Back from holiday vacation, I found an interesting email waiting for me in my inbox from Matt Taibbi, the independent journo Elon Musk tasked with reviewing and releasing internal Twitter documents about decisions to censor content and ban users from the platform.
“Paul,” Taibbi wrote, “just found a crazy email on Twitter — did you know Adam Schiff’s staff . . . asked Twitter to have you banned?”
I was gobsmacked. This would explain why Twitter could never give me a reason for suspending my account, even though I had broken none of its rules.
Schiff, the powerful Democratic chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, made his “request” to ban me through his staff in a November 2020 memo to Twitter. Three months later, in early February 2021, I was kicked off the platform.
Why would a congressional leader sworn to protect the Constitution and First Amendment want to muzzle a veteran journalist? Like authoritarians everywhere, Schiff did not like critical reporting. The man who vowed to “protect our Democracy” from Donald Trump wanted to censor a free press.
In articles for RealClearInvestigations, I outed his anonymous “whistleblower” from the first impeachment of President Trump. It was Eric Ciaramella, a Democrat who had worked in the Trump White House as an Obama holdover. I also exposed Ciaramella’s prior relationship with one of Schiff’s top staffers on the impeachment committee, Sean Misko. The request for the journalist’s page to be banned reportedly came from a 2020 memo. Ron Sachs/CNP / SplashNews.com
My reporting cast fresh doubts on Schiff’s claims that the 2019 impeachment process happened organically. The New York Times had already busted Schiff lying about prior contacts with the whistleblower. Initially, Schiff publicly stated his office never spoke with the whistleblower before he filed his complaint against President Trump, when in fact a Schiff staffer had huddled with him, something Schiff’s spokesman Patrick Boland was forced to admit after the Times broke the story. (The staffer was never identified.) The prior contacts led to suspicions Schiff’s office helped the whistleblower craft his complaint as part of a partisan operation.
In the censorship demands Schiff’s office sent Twitter, Misko and the “impeachment inquiry” are mentioned. It’s not clear if Ciaramella is, too, since some names are blacked out. Schiff demanded Twitter “remove any and all content”’ related to them.
Unlike in other cases where Twitter did censor accounts, officials there originally argued that “this isn’t feasible.”
At the time, Twitter was about the only media outlet where the names of Schiff’s impeachment operatives were circulating. The Washington press corps had conspired to protect the so-called whistleblower and cover up his identity. The Washington Post even scolded me for identifying him, claiming I was putting his life in danger. But this was a bluff. I was told by his family, as well as impeachment investigators, that he had received no credible threats.
In his list of demands, Schiff tried to justify banning me by claiming I was promoting “false QAnon conspiracies,” which I have never done and I challenge Schiff to produce evidence to back up his defamatory remarks.
Schiff knew better. He knew “QAnon” was a trigger for Twitter censors, who were suppressing QAnon posts. Yet even Twitter’s liberal gatekeepers appeared skeptical of Schiff’s claims: “If it is related to QAnon it should already be deamplified.” (Emphasis in original.)
Sperry’s Twitter seemingly caught Schiff’s attention during the first impeachment of former President Trump. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Schiff knows something about promoting false conspiracies. In 2017, he took to the microphone in a televised House Intelligence Committee hearing and read into the congressional record a screed of wild conspiracy theories about Trump and Russia from the Hillary Clinton campaign-funded dossier.
He trumpeted them as if they were fact. But they were false — every one of them — as Special Counsel John Durham has proven in court documents, expanding on what Justice Department watchdog Michael Horowitz found in his earlier report.
We now know most of the preposterous rumors Schiff dramatically read into the public record came from a source who was invented by the dossier’s authors. In his hyping of the dossier, Schiff smeared and defamed not only Trump, but also Carter Page, a low-level Trump campaign adviser, whom Schiff falsely painted as a Russian agent.
The next year, Schiff would be caught lying about the so-called Nunes Memo exposing FBI abuse of the FISA wiretap process to spy on Page. Schiff claimed then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes misled the public when he said the FBI heavily relied on the debunked dossier to swear out the warrants. In his own memo, Schiff, as ranking member, insisted the FBI’s warrants were based on other evidence and were above-board.
In 2019, the scathing Horowitz Report proved it was Nunes who was telling the truth. Schiff, who had access to the same classified FISA information as Nunes, knew better.
This is the real spreader of falsehoods. Nonetheless, Twitter promised Schiff they would “review” my account — “again,” which suggests this wasn’t the first time Schiff had tried to silence me. Or the last. Were there other communications? Phone calls? Texts?
Months after Schiff lobbied Twitter to ban me and remove all the impeachment-related content from its platform, his communications director and chief of staff — Patrick Boland — tried to intimidate my editors at RCI into retracting the impeachment stories I broke a year earlier.
Schiff had called for different key words and topics, including QAnon, to be “deamplified.”MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
In his emails, Boland invoked “the events of January 6,” warning our stories could “result in actual violence” if they remained online. Over time, Boland’s demands became more and more strident. But my editors refused to give in to the bullying.
It wasn’t about “safety.” It was about wanting to avoid any scrutiny for their actions.
After joining Twitter in June 2016, I tweeted more than 20,100 tweets and I amassed more than 340,000 followers — all without any problems, without any suspensions. Until Schiff exercised his vendetta against me.
He appears to have secretly interfered with my ability to do my job for almost two years. Calling Twitter “social media” is a misnomer. In many ways, Twitter is simply the media now. As a working journalist, you need Twitter to do your job. News is broken there. Corporations and government post their press releases there. Key information and data are archived there.
If a powerful government official prevented me from promoting my stories, including my New York Post columns, on the nation’s digital town square, how is that not state censorship?
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, now battling for the speakership, has vowed to block Schiff from serving as the intelligence panel’s top Democrat. But Schiff has bigger ambitions. He is said to be planning a run at the Senate, where he could arguably have more power and influence to silence free speech.
Sperry is a senior reporter for RealClearInvestigations.com, a New York Post columnist and a bestselling author. Follow him and his work on his (now-restored) Twitter account @paulsperry_