Facebook’s Elliot Schrage said Definers’ Soros campaign was ‘legitimate’
Facebook’s move to tie groups opposed to the company with billionaire investor George Soros was “completely legitimate,” its top public-relations official said Wednesday. Elliot Schrage characterized the move as in the interests of transparency and honesty in public debate. Schrage didn’t address the effort’s echoes to longstanding anti-Semitic smears about Soros. SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook’s head of communications on Wednesday defended the company’s decision to go after liberal financier George Soros, saying it was “completely legitimate.”
The company’s move to publicize Soros’ ties to groups critical of Facebook represented an effort at transparency and honesty that’s needed in public debate, said Elliot Schrage, the social-networking giant’s outgoing vice president of communications and public policy, during a panel discussion at the Atlantic’s Free Speech (Un)Limited conference here. Schrage didn’t discuss the anti-Semitic overtones of the effort, which echoed longstanding far-right conspiracy theories that Soros is secretly funding a wide range of efforts to undermine American society.
Asked about the company’s efforts regarding Soros and what it says about Facebook’s commitment to free speech, Schrage answered:
“I think the principle that somebody who is a critic of yours, an investor who criticizes you in a public debate — if they’re going to enter the public fray, I don’t think it’s at all illegitimate … to transparently communicate about that,” he said.
He continued: “I think that’s a completely legitimate thing to do.”
Schrage noted that he wasn’t defending “all of the things that every consultant has done for Facebook,” and referered to his previous blog post acknowledging his own “failure” for the scope of Facebook’s work with Definers, a Republican-affiliated opposition research firm that oversaw the anti-Soros effort.
Notably, Schrage did not refute the hypotehtical notion, which was also part of the question, that Facebook could go after journalists that are critical of the company.
Already under fire for a series of scandals and fiascos dating back to the 2016 election, Facebook has faced particularly harsh criticism since last month when The New York Times reported on its anti-Soros effort . The company has since acknowledged the substance of the report, that it hired a public relations firm named Definers Public Affairs and had it investigate Soros after he harshly criticized the company at the Davos conference earlier this year. Definers later encouraged reporters to write about his connections to anti-Facebook groups.
Read this: Facebook reportedly had its Republican-linked PR firm try to blame George Soros for the anti-Facebook movement
Facebook has sent mixed messages on its Soros effort Soros’ foundation has funded some of the groups involved in the Freedom From Facebook effort. But Soros, his foundation, and the anti-Facebook groups have denied that he directly funded their efforts against the social networking company.
After the news broke about the effort, company CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg first denied knowing about it, but defended the effort to investigate Soros. Schrage previously apologized for not apparently being aware of the anti-Soros effort, saying he was sorry for letting down his team but not being on top of it. Sandberg, meanwhile, has said the company didn’t intend “to play into an anti-Semitic narrative against Mr. Soros.”
Despite her initial denial of knowledge about Definers and its efforts, Sandberg has since acknowledged that she was alerted via emails about the company’s work with Definers . Meanwhile, in a separate article, The Times reported that she herself ordered Facebook’s communications department to investigate Soros’ potential financial motivations to attack the company after his Davos speech.
In the wake of the report, many commentators have called on Sandberg and even Zuckerberg to resign or be fired. In response to a question at the conference, Schrage defended Zuckerberg, saying the latter has been “an extraordinary leader.” He also reiterated that he, not Zuckerberg or Sandberg, was responsible for the hiring of Definers and the anti-Soros effort.
“My teams were responsible for what happened,” he said. “I accept responsibility for what happened.”
Facebook quickly cut ties with Definers following the first Times report. Sandberg has tried to reach out to Soros since the Times report, but he hasn’t taken her or returned her calls, BuzzFeed News reported Wednesday.
Schrage’s appearance at the conference followed the release by the British Parliament earlier on Wednesday of documents Facebook attempted to keep secret about how it managed developers’ access to its users’ data. He wasn’t asked and didn’t discuss those documents or what they revealed.
