WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci was quizzed for several hours Wednesday by the Republican attorneys general of two states as part of a lawsuit alleging that he and other White House officials leaned on social media companies to limit debate about COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic.
Eric Schmitt and Jeff Landry, the top law enforcement officers in Missouri and Louisiana, respectively, announced Tuesday that the questioning of Fauci would go ahead after a federal judge cleared the way for them to proceed last month.
“Since we filed our landmark lawsuit, we have uncovered documents and discovery that show clear coordination between the Biden Administration and social media companies on censoring speech, but we’re not done yet,” Schmitt said in a statement. “We plan to get answers on behalf of the American people. Stay tuned.”
“We all deserve to know how involved Dr. Fauci was in the censorship of the American people during the COVID pandemic,” Landry chimed in. “And I will continue fighting for the truth as it relates to Big Government colluding with Big Tech to stifle free speech.”
Fauci’s deposition, which began at 8 a.m., will be sealed under court order, Fox News reported Wednesday.
The suit brought by Schmitt and Landry in May alleges that the White House engaged in a “censorship enterprise” in which federal officials worked in tandem with social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to restrict the circulation of statements deemed “misinformation” about topics including the coronavirus, the 2020 election and The Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden’s foreign business interests.
In late August, Schmitt and Landry charged that “dozens of federal officials across at least eleven federal agencies” including the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security — as well as the Census Bureau, the Food and Drug Administration, the FBI, the State Department, and the Treasury Department — were aware or took part in the initiative.
In October, Louisiana US District Judge Terry Doughty agreed with Schmitt and Landry that both Fauci and former White House press secretary Jen Psaki should be deposed.
“Plaintiffs assert that they should not be required to simply accept Dr. Fauci’s ‘self-serving blanket denials’ that were issued from someone other than himself at face value,” Doughty wrote. “The Court agrees.”
The judge added that Fauci “no doubt” engaged in communications with “high-ranking social media officials,” while Psaki had admitted during a July 2021 briefing that the administration was “flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.”
“‘The major platforms have a responsibility related to the health and safety of all Americans to stop amplifying untrustworthy content, disinformation, and misinformation, especially related to COVID-19, vaccinations, and elections,’” Doughty wrote in his order, quoting Psaki from a May 2021 briefing.
On Monday, the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked Doughty’s order that Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly, and White House Director of Digital Strategy Rob Flaherty also be deposed as part of the lawsuit.
The three-judge panel ruled that the lower court had not properly examined whether the information sought by Schmitt and Landry could be obtained through other means, “such as further written discovery or depositions of lower-ranking officials.”
“It is not enough, as the district court found, that these officials may have ‘personal knowledge’ about certain communications,” the appeals court added. “That knowledge may be shared widely or have only marginal importance in comparison to the ‘potential burden’ imposed on the deponent.”
Psaki’s deposition is set for Dec. 8, though the now-MSNBC host has launched a legal battle to block the interview from taking place.