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House Homeland Security Committee Subpoenas 8chan Owner (thehill.com)
83 points by tareqak 68 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments

I'm a bit confused about House committee subpoenas. It seems like they're really not all that important. Some folks, notably Attorney General William Barr, and ex-White house lawyer Don McGahn. Former White House staffers Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson (McGahn's aide) were told not to comply by the White House.

But clearly some people do have to comply, otherwise the subpoenas would be invitations, right? I'm confused about who has to comply, and for who a subpoena is optional.

Refusal to respond to a subpoena will result in you being found in contempt of Congress. Congress then has several options, ranging from referring you to the DOJ for prosecution to referring the citation to a federal court, effectively converting the subpoena/contempt into contempt of court, or literally imprisoning you in the House basement, which will never happen but it's amusing to note that they technically have that authority.

Subpoenas of administration officials complicate this because the primary vehicle Congress has for enforcing contempt citations is a referral to the DOJ, which is part of the administration; a civil referral is, I think? its own kind of civil suit, which is time-consuming and complicated, and it's likely that the House majority will keep their powder dry on referrals about administration officials until they have a really good case.

But random civilians aren't so fortunate, and can effectively be compelled to testify, and it's likely that Congress would not have much trouble getting their subpoena enforced.

> enforcing contempt citations is a referral to the DOJ, which is part of the administration

Weird, seems like a flaw in the checks-n-balances, a lot like the "American Rule" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_rule_(attorney%27s_fe...) for paying attorney's fees.

That rule, justified in the wikipedia article, is a double edged sword. It allows me to sue a large corporation without the fear that I'm going to run up a million dollar bill because they insist on the best lawyers. Under a system where I have to pay if I lose, I'm not going to want to sue unless I'm 100% sure I'll win, as opposed to just 51% likely under the american rule. Sure, it sometimes leaves people footing the bill for the defense of frivolous lawsuits but it also enables more people to seek justice.

What it is not is a flaw on checks and balances between the branches of government.

> It allows me to sue a large corporation without the fear that I'm going to run up a million dollar bill because they insist on the best lawyers.

That does not follow. In Germany, for example, the winner is entitled to costs up to the statutory hourly rate. Which is the minimum rate lawyers may bill. If you choose a lawyer that bills twenty times as much, your opponent pays only a twentieth.

Out of curiosity, the statutory hourly rate times what? Is there a limit on the number of billable hours that can entail?

The cost of the "best lawyers" doesn't (always/just) mean paying one lawyer an exorbitant amount, it means paying a large team of in-house lawyers, or large legal firm, to spend thousands or tens of thousands of man hours on a case.

The problem here that I see, is when one party hires a lawyer to start the lawsuit and the other party some how gets a pro bono lawyer to defend them in federal court. Defense with a pro bono lawyer dont care as much as time/costs when they are not footing the bill, thus they take every chance to delay, or increase court costs to try and force plaintiff to stop the lawsuit etc. Rule 11 exists for this reason, but its rare to get pushed. (Real issue, dont ask)

It would be if direct referral to DOJ was the only avenue Congress had to enforce contempt, but it's not; disputes between Article I and Article II entities are what Article III exists, in part, to resolve.

Article III resolution would still require enforcement by the executive, as Andrew Jackson famously didn't actually say. So if someone sees this as a 'flaw in checks and balances', it seems it would always be a 'flaw', short of independently arming each branch of government.

I get that that's true, but it would be unprecedented and I think is a little unrealistic. Like, without getting too far into current events politics, I'm not bullish on impeachment, but I think if the executive blows off the federal courts, you find the 67 Senate votes you need.

Whereas, just blowing off a House subpoena is actually not that big a thing; like, they can still go to court and argue that they shouldn't have had to honor it in the first place. It's a whole different level of plausible deniability.

Oh, of course - I just mean that if someone effectively thinks the fact one branch of government holds all of the ultimate enforcement power is some unanticipated flaw in the American system, it boils down to not believing in any kind of constitutional order. You can't article-of-the-constitution it away, it's roundheads and cavaliers.

I did end up in a small clickhole looking for regular schmoes (i.e. not high-level government officials or political operatives) who've been held in contempt of congress and taken it to court. There apparently hasn't been one in decades (so presumably people just comply), except very recently, one of your favourite litigants - backpage.com!

Ugh, fuck those guys.

Furthermore, technically speaking the Sergeant-at-Arms can exercise his authority to arrest the party in question.

It doesn't seem to happen nowadays, but the authority is there. Interestingly, the normal judiciary protections do not seem to necessarily apply. Legislative procedures is becoming an increasingly interesting area of research for me.

> or literally imprisoning you in the House basement, which will never happen but it's amusing to note that they technically have that authority

Surely someone needs to feature this possibility in a movie somehow!

The last time the UK House of Commons used their equivalent power to imprison someone in Big Ben was Charles Bradlaugh in 1880.


That movie definitely needs to feature the Mace of the US House Of Representatives, which is A Thing You Should Definitely Go Look Up.

