclear,” they will be more likely to agree to certain bills and measures to avoid that.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Politico) (The Wall Street Journal)

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