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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), in a letter Friday to the Justice and Treasury departments, is calling for a criminal investigation of Twitter over allegations the company is violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Why it matters: Twitter is already under fire from President Trump for adding fact checks and a warning label, respectively, to misleading and incendiary tweets he made in recent days. Cruz's letter adds another dimension to the tech company's woes in Washington.

Details: Twitter allows Iranian leaders to maintain accounts on its service, and Cruz is asking Attorney General Bill Barr and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to probe whether that violates U.S. sanctions prohibiting American companies from providing goods or services to the country's top officials.

  • "I believe that the primary goal of (the International Emergency Economic Powers Act) and sanctions law should be to change the behavior of designated individuals and regimes, not American companies," Cruz wrote."But when a company willfully and openly violates the law after receiving formal notice that it is unlawfully supporting designated individuals, the federal government should take action."

The big picture: Twitter has said it's in the public interest to have political figures' speech on its platform, even if some find that speech objectionable.

  • The company on Friday labeled a tweet from Trump about the unrest in Minneapolis as breaking its rules on "glorifying violence."
  • The White House and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, among other prominent conservatives, questioned why Twitter hasn't applied similar labels to tweets from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Background: Cruz led an earlier letter from Republican senators to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in February, calling on the company to ban Iranian leaders, including Khamenei and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The senators suggested providing the accounts may violate U.S. sanctions.

  • Twitter responded in April, arguing that its service is exempt from the sanctions, and that the public conversation on the platform is critically important during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • "Fundamental values of openness, free expression, public accountability, and mutual understanding matter now more than ever," Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's legal, public policy & trust and safety lead, wrote. "Regardless of the political agenda of a particular nation state, to deny our service to their leaders at a time like this would be antithetical to the purpose of our company, which is to serve the global public conversation."
  • Twitter declined to comment on the new Cruz letter.

Flashback: Cruz talked to Axios' Dan Primack on the Pro Rata podcast last year to discuss allegations that major tech platforms are biased against conservatives.

Go deeper

Twitter account linked to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hacked

Narendra Modi. Photo: Prakash Singh/AFP via Getty Images

Twitter confirmed on Wednesday night that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's personal account has been hacked, with tweets that have since been taken down asking his 2.5 million followers to donate to a cryptocurrency relief fund.

Why it matters: This hacking follows a similar cryptocurrency scam in July, when hackers took over the accounts of Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and other notable figures.

What they're saying: Twitter said in a statement it's "actively investigating" the hacking of @narendramodi_in. "At this time, we are not aware of additional accounts being impacted," it said.

Go deeper: Twitter hack raises fears of an unstable election

First-time homebuyers shrink as prices spike

Data: National Association of Realtors; Chart: Axios Visuals

Home sales cooled as prices continued to heat up in August.

Driving the news: The share of first-time existing homebuyers (29%) last month was the smallest in two years, according to new data from the National Association of Realtors.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - World

Airbnb doubles number of Afghan refugees it will house to 40,000

Afghan refugees arriving at Dulles International Airport in Virginia in August 2021. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and co-founder Joe Gebbia said during a visit to Washington on Wednesday that they're offering temporary housing to 40,000 Afghan refugees worldwide, doubling a previous commitment.

The big picture: The housing typically lasts several weeks, and Airbnb and Airbnb.org provide subsidies to hosts.