Over in the UK parliament, grabbing the mace has almost become a trope of renegade MPs. It's a big emergency stop button on proceedings as it represents the monarch's authority and without it parliament has no power.

Most famous are Michael Heseltine, or Oliver Cromwell a couple of years before the UK's brief experiment with republican dictatorship.



"Disciplinary usage"

"In accordance with the House Rules, on the rare occasion that a member becomes unruly, the Sergeant at Arms, upon order of the Speaker, lifts the mace from its pedestal and presents it before the offenders, thereby restoring order. There have been at least six instances where the Mace was used to quell disorder."

"During President Donald Trump's 2019 State of the Union speech, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wore a brooch styled after the Mace, presumably as a symbol of her authority as speaker."


> or literally imprisoning you in the House basement, which will never happen but it's amusing to note that they technically have that authority.

I believe that is not true.


What's true is that they can and have imprisoned people. What's not true is that the basement features a jail cell.

Any such order would fall to the Sargent at Arms of the House.

The Sgt. at Arms sits on the board of the US Capitol Police (USCP) and has the authority to request mutual aid from the USCP chief of police.

The USCP does arrest individuals on a semi-frequent basis and places them in holding cells at its headquarters building on D Street Northeast. They can also be held at the DC Department of Corrections' Central Detention Facility on D Street Southeast under USCP authority, just as if they were arrested by any other law enforcement agency in DC.

tl;dr: The House has approximately 2,200 officers and at least a hundred beds at its disposal.

Refusal is illegal, however, in the last two administrations, the DOJ just doesn’t enforce it.

So, we come back to the "it's no a problem for certain people to refuse to comply". How do I get to be one of "those people"?

Get elected President so that your refusal implicates a constitutional controversy rather than a fit of pique.

Jim is from the Philippines. I don't know if he has U.S. citizenship. Perhaps he is just responding as a courtesy to help diffuse some political tensions around his site / business in the same way that Moot did regarding 4chan.


> The House Homeland Security leaders previously asked Watkins to "provide testimony regarding 8chan's efforts to investigate and mitigate the proliferation of extremist content"

This seems... fairly self evident? What do they want his testimony for, except a dog and pony show?

I had the same thought, there's not much he has to do and the first amendment protects him. Maybe there's some potential civil liability if he profits off running 8chan and provides the white nationalists haven, but that's it.

Maybe they'll accuse him of Aiding and Abetting?

Did 8chan even have any legal obligations to do what they are asking about?

If the content it hosts violates the law, then yes. Granted, 1st Amendment protections extend beyond what I typically find people believe it covers. Illegal content mostly falls under the category of:

1. Credible, specific, and actionable threats.

2. Illegal videos & images (CSE, I think revenge porn might fall into that category now).

3. Recruitment or tangible assistance to terrorist groups.

Even things like broad threats of violence are protected by the 1st Amendment (e.g. calling for killing of groups of people, provided the statements do not amount to specific or actionable threats). See this case as one example of this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandenburg_v._Ohio

Great info thank you!

In 8chan's case, I believe that Section 230 is mostly what protects them.

> efforts to investigate and mitigate the proliferation of extremist content

Since the focus is "content", this reaks of trying to violate the 1st amendment.

Sometimes I wonder if our government should be involved in this at all given that (1) the country was founded by people that would have been characterized as extremists by the crown prior to 1776, and (2) the ability to challenge the government through violence if necessary is natural right of the people when that government no longer represents the will of the people.

As much as I disagree with those fomenting the violence in this instance (El Paso, Dayton and others), my fear in allowing government additional powers beyond what they already have is that some day it might be me, my family, my community and others that share my values that find themselves at odds with the government of the day, and if that day should come I don't want there to be an omnipresent, omnipotent government that curtails unalienable rights that afford us life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The US government is supposed to be subservient to the people and the states by design, not vice versa.

I remember reading posts from Watkins on gab.com recently along the lines of the manifesto being posted first to Twitter - If true, I expect that to change things, all else being equal.

He claimed it had been posted to Instagram first, Hotwheels contests this and it would have been unlikely considering it was posted to 8chan in a PDF and the user would have had to go through the trouble of compiling images from Instagram into a PDF

Sheesh, the fourth estate (whom Congress ultimately answers to) is really beating the drum around the democratization of media-incited violence. Disruption is a bitter pill to swallow!

The truth of the matter is that these recent senseless acts of violence are better seen as a scaling down of the status quo. Historically, mass media would rile up the entire country against a different whole country, creating an all-out war. This new trend is of isolated groups egging on lone members to directly commit an act of "war" at an intrinsically small scale.

The Iraq War was an act of media-incited senseless violence, with around 60,000 direct deaths. None of its cheerleaders were criminally prosecuted for speaking the untruths used to fuel it. Why are we panicking and abandoning our longstanding value of Free Speech over a comparatively tiny number of casualties from what are better described as ordinary crimes? Every single human death is its own tragedy, but wisdom cannot prevail when ignoring a sense of scale.

I have two questions; maybe someone more in-the-know on procedure can answer them:

1. Sounds like this will be done by phone call. Will there be recordings or transcripts made public; is it closed even to reporters?

2. Is this expected to be mostly technical/fact-finding or emotional/political posturing? Frankly I'm not even sure how the usual Democrat/Republican split looks in this case.

> "The bill could create a bipartisan commission of experts tasked with drawing up recommendations to deal with the "intersection of homeland security and social media," a committee spokesperson told The Hill."

This is just going to be political theater. Everyone already knows that unmoderated anonymous boards are cesspools of hate, the obvious recommendation is to do moderation. The government can't infringe on free speech, so this is a waste of time. What are you hoping to get out of him?

Only way this turns out to be substantive is if it leads to a push from the Democrats toward a constitutional amendment in regards to hate speech, which I could see happening.

> What are you hoping to get out of him?

Sound bites that you can use to get votes. What else?

Or, less cynically, a public airing of the various arguments and points of view around this issue?

How many people will watch the hearing on C-Span and how many will watch the condensed and heavily editorialized version released by the news source most closely aligned with the preexisting political opinion?

So use mental illness (and shills) to push an agenda.

These conversations are pointless without the ack that free speech forums are attacked with the most effective methods available. Open forums are not the rule, they are the exception. They are existential threats to conventional power centers.

Do you really not wonder what the most effective way to attack an open forum is?

I'm not sure there is a 'right answer'. This is a tough question that I do not expect the lawmakers to get correct.

A more valid answer might involve increasing taxes, and actually funding a department within an existing agency so that existing laws could actually be executed. It might involve directing IT at those offices to provide a stable submission interface that would be useful for outside interests such as browser creators and website administers to direct reports of abuse to. That could then be used to actually review the content and forward it to local enforcement authorities and/or courts if necessary.

Offhand, I think that's probably the closest thing to a real solution I can come up with in 5-10 min.

I don't expect attempts at solutions like these to be brought up, and I don't think a session like this is necessary to bring forward an attempt like that. What can the owner of 8chan provide as useful information about this? The relevant legal procedures for violent speech are already known to Congress.

The number of unconstitutional laws passed suggest to me that they either don't know or don't care.

The only "useful" (to congress) information that I can see gleaned as a result of this is that congress has a news headline to say they're doing something... which is technically information; even if the thing they're doing seems (to me) to be unlikely to actually provide any useful data towards a solution.

Praying that his phone accidentally goes off mid-finger-wagging. "Never gonna give you up..."

Doesn't the guy who runs it live in the Philippines? Is the USA playing Team America: World Police or do they have jurisdiction?

If you read the article you would know he's currently visiting Reno, NV and is voluntarily going

You caught me. But it is bewildering that somebody in his questionable legal circumstances would willingly visit the USA. Most of the other people who run sites like 8chan relocate to obscure regions with no extradition.

What "questionable legal circumstances"? He runs a forum, he's not selling drugs and guns on the dark web...

He's still a citizen of the US and 8chan operates as a US company.

Here is a graph of how this thread trended: http://hnrankings.info/20709448/ .

Would you please stop doing this?

Also, please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and don't submit stories like this. Garden-variety politics is dime-a-dozen and off topic here. "Committee issues subpoena" is not a significant story, let alone an intellectually interesting one—even less than "politician introduces bill".

Sorry 'dang. I’ll stop submitting stories like this one.

As for linking the graph of how a thread ranked, I’ll stop doing that too. However, could you also please call it out in the guidelines too then? The second last point of In Comments seems like the most appropriate place:

> Please don't comment about the voting on comments. It never does any good, and it makes boring reading.

Hopefully the IRS audits him too.

This is not a good thing to hope for. We don't weaponize clerical agencies for criminal, civil, or political purposes. It's a very bad idea, and will come back to bite you when the "other side" gets power.

Yup. Everyone remembers what happened with the whole IRS/Teaparty thing.

Isn't that typically what happens though when you can't nail someone on anything else?

It's how they nailed Al Capone after all.


Please stop spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt. There is unambiguously zero evidence that any of the constructs you have cited are an accurate representation of reality.


Oh my. A President that is enforcing laws that have been on the books for years.

Likelihood of becoming a public charge has been grounds for inadmissibility long befor Trump came along.

And, Clinton signed the law requiring sponsors to pay back any benefits their sponsored immigrant(s) may have used. (All legal immigrants require a sponsor who swears to cover any and all expenses associated with the immigrant in the case where the immigrant cannot pay themselves) The sponsor is on the hook until the immigrant naturalizes or has done 40 months of legal work in the US. Note, there are plenty of exceptions for refugees and such.

> The new criteria for “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” due to take effect Oct. 15

New criteria.

As far back as 1952 "paupers, professional beggars, or vagrants" have been inadmissible. (Actually first introduced in 1882)

Since then there have been many amendments (usually adding exceptions).

It is not unreasonable, but for specific exceptions, to deny visas to persons that are likely to require public benefits.

The federal statutes have been that way for a long time, currently 100,000s of immigrants have to under go public charge scrutiny. Trump is expanding the criteria/test but it still looks like it is within the law.


There are other places on the internet that would be better suited for this content please.

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