House lawmakers are set to face off with three former Twitter executives on Wednesday in what is expected to be among the most explosive of Big Tech grilling on Capitol Hill.
The House Oversight and Accountability Committee plans to hone in on the social media platform’s censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story ahead of the 2020 election and Twitter’s collusion with federal agents to suppress free speech.
Twitter’s former chief legal officer Vijaya Gadde, former deputy general counsel James Baker and former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth will face lawmakers for the first time since Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, began releasing a trove of internal “Twitter Files” that showed the platform’s left-wing bent that fueled the censorship of conservative viewpoints.
“Twitter, under the leadership of our witnesses today, was a private company the federal government used to accomplish what it constitutionally cannot: limit the free exercise of speech,” committee Chairman James Comer, Kentucky Republican, will say according to his prepared opening remarks.
The hearing is the first in a series focused on “protecting speech from government interference and social media bias,” according to the committee. It also is the opening salvo in the committee’s probe into President Biden and his family’s long trail of suspicious business dealings.
Mr. Musk’s steady drip of internal documents has exposed the extent to which the FBI worked with company executives to moderate content on the platform.
Those efforts included weekly meetings with Twitter executives before the company suppressed the New York Post’s report exposing emails found on Hunter Biden’s now-infamous laptop computer.
During those meetings, which also included officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security, Twitter executives were cued to rumors that Hunter Biden would be the target of a “hack and leak operation.”
The FBI took possession of the laptop in December 2019, 10 months before the newspaper published materials from the computer, raising questions as to whether the bureau actively sought to discredit materials they had already authenticated.
The Post’s report, which ran on Oct. 14, 2020, set off an avalanche of embarrassing emails, photos and text messages pulled from the laptop computer. It revealed details about Hunter Biden’s struggles with addiction and his hugely profitable foreign business dealings that critics say smack of influence peddling.
The emails also refuted Mr. Biden’s claims that he never spoke with his son about overseas business deals.
The laptop contained embarrassing photos of Hunter Biden, including one of him passed out with a crack pipe in his mouth.
Mr. Biden’s campaign branded the now-authenticated laptop as Russian disinformation, a theory that was peddled by more than 50 former U.S. senior intelligence officials in an open letter to the public.
“Immediately following the story’s publication, America witnessed a coordinated campaign by social media companies, mainstream news, and the intelligence community to suppress and delegitimize the existence of Hunter Biden’s laptop and its contents,” Mr. Comer will say. “We owe it to the American people to provide answers about this collusion to censor information about Joe Biden’s involvement in his family’s business schemes.”
The Twitter Files ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill.
The House Judiciary Committee is demanding that several Big Tech companies hand over documents for their investigation into the Biden administration’s attempts to curtail online freedom of speech.
A new subcommittee led by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio is focusing on the “weaponization” of the federal government in response to First Amendment concerns raised, in part, by the Twitter Files.
Mr. Jordan has demanded answers from a dozen former U.S. intelligence officials who dismissed Hunter Biden’s discarded laptop computer as Russian disinformation.
Hunter Biden’s massively lucrative foreign business deals have raised eyebrows for years. He served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company, pursued deals with Chinese Communist Party-linked energy tycoons and allegedly pocketed more than $3 million from a Russian businesswoman who is the widow of a former mayor of Moscow.
Mr. Comer and Mr. Jordan in November laid out evidence that they say “raises troubling questions” about whether the president has been “compromised by foreign governments” in connection with his son’s ventures.
Citing evidence obtained from Hunter Biden’s laptop computer and through whistleblowers, Mr. Comer said his committee had uncovered a “decade-long pattern of influence peddling, national security risks and political cover-ups” committed by the Biden family with the direct knowledge and involvement of the president.
Republicans on the oversight committee said in a 31-page report that the president was directly involved in his family’s business deals, including those involving foreign interests, despite claiming he did not know the details.
Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, accused Republicans of pursuing “already debunked and hyper-partisan conspiracy theories about President Biden, his family and the so-called ‘deep state.’”
“Conspiracy theories and disinformation are already at a fever pitch in the new Congress,” he said. “Committee Democrats stand ready to work with our Republican colleagues when they get serious about tackling the problems that affect the American people.”