Read about Facebook’s attack on Soros: Facebook’s board needs to get a spine and fire Mark Zuckerberg, marketing guru Scott Galloway said Sheryl Sandberg is on the hot seat at Facebook — but ousting her alone wouldn’t solve its problems Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg isn’t accountable to anyone, so it’s time Congress took away the source of his power Heads ought to roll at Facebook over the Soros smear — starting with Zuck’s
2 attorneys general to subpoena Trump Organization, IRS
2 attorneys general to subpoena Trump Organization, IRS Associated Press 1 hr ago By TAMI ABDOLLAH, Associated Press © The Associated Press FILE – This Dec. 21, 2016 file photo shows the Trump International Hotel at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, in Washington. The attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland plan to file subpoenas seeking records from the Trump Organization, the IRS and other entities in their lawsuit accusing Donald Trump of profiting off the presidency. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) WASHINGTON — The attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland plan to file subpoenas Tuesday seeking records from the Trump Organization, the Internal Revenue Service and dozens of other entities as part of a lawsuit accusing Donald Trump of profiting off the presidency.
The flurry of subpoenas came a day after U.S. District Court Judge Peter J. Messitte approved a brisk schedule for discovery in the case alleging that foreign and domestic government spending at Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel amounts to gifts to the president in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
The subpoenas target more than 30 Trump-linked private entities and the federal agency that oversees the lease for Trump’s D.C. hotel. Subpoenas were also being sent to the Department of Defense, General Services Administration, Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture and the IRS, all of which have spent taxpayer dollars at the hotel.
Other Trump entities that officials plan to subpoena include those related to his D.C. hotel and its management.
The Maryland attorney general’s office confirmed the targets of the subpoenas to The Associated Press as they were being prepared Tuesday.
The subpoenas focus on answering three questions: which foreign domestic governments are paying the Trump International Hotel in Washington, where that money is going and how Trump’s hotel is affecting the hospitality industry in the District of Columbia and Maryland.
To help answer those questions, the subpoenas are asking for records of payments to Trump from state government and federal agencies that patronized the hotel. They’re also seeking information proving that hotel revenues are going to the president through his affiliated entities, including The Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust. Most of the records are being requested back to Jan. 1, 2015.
The Justice Department declined to comment. Neither the Trump Organization nor the White House immediately responded to a request for comment Tuesday.
Trump’s Justice Department lawyers have previously argued that earnings from such business activity as hotels stays don’t qualify as emoluments. And in court papers last week challenging the judge’s decision to move the case forward, Justice lawyers objected to any discovery on a sitting president in order to avoid a “constitutional confrontation.” They also argued that any discovery would “be a distraction to the President’s performance of his constitutional duties.”
Trump’s Justice Department lawyers filed a notice to the court Friday indicating it plans to challenge the Maryland judge’s decision to allow the case to move forward in a Richmond, Virginia, court. The president’s notice that he may seek a writ of mandamus — to have the appeal heard by a higher court — is considered an “extraordinary remedy” that’s hard to prove and partly rests on showing Messitte’s decisions to be clearly wrong.
Because Trump was also the first president in modern history to not release his tax returns, any responsive records would likely provide the first clear picture of the finances of Trump’s business empire as well as his Washington, D.C., hotel.
There is no indication yet that Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine, both Democrats, would push for the president’s tax returns, at least in this initial round of legal discovery, given the sensitive nature of such a request and likely additional delays it would cause. But tax returns for some of Trump’s business entities, including the state and federal tax returns for the Trump Organization, are also being requested.
There is a separate federal lawsuit involving the General Services Administration, which oversees the lease for the hotel with the Trump Organization. Democratic lawmakers last year sued demanding disclosures of records to determine how Trump was approved by the General Services Administration to maintain the lease of the Trump International Hotel in Washington after he became president.
The hotel is housed in the historic Old Post Office, which is owned by the federal government, and its lease has a clause barring any “elected official of the government of the United States” from deriving “any benefit.” Trump and his daughter Ivanka, a senior White House adviser, both retained their stakes in the property.
The plaintiffs’ prior preservation subpoena filing requested documents that concern “marketing to foreign or domestic governments, including members of the diplomatic community” for 23 Trump-linked entities, be saved. Other noted categories for preservation include documents that would identify guests of the hotel and those who have rented event space, details on all finances and “operating leases, permits, licenses, tax payments or credits to or from foreign or domestic governments.”
Maine also received a subpoena, likely because its governor, Republican Paul LePage, stayed at Trump’s hotel in Washington when he had official business to conduct, including discussions with the president. Representatives for LePage’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On one of those trips last year, Trump and LePage appeared together at a news conference at which Trump signed an executive order to review orders of the prior administration that established national monuments within the National Park Service. President Barack Obama had established a park and national monument in Maine over LePage’s objections in 2016.
If there are no delays, legal discovery would conclude in early August.
Follow Tami Abdollah on Twitter at https://twitter.com/latams