California’s Ro Khanna had no clue he’d star in Musk’s ‘Twitter Files’

Congressman Ro Khanna. Photo: @khanna.house.gov

When Elon Musk announced Friday afternoon (Nov. 2, 2022) that he planned to reveal what “really happened with the Hunter Biden story suppression by Twitter,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) had no idea he’d be a part of the plot.

Four hours later, emails from Khanna to former Twitter executive Vijaya Gadde voicing concern about the company restricting a controversial New York Post article were featured in a thread by Substack writer Matt Taibbi on the so-called “Twitter Files,” which Musk had billed as the true tale of “free speech suppression” at the company.

“I found out when I suddenly had 208 emails in my inbox. I said, ‘What’s going on?'” Khanna told The Washington Post Sunday, two days after his personal email had been published in a screenshot that was part (of) Taibbi’s Twitter stream of internal documents.

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Khanna said he was unbothered by the disclosure, calling it a “minor inconvenience,” though he’s since “taken provisions” to secure his email account.

“I always give the journalist the benefit of the doubt, and I think the more important issue here is how do we make sure that platforms like Twitter, which are effectively now the public sphere, have uninhibited, robust, wide-open discussion,” Khanna said.

He quipped that it was a “relief” the private message of his that leaked was one he still stood by: advocating against Twitter’s decision to limit the circulation of the New York Post article about then presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son. “We’ve all written things that we may not love when we see them years later, so relief that the email expressed basically what I would express today,” he said of his reaction.

But Khanna joined a number of former Twitter leaders in voicing concern that Taibbi’s thread included the contact information of some lower-level Twitter staffers.

“People who are junior and mid-level staff, you should try to keep them out of it in terms of their contact or personal information,” he said.

Khanna’s email to Twitter, which argued the company was violating “1st Amendment principles” by restricting access to the New York Post article, has since been celebrated online by conservatives critical of the company – and by Musk.

While the disclosures contained no evidence that the social network limited the circulation of the piece at the behest of Democratic politicians, Republican officials and Musk have seized on one screenshot purportedly showing Twitter staffers reviewing posts flagged by Biden’s campaign. House Republicans have vowed to investigate the exchange next year.

Khanna disagreed with Twitter’s decision on the article, but he said that finding was no smoking gun – and he’s seen no evidence of inappropriate pressure from Biden’s team.

“That’s the Biden campaign’s First Amendment right to flag tweets, and campaigns do that all the time, to flag things that they think are violating platform’s policies. … I haven’t seen anything that they were being unduly pressured by a government actor, the Biden campaign, in any way that would be inappropriate,” he said.

In his thread, Taibbi said he’d seen “no evidence … of any government involvement in the laptop story.” And he said that in 2020, “requests [to review or remove content] from both the Trump White House and the Biden campaign were received and honored.”

While a growing number of his Democratic colleagues have voiced concern about Twitter’s direction under Musk, Khanna said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.

“He said that he’s against hate and sensationalizing hate, so I hope that gets implemented and we have to see what [Musk’s] team is going to be, what the principles are going to be,” said Khanna, who said he’s spoken twice to Musk, who has a Tesla factory in his congressional district.

He added, “I respect him as a brilliant entrepreneur and innovator, but also have been very candid on issues where we disagree.”

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