Government & Communications

Attempts by governmental bodies to improve or impede communications with or between the citizenry.

Why blocked Twitter users are suing President Trump

Seven people blocked by President Trump from seeing or interacting with his Twitter account filed a lawsuit against him, arguing that barring them from his popular social-media feed violates the First Amendment to the Constitution. The lawsuit, which raises interesting questions about what constitutes a public forum, as well as the boundaries of free-speech rights on the Web, comes as Trump continues to draw concern about his novel and erratic use of social media.

“President Trump’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, has become an important source of news and information about the government, and an important public forum for speech by, to, and about the President,” the lawsuit said. “In an effort to suppress dissent in this forum, Defendants have excluded — 'blocked' —Twitter users who have criticized the President or his policies. This practice is unconstitutional, and this suit seeks to end it." The Twitter users, represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said that Trump's actions violated their Constitutional rights in several ways. They argued that the president has restricted their participation in a public forum, their ability to access official public statements made by him and their capacity to petition the government to air their grievances.

The Twitter users said they brought the lawsuit to seek a declaration that Trump's actions were unconstitutional and to get an injunction requiring President Trump to unblock their accounts and preventing him from blocking other people because of their views.

How Trump Jr.’s ‘Transparency’ Erodes Trust With the Media

Asked by New York Times reporters about emails revealing that he had agreed to a meeting to hear damaging information about Hillary Clinton proffered by an intermediary for the Russian government, Donald Trump Jr revealed the emails to the public instead. The move was cheered by some of the president’s supporters. They called it a clever way to upend a narrative emerging in the news media that Donald Trump Jr. — whose public explanations of the meeting had evolved several times since The Times revealed it — had not been forthcoming.

Still, political veterans from both parties said that while the pre-emptive publication might register as a short-term win, it could have long-term implications for the Trumps’ ability to shape coverage. Reporters seek comment ahead of an article’s publication to ensure a piece is fair; if the subject leaks the story to a competitor — or, in this case, leaks the information himself — it can be tough to re-establish trust. “You get one mulligan to do it this way, and he just took it,” said Ari Fleischer, a press secretary to President George W. Bush. “He will not get that consideration from the press corps again,” Fleischer said. “The next time something comes up, reporters are going to jam him in, 10 seconds before they hit the ‘send’ button, because they won’t trust him not to do the same thing again.”

Russian Dirt on Clinton? ‘I Love It,’ Donald Trump Jr. Said

The June 3, 2016, e-mail sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton. The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

If the future president’s eldest son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication. He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” Four days later, after a flurry of e-mails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.” Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would most likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.

FCC Chairman Pai Orders Immediate Action on Lifeline Waste, Fraud and Abuse

In a letter to Universal Service Administration Company CEO Vickie Robinson, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai responded to a recent Government Accountability Office report on potential waste, fraud and abuse in the FCC’s Lifeline program and additional internal FCC investigations. “In light of these investigations and their findings, I believe immediate action is warranted.” He called on USAC to implement safeguards in six areas to ensure Universal Service Fund monies are not used by “unscrupulous eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs)”:

  • Audit the ten ETCs with the highest number of potential ineligible Lifeline subscribers
  • Review a sampling of Lifeline subscribers each month to determine if they are eligible
  • Require ETCs to verify Lifeline subscribers’ eligibility and de-enroll any subscribers who are not eligible
  • Refer ETC abuses to the FCC’s Office of Inspector General for possible civil or criminal action
  • For addresses with 500 or more Lifeline subscribers, require ETCs to de-enroll subscribers who cannot verify their address and confirm they are “independent economic households” from other Lifeline subscribers -- and, on a quarterly basis, review in a similar way a sampling of addresses with 25 or more subscribers
  • Recapture improper payments associated with de-enrolled Lifeline subscribers
  • Explore automating the process of detecting oversubscribed addresses
  • Step up efforts to identify “phantom,” deceased and duplicate subscribers, de-enroll them, and prosecute ETCs who collect USF funds for serving these fictitious customers
  • Require Lifeline sales agents to register with USAC, block new subscribers enrolled by sales agents who are registering too many customers, and stepping up prosecution of fraudulent sales agents.

