Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tore into Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday, grilling him over the creation of the agency’s “disinformation governance board.”
During a tense exchange at a Senate hearing, Paul asked Mayorkas whether the infamous anti-Trump dossier included “Russian disinformation.” Mayorkas, however, declined to directly answer the question, triggering a heated back-and-forth about the scope of the highly controversial government office.
“Here’s my question: The FBI concludes that the Steele dossier was full of Russian disinformation. CNN propagated this disinformation gladly for years and years,” Paul said. “The difference, I guess, between your opinion and our opinion is that as despicable as it is that CNN propagated this disinformation, I wouldn’t shut them down, I wouldn’t lecture them, I wouldn’t put it on a government website that CNN is wrong for propagating disinformation.”
“The problem you have is you’re not even willing to admit — I mean, we can’t even have an agreement on what the FBI said was disinformation,” Paul added, noting that failing to agree on what is and what is not “disinformation” is a serious issue.
In response, Mayorkas said the board would not be responsible for policing disinformation writ large, but only “when there is a connectivity between disinformation and threats to security of the homeland.”
“Well, the Russians might be considered that. You mentioned the Russians the other day when you tried to pivot away from this being about censorship,” Paul fired back. “Let’s just say … you’ve discovered tomorrow Russian disinformation that is going to hurt our national security, and CNN is broadcasting it, what are you going to do?”
Mayorkas then presented an example of combatting immigration-related disinformation on social media. But what about Russian disinformation? After all, DHS said a key goal of the board is combatting Russian disinformation.
“Here’s the problem: We can’t even agree what disinformation is. You can’t even agree that it was disinformation that the Russians fed information to the Steele dossier,” Paul noted. “If you can’t agree to that, how are we ever going to come to an agreement on what is disinformation so you can police it on social media?”
Mayorkas responded that the board is tasked with ensuring there are “guardrails, definitions, standards” that protect civil rights, privacy, and free speech.
“I think you’ve got no idea what disinformation is,” Paul shot back.
“Do you know who the greatest propagator of disinformation in the history of the world is? The U.S. government.”
“Think of all the debates and disputes we’ve had over the last 50 years in our country. We work them out by debating them. We don’t work them out by having the government being the arbiter. I don’t want guardrails. I want you to have nothing to do with speech,” Paul added.
“You think the American people are so stupid they need you to tell them what the truth is?”
“You can’t even admit what the truth is with the Steele dossier. I don’t trust government to figure out what the truth is,” Paul said.
During the hearing, Mayorkas also admitted that he was unaware that Nina Jankowicz, the executive director of the disinformation board, called the Hunter Biden laptop story Russian disinformation.