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Republican-led U.S. House panel probes Twitter block of Hunter Biden story

2023-02-08T17:10:37Z

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives sought to deliver on a campaign promise to their most hardline supporters on Tuesday, with a public hearing on a laptop computer said to belong to Democratic President Joe Biden’s businessman son, Hunter.

Even before the proceedings began, the White House denounced the hearing as “a bizarre political stunt” motivated by denial of Biden’s 2020 election victory over Republican former President Donald Trump. Trump continues to claim falsely that his defeat was the result of fraud.

A day after Biden offered to work with Republicans on some of the nation’s toughest problems in his State of the Union address, the House Oversight Committee heard former Twitter executives testify under subpoena about the social media platform’s efforts to limit discussion of the laptop’s alleged contents two weeks ahead of the 2020 election.

Hunter Biden’s attorney Abbe Lowell has denied in a statement any connection between his client and what he called the “so-called laptop,” including contents that Republicans “allege to be Mr. Biden’s personal data.”

The hearing marked the first public proceedings of an investigation into the Biden family’s business dealings led by committee Chairman James Comer, who has accused Hunter Biden of leveraging his father’s political influence to pursue lucrative international business deals.

“This appears to be the latest effort by the House Republican majority’s most extreme MAGA members to question and re-litigate the outcome of the 2020 election,” White House spokesperson Ian Sams said in a statement.

The proceedings focused on Twitter’s decision to temporarily block tweets about a New York Post article on the laptop, which the former Twitter executives said they mistakenly believed contained hacked material in violation of its policy.

Republicans described the decision as part of a conspiracy to suppress revelations about Hunter Biden and his father ahead of the 2020 election, saying it coincided with a letter by former intelligence officers describing the laptop as Russian disinformation.

“America witnessed a coordinated campaign by social media companies, mainstream news, and the intelligence community to suppress and de-legitimize the existence of Hunter Biden’s laptop and its contents,” Comer said.

Democrats on the committee dismissed Republican claims as a trivial pursuit about a topic that has captivated hardline conservative for more than two years.

“Silly does not even begin to capture this obsession,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, the committee’s top Democrat.

The former Twitter executives acknowledged that blocking the New York Post tweets was an error and said they reversed the decision within 24 hours.

Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s former chief legal officer, said the tweets of the New York Post article included images that looked like they might have been obtained through hacking.

“We had developed a policy intended to prevent Twitter from becoming a dumping ground for hacked materials. We applied this policy to the New York Post’s tweets and blocked links to articles,” Gadde said.

The former executives said Twitter’s policies were intended to mitigate content that could lead to political violence, such as what later occurred in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump’s supporters.

“I am here to tell you that doing nothing is not an option. If we continue to do nothing, violence is going to happen again,” said Anika Collier Navaroli, a former member of Twitter’s U.S. safety policy team.

The social platform has since been purchased by billionaire Elon Musk, who many Republicans view as a champion of free speech.

Related Galleries:

James Baker, former deputy general counsel at Twitter, Vijaya Gadde, former Chief Legal Officer at Twitter, Yoel Roth, former Global Head of Trust & Safety at Twitter and former Twitter employee Anika Collier Navaroli are sworn in before testifying during a House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing about Twitter’s handling of a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden and his laptop, in Washington, U.S. February 8, 2023. Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

U.S. House Oversight and Accountability Committee member Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) attends the committee’s hearing about Twitter’s handling of a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden and his laptop, in Washington, U.S. February 8, 2023. Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

U.S. House Oversight and Accountability Committee member Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) attends the committee’s hearing about Twitter’s handling of a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden and his laptop, in Washington, U.S. February 8, 2023. Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

Yoel Roth, former Global Head of Trust & Safety at Twitter, testifies during a House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing about Twitter’s handling of a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden and his laptop, in Washington, U.S. February 8, 2023. Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

Former Twitter employee Anika Collier Navaroli testifies during a House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing about Twitter’s handling of a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden and his laptop, in Washington, U.S. February 8, 2023. Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein