On Wednesday, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee conducted the first of many expected hearings on two long-running GOP claims: anti-conservative bias in Big Tech and corruption on the part of the President’s son, Hunter Biden. The members specifically homed in on Twitter’s suppression of a controversial New York Post story, published during the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, involving Hunter Biden’s laptop.
This is far from the first time that Big Tech has found itself in the crosshairs of Congress. When the Democrats held the majority, in 2020, members of the House Judiciary Committee accused four of the largest tech companies of engaging in anti-competitive behavior. In the words of then-Chairman Jerry Nadler, “[Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple] have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.”
But Republicans have taken a different tack. They are specifically targeting the previous Twitter regime, and on Wednesday, they brought in three former top officials to testify: Vijaya Gadde, the former chief legal officer; Jim Baker, the former in-house counsel who previously served as general counsel of the FBI, and Yoel Roth, the former global head of trust and safety.
Republicans on the Committee allege that the so-called “Twitter files” — a series of internal documents made available to select reporters by Elon Musk, the company’s current CEO — show that Twitter employees engaged in censorship when they limited the spread of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden story. The infamous Post story claimed that information found on Hunter Biden’s laptop revealed that he had introduced a top executive from Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company where the younger Biden sat on the board, to his father when he was Vice President.
But some members of the Committee went a step beyond just criticizing Twitter, claiming that the FBI attempted to improperly influence the social media company to block the Post story. Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican of Ohio, told the former Twitter executives that he thought they had been “played by the FBI.” Rep. James Comer, the Republican chair of the Committee, alleged that Twitter “was a private company that the federal government used to do what it cannot: limit the constitutional free exercise of speech.”
For their part, the former Twitter brass admitted that their decision to suppress the spread of the Post story was, in hindsight, a mistake, but not one directed by the FBI or other intelligence officials. Gadde, Twitter’s former chief legal officer, testified that when the Post first tweeted about the Hunter Biden story, it appeared that the images and information “looked like they may have been obtained through hacking,” which would have violated a 2018 policy designed to protect Twitter from being a “dumping ground for hacked materials.”
Jim Baker, the former in-house counsel, said, “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.” Baker also called the company’s decisions “fully consistent with the First Amendment.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Committee’s top Democrat, said that Republican allegations of unlawful behavior on the part of Twitter were motivated by a “fundamental legal fallacy,” and asserted that a company’s editorial decisions are protected under the Constitution.
“Twitter is a private, First Amendment-protected media entity,” Raskin said. “And you make your own decisions like Fox News makes its own decisions.” Raskin continued: “Instead of letting this trivial pursuit go, my Republican colleagues have tried to whip up a faux-scandal about this two-day lapse in their ability to spread Hunter Biden propaganda on a private media platform. Silly does not begin to describe this obsession.”
As a political matter, Democrats sought to draw a contrast with Republicans on the issue of regulating Big Tech, highlighting the Biden administration’s antitrust proposals and characterizing the Republican-led hearing as partisan and superficial.
“What we would love to do is to figure out what some of those real interfaces are with tech,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told reporters outside the hearing room. “Antitrust [would be] an excellent topic.” She said she would be happy to discuss “the actual protocols and interface between public agencies and private social media companies…but that’s not what [the Republicans] are here to talk about.”
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