WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are expected to question former Twitter executives about the platform’s handling of reporting on Hunter Biden, the president’s son, fulfilling a party promise to investigate what they have long asserted is anti-conservative bias at social-media companies.
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Three former executives will be appearing Wednesday before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee to testify for the first time about the company’s decision in the weeks before the 2020 election to initially block from Twitter a New York Post article about the contents of a laptop said to have belonged to Hunter Biden.
The witnesses Republicans subpoenaed to testify are Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s former chief legal officer; James Baker, the company’s former deputy general counsel; and Yoel Roth, former head of safety and integrity.
Democrats have summoned a witness of their own, Anika Collier Navaroli, a former employee with Twitter’s content-moderation team. She testified last year to the House committee that investigated the Capitol riot about Twitter’s preferential treatment of Donald Trump until the then-president was banned from Twitter two years ago.
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The hearing is the GOP’s opening act in what lawmakers promise will be a widespread investigation into President Joe Biden and his family, with the tech companies another prominent target of their oversight efforts.
“Americans deserve answers about this attack on the First Amendment and why Big Tech and the Swamp colluded to censor this information about the Biden family selling access for profit,” Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the committee chairman, said in a statement announcing the hearing.
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The New York Post first reported in October 2020, weeks before the presidential election, that it had received from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, a copy of a hard drive from a laptop that Hunter Biden, according to the published account, had dropped off 18 months earlier at a Delaware computer-repair shop and never retrieved. The operator of the repair shop insisted the laptop was Hunter Biden’s but, explaining that he had a vision deficit, allowed that he could not positively identify Biden as having brought the laptop to the shop.
Twitter blocked people from sharing links to the story for several days.
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Months later, Twitter’s then-CEO, Jack Dorsey, called the company’s communications around the Post article “not great.” He added that blocking the article’s URL with “zero context” around why it was blocked was “unacceptable.”
The newspaper story was greeted at the time with skepticism due to questions about the laptop’s origins, including Giuliani’s involvement, and because top officials in the Trump administration had already warned that Russia was working to denigrate Joe Biden before the Nov. 3, 2020, general election.
The Kremlin had interfered in the 2016 race by hacking Democratic emails that were subsequently leaked, and fears that Russia would meddle again in the 2020 race were widespread across Washington.
Just last week, lawyers for the younger Biden asked the Justice Department to investigate people who say they accessed his personal data. But they did not acknowledge that that data had come from the laptop that Hunter Biden was purported to have dropped off at the repair shop in Delaware.
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The issue was also reignited after Elon Musk took over Twitter as owner and CEO and began to release a slew of internal company information to selected journalists in what he and they have promoted as the “Twitter Files.”
The documents and data largely show debates among employees over the decision to temporarily censor the story about Hunter Biden. The tweet threads lacked substantial evidence of a targeted influence campaign from Democrats or the FBI, which has denied any involvement in Twitter’s decision making.
Neutral observers have said many of the Twitter posts that the Biden campaign sought to have taken offline featured images of an undressed Hunter Biden, while others appeared to show him with drug paraphernalia.
These observers noted that, even within the context of the “Twitter Files,” representatives of Donald Trump’s re-election campaign were also shown requesting the suppression of certain tweets.
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Nonetheless, Comer and other Republicans have used the Post story, whose contents have not been independently verified by the Associated Press, as the basis for what they say is another example of the Biden family’s “influence peddling.”
One of the witnesses on Wednesday, Baker, is expected to be the target of even more Republican scrutiny.
Baker was the FBI’s general counsel during the opening of two of the bureau’s most consequential investigations: the Hillary Clinton investigation and a separate inquiry into coordination between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Republicans have long criticized the FBI’s handling of both investigations.
For Democrats, Navaroli is expected to counter the GOP argument by testifying about how Twitter allowed Trump’s tweets to remain on public view despite the misinformation they often contained.
Navaroli testified to the Jan. 6 committee last year that Twitter executives often tolerated Trump’s posts despite them including false statements and violations of the company’s own rules because executives knew the platform was his “favorite and most-used … and enjoyed having that sort of power.”
The Jan. 6 committee used Navaroli’s testimony in one of its public hearings last summer but did not identify her by name.
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