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EXCLUSIVE: Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee are demanding more details on the Biden administration’s recently announced “Disinformation Governance Board” amid concerns about free speech protections.
Writing to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas with “sincere concern” Thursday, the 13 Republican members of the committee demanded Mayorkas provide basic information to the committee including the disinformation board’s organization, members, schedule and recommendations. They also scolded Mayorkas for a confusing rollout of the board, according to the letter first obtained by Fox News Digital.
“Your recent testimony and media statements regarding the board, as well as a recent briefing for Committee staff, have only created more questions and concern,” says the letter, led by Ranking Member Rep. Jon Katko, R-N.Y.
“This Committee will carry out rigorous oversight of this board,” the Republicans continue. “In addition to further explanation regarding the establishment of the board, the American people deserve continued transparency surrounding the board’s discussions, decisions, and actions.”
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas testifies before the House Committee on Appropriations I Subcommittee Homeland Security Committee during a hearing on Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the Department of Homeland Security on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Mayorkas first announced that DHS had created a disinformation board to combat online misinformation during a House Appropriations Committee hearing last week.
“The goal is to bring the resources of (DHS) together to address this threat,” Mayorkas said during the April 28 hearing, adding that the department is focused on the spread of disinformation in minority communities ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
Lawmakers on the right and left have criticized the board immediately following Mayorkas’ announcement. Many are also skeptical of the executive director heading up the board, Nina Jankowicz, who previously was a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center, for repeating statements dismissing the Hunter Biden laptop story “Trump campaign product” and a “Russian influence op.”
Mayorkas said during a hearing Wednesday that he was not aware of Jankowicz’ statements on the Hunter Biden laptop, but also said he would not discuss internal hiring process. Mayorkas added that “as the secretary of homeland security I am responsible for the decisions of the department, and it is my understanding that Ms. Jankowicz is a subject-matter expert in the field in which she will be working on behalf of the department.”
Mayorkas also stated that the board would not have “operational authority.”
Nina Jankowicz will be the executive director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Governance Board. (@wiczipedia Twitter account)
“The same party that spent years promoting the Russia collusion hoax, suppressed the Hunter Biden laptop story, & equated parents to terrorists believes it has credibility to control your speech,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., tweeted Friday. “Biden must immediately abandon his plan to create an Orwellian Ministry of Truth.”
House Homeland Security Republicans demanded Mayorkas provide information on the board’s membership, meeting agendas, budgetary requirements and past work, in addition to how the board came about in the first place.
The letter requests DHS provide “The establishing charter of the Disinformation Governance Board, including the purpose, goals, and authority of such board, as well as any changes or updates to that charter as those occur going forward.”
The GOP also wants “A list of private sector entities, including social media companies, which the Disinformation Governance Board and its members interact with, as well as details regarding those interactions.”
The letter states that the information Republicans are seeking is the kind that is routinely provided by government entities to Congress and the public.
“Considering that fact, as well as the constitutional concerns which have arisen from the Department’s involvement in matters such as this, these are standards that must be met for the sake of transparency,” the letter states.
In response to a request for comment, DHS directed Fox News Digital to a fact sheet published Monday that states the department is committed to protecting civil liberties, including freedom of speech. The department “identifies disinformation that threatens the homeland through publicly available sources, research conducted by academic and other institutions, and information shared by other federal agencies and partners,” according to the fact sheet, then “shares factual information related to its mission to potentially impacted people and organizations.”
“There has been confusion about the working group, its role, and its activities,” the fact sheet on the disinformation board states. “The reaction to this working group has prompted DHS to assess what steps we should take to build the trust needed for the Department to be effective in this space.”
The White House defended the DHS board, saying this week that it would operate in a “nonpartisan,” “apolitical” manner.
“What this would do is continue [CISA’s] work, and it would help coordinate internal activities from the department related to disinformation that poses a threat to the homeland,” Psaki said Monday. “The mandate is not to adjudicate what is true or false, online or otherwise. It will operate in a nonpartisan and apolitical manner. It’s basically meant to coordinate a lot of the ongoing work that is happening.”
Fox News’ Jessica Chasmar contributed to this report.