Washington, Feb 8 (EFE).- Former Twitter executives facing hostile questioning Wednesday from Republican members of the United States Congress about the platform’s decision in October 2020 to suppress a story on the contents of a laptop computer belonging to Hunter Biden, son of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden.
During a hearing of the Oversight Committee of the House of Representatives, Twitter’s erstwhile deputy general counsel, James Baker; Head of Trust and Safety, Yoel Roth; and chief legal officer, Vijaya Gadde, who denied that the platform had acted under pressure from any government agency when it briefly blocked the New York Post story.
All three left Twitter following the acquisition of the platform by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
The Post’s piece was based on emails and other documents taken from the laptop, which Hunter Biden left at a repair shop in Delaware.
The newspaper received the materials from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, then working for Republican President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.
Materials from the laptop indicated that during Joe Biden’s 2009-2017 tenure as vice president under Barack Obama, Hunter introduced his father to an executive of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings.
Burisma, which employed Hunter Biden as a director, was under investigation by Ukraine’s then-attorney general, Viktor Shokin.
Since winning control of the House in last November’s mid-term elections, the Republicans have signaled their intention to investigate Hunter for allegedly trading on his father’s name and position, as a US senator from 1973-2009 and then as vice president.
Twitter initially decided to suppress the Post story based on the notion that the Hunter Biden documents had been obtained via hacking, but reversed course a day later.
The episode unfolded two weeks before the 2020 presidential election pitting incumbent Trump against Joe Biden.
Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer said Wednesday that by the time Twitter changed its mind, “the damage had already been done.”
“America witnessed a coordinated campaign by social media companies, mainstream news and the intelligence communities to suppress and de-legitimize the existence of Hunter Biden’s laptop and its contents,” the Kentucky Republican said.
He accused Twitter of having “worked hand-in-hand with the FBI to monitor the protected speech of Americans, receiving millions of dollars to do so.”
Baker, who worked at the FBI and the Department of Justice before joining Twitter, rejected the accusation of collusion.
“I am aware of no unlawful collusion with, or direction from, any government agency or political campaign on how Twitter should have handled the Hunter Biden laptop situation,” he said in his opening statement.
Roth said that he disagreed with the move to suppress the story about data from the laptop, which – independent experts said in November 2022 – appears to be genuine.
“Twitter made a mistake. Under the distribution of hacked material policy, the company decided to prevent links to the New York Post stories about the laptop from being shared across the service,” he told the committee. “I’ve been clear that, in my judgment, at the time, Twitter should not have taken action to block the New York Post’s reporting.”
“It isn’t obvious what the right response is to a suspected, but not confirmed, cyber attack by another government on a presidential election,” Roth said, going on to advocate for more transparency in the process of reaching those decisions.
After taking over Twitter, Musk made internal company documents available to a group of journalists led by Matt Taibbi, and their reports, known as the “Twitter Files,” show that the platform often received requests from government agencies and from politicians of both parties to delete certain content. EFE mgr/dr