Chairman Pai asked USAC to report to him on implementation of these safeguards by August 8, 2017.

President Trump defends Trump Jr.: 'I applaud his transparency'

President Donald Trump praised his son, Donald Trump Jr., who is under fire for meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have compromising information about Trump's Democratic rival in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton. “My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency,” President Trump said in a brief statement, which White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders read to reporters during an off-camera briefing.

President Trump had previously remained silent on the growing controversy surrounding the meeting at the height of the campaign. The revelation has shaken the White House, which for months has struggled to contain the fallout from a wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s election-meddling effort in 2016. Sanders acknowledged that, “the president is, I would say, frustrated with the process of the fact that this continues to be an issue.”

Virginia is First State to Opt in to AT&T FirstNet Plan

Virginia is expected to be the first state to opt in to AT&T FirstNet plans to build a wireless public safety network that ultimately will interconnect with public safety networks in all 50 states. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe announced the decision at an event July 11.

For Every 1 Net Neutrality Comment, Internet & Cable Providers Spent $100 on Lobbying Over Decade

Three of the largest internet service providers and the cable television industry’s primary trade association have spent more than a half-billion dollars lobbying the federal government during the past decade on issues that include network neutrality, according to a MapLight analysis.

Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) have spent $572 million on attempts to influence the Federal Communications Commission and other government agencies since 2008. The amount represents more than $100 for each of the 5.6 million public comments on the FCC’s proposed elimination of net neutrality rules. Despite the resources devoted to the rollback by the big internet service providers, net neutrality advocates haven’t been totally bereft of support in the nation’s capital. Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has spent $41.1 million lobbying in the nation’s capital. Facebook, which boasts 2 billion unique monthly users, has spent almost $43.3 million.

Paying Professors: Inside Google’s Academic Influence Campaign

Google operates a little-known program to harness the brain power of university researchers to help sway opinion and public policy, cultivating financial relationships with professors at campuses from Harvard University to the University of California, Berkeley. Over the past decade, Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying stipends of $5,000 to $400,000, The Wall Street Journal found.

Some researchers share their papers before publication and let Google give suggestions, according to thousands of pages of e-mails obtained by the Journal in public-records requests of more than a dozen university professors. The professors don’t always reveal Google’s backing in their research, and few disclosed the financial ties in subsequent articles on the same or similar topics. The funding of favorable campus research to support Google’s Washington, D.C.-based lobbying operation is part of a behind-the-scenes push in Silicon Valley to influence decision makers. The operation is an example of how lobbying has escaped the confines of Washington’s regulated environment and is increasingly difficult to spot.

Lawsuit alleges President Trump violated 1st Amendment by blocking US citizens on Twitter

With each tweet, President Trump says he’s redefining the American presidency, describing his use of social media as “modern day presidential” and necessary to fight what he deems fake news. Not everyone agrees on the substance of Trump’s social media message, but both his supporters and detractors have something in common: They want access to Trump’s frenetic Twitter feed. Which is why the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of seven Twitter users who say their 1st Amendment rights were violated after they were blocked from reading Trump’s personal account (@realDonaldTrump, not the official @POTUS account) after criticizing him or his policies. The suit, filed in US District Court in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, names President Trump, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and White House director of social media Dan Scavino as defendants. The Knight Institute sent a letter to the White House in June threatening legal action if it didn’t heed its call to unblock followers.

President Trump Has Secretive Teams to Roll Back Regulations, Led by Hires With Deep Industry Ties

President Donald Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations. But the effort — a signature theme in Trump’s populist campaign for the White House — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.

Most government agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But ProPublica and The New York Times identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone. The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.