What I Told the Washington Post About the Suspension of Donald Trump From Twitter
Some unpublished elements of my interview with Travis Andrews.
You may have seen that on January 11, the Washington Post published an interview with me—among several other political commentators—about Twitter’s suspension of Donald Trump’s Twitter account. The Post noted that I “became one of the most prominent voices calling for Trump’s removal from the platform in 2017.”
While the Post published a nice selection of my comments to the author of the article, Travis Andrews, and while the article was a well-written and thorough one, I thought I’d augment the piece by offering to Proof newsletter subscribers some of the other remarks I made to Washington’s newspaper-of-record.
First and most importantly, I told the Post that I’ve believed since 2017 that Twitter should treat all its users equally—and that since Trump was a near-daily violator of Twitter’s Terms of Service beginning in 2017 (at the very latest), he deserved suspension for his outrageous conduct in much the same way any of the rest of us would have had we acted the same.
Second, I said to Andrews during our interview that my assessment as an attorney was that Trump had on a number of occasions used Twitter to commit crimes, most notably witness tampering and intimidation. I noted in particular a startling exchange between House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich in the fall of 2019; Trump threatened Yovanovich as she was in the midst of live, televised testimony before Congress. When Schiff asked her in real time whether the president’s words had been intimidating to her as a federal witness, she answered in the affirmative.
Of course, we also witnessed the president engaging in similarly egregious tampering with respect to other witnesses in ongoing federal investigations, whether it be Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort, Roger Stone or Michael Flynn. And as we all recall, Trump also sometimes used his account to bully, harass, or even directly threaten his real or perceived enemies—even though he knew doing so could put them in mortal danger. This was certainly the case with military veteran, national security official, and now–national hero Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman during Trump’s January 2020 impeachment trial; Vindman asked for and receiving federal protection for himself and his family due to the volume of threats Trump’s public vituperation over Vindman’s impeachment-inquiry testimony occasioned.
Third, I told the Post that while certain Twitter users certainly used Trump’s account to gain followers—responding to many or even nearly all of his tweets in a bid to gain attention from large masses of his followers and critics alike—I had never followed Donald Trump’s Twitter, had only responded to it on exceedingly rare occasion, had never set up an “alert” for his tweets, and never (indeed) considered his Twitter account to be a particularly useful window into anything worth considering. I noted to Andrews that my Proof trilogy only cited the president’s Twitter in instances in which his tweets betrayed his prior deceit on a matter of national import.
Fourth and finally, I emphasized to Andrews that the deletion of Trump’s account should be placed in a historical context: it occurred in the midst of a mass deletion of tens of thousands of accounts with notably dangerous dimensions, specifically with respect to the domestic terror movement known as “QAnon.” I pointed out that, along with Trump, Twitter had deleted accounts by Trump legal adviser Lin Wood (who was at the time inciting murderous rage against Vice President Pence, likely in contravention of federal criminal law); former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was then demanding Trump improperly invoke the Insurrection Act and establish martial law to force farcical “re-votes” in selected states that Trump lost in November 2020; and disgraced former prosecutor Sidney Powell, whose conspiracy theories about long-dead Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and Dominion voting systems helped fuel Trump’s January 6 insurrection. I maintain that we can’t understand the purging of Trump’s Twitter account unless we understand, too, the broad campaign again domestic incitement of terrorism that Twitter was engaged in at the time it shuttered @realdonaldtrump.
One final note that only folks who subscribe to this Proof newsletter will hear: I have been one of the relatively few (under 5,000) accounts followed by Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s founder, since approximately 2017. I was always quite proud of this, if I’m honest, as my understanding is that Dorsey makes it a habit to follow Twitter accounts he believes make innovative and/or important use(s) of the platform he developed.
On the day Jack green-lit the suspension of Donald Trump’s Twitter account, he unfollowed me. To be very clear, I’m reasonably certain it wasn’t based on any conduct on my part—my post-insurrection tweets have largely reflected the consensus opinion about the event as seen and heard on major media across the country and the globe—but rather, I think Jack was so sensitive to the criticism he felt he’d face in suspending Trump’s Twitter account permanently that he purged his “follow” list of certain high-traffic progressive Twitter feeds Trumpists find enraging. Being caught following @sethabramson on the day you’ve banned @realdonaldtrump risked giving supporters of the president all the pretext they would need to falsely allege a double-standard.
While there’s no connection between how I run my Twitter feed and how the president ran his—I’ve always (with the exception of a single tweet, years ago, that accidentally included someone’s email address in a screenshot) been Terms of Service-compliant, and have been adamant about fully sourcing any news I post—there is a connection between the ire aroused on the left by Trump’s lies and the ire aroused on the right by my accurate, fact-checked, meticulously sourced curatorial journalism.
I remain hopeful that when the current cloud over our nation has passed, Jack—again, a follower of my Twitter feed for years—will return himself to that status. While I realize I may be fooling myself, I guess time will tell. On a brighter note, Biden’s new National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, followed my Twitter feed on the very day he was named to his new post; it was Sullivan’s only new follow for two weeks thereafter. Hopefully this is a sign that the major-media investigative reports my feed curates, even as and when they’re ones that wrongly fell through the cracks long ago, are being seen at the highest levels of the incoming Biden administration.