3 former Twitter executives to testify Wednesday at House hearing over handling of Hunter Biden laptop story

3 former Twitter executives to testify Wednesday at House hearing over handling of Hunter Biden laptop story

(CNN) Three former Twitter executives are testifying before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday about Twitter’s decision to temporarily suppress a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop in what will be a hearing the first high-profile hearing for the new Republican majority investigating President Joe. The Biden administration and family.

House Oversight Chairman James Comer, a Kentucky Republican who has launched a wide-ranging investigation into the Biden family’s business dealings, is probing the social media giant in the wake of Twitter’s new owner and CEO, Elon Musk, releasing internal communications from Twitter staff about the decision. to temporarily block users from sharing the New York Post story in the final weeks of the 2020 presidential election campaign season.

The hearing is the first time former Twitter deputy counsel James Baker, also a former senior FBI official, will speak publicly since Musk fired him in December.

Musk himself has suggested that internal communications released as part of the so-called “Twitter files” show government censorship, suggesting that Twitter acted “under government orders” when it suppressed the laptop story. The “Twitter files” have fueled Comer’s belief that the government may have been involved in suppressing the story.

“We basically want to know what Twitter’s policy was in terms of how they determined what misinformation was,” Comer said. “We want to know what role the government played in encouraging Twitter to suppress certain stories and certain Twitter accounts. We want to know if and how many tax dollars were spent by federal agencies on Twitter because that’s what we look at — tax dollars.”

However, CNN previously reported that claims the FBI told Twitter to suppress the story are unsupported, and a half-dozen tech executives and senior staff, along with multiple federal officials familiar with the matter, all denied that any such directive was given in the interviews. with CNN.

“I am not aware of any illegal collusion, or direction from any government agency or political campaign as to how Twitter should have handled the Hunter Biden laptop situation,” Baker plans to testify, according to a copy of his opening statement reviewed from CNN. “Although many disagree with the way Twitter handled the Hunter Biden case, I believe the public record reveals that my client acted in a manner that was fully consistent with the First Amendment.”

In addition to Baker, Twitter’s former chief legal officer, Vijaya Gadde, and former head of Trust and Safety, Yoel Roth, are also appearing before the committee.

Meanwhile, Democrats plan to present Anika Collier Navaroli, a former Twitter employee turned whistleblower, as a witness during Wednesday’s hearing.

In this photo, Anika Collier Navaroli poses for a photo at an undisclosed location on September 21, 2022.

“Here’s the serious issue, what happens when a social media platform is actually used to incite violent insurrection against the United States government? What are we going to do about it? And that’s what we learned from this whistleblower on Twitter. ” Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, told CNN. “So I think the importance of her testimony is quite extraordinary compared to the petty things that the majority is engaged in.”

Raskin plans to say in his opening statement that on the eve of January 6, 2021, Twitter “became the national and global platform for inciting insurgent violence against our government and a forum on the day of the attack for coordinating logistical and tactical movements. maneuvers in mob violence against our officers,” reads an excerpt from his prepared speeches.

All witnesses requested summons to appear before the commission.

The hearing marks the second election in a row where social media companies and the FBI have faced scrutiny over decisions made in the final weeks of the presidential election. After 2016, social media companies like Twitter were criticized for doing too little to police their platforms for disinformation campaigns, especially by foreign governments like Russia.

Now they’re back on the hot seat for taking that policing too far, according to Republicans.

When the New York Post published its story on Hunter Biden’s laptop in October 2020, Twitter executives were highly suspicious of anything that looked like foreign influence and were ready to act, even without guidance from the government. Roth had spent two years meeting with the FBI and other government officials and was prepared for some kind of hacking and reconnaissance operation.

“There were a lot of reasons why the whole industry was on alert,” Roth said at a conference in November, not long after he resigned from Twitter. Roth insists he was not in favor of blocking the story and thought the company’s decision was a mistake.

For Republicans, the testimony of former Twitter executives gives them the opportunity to raise questions not only about the laptop story but other longstanding conservative grievances about the social media company that Musk bought last year. The Republican ranks of the Oversight Committee are full of the conference’s hard-line conservative conservatives, who have complained about the alleged suppression of conservative voices on Twitter.

“I’m going to ask Twitter why they thought they could ban a member of Congress — permanently being a member of Congress. My Twitter account was permanently banned for almost a year,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia. Republican.

Greene’s account was suspended last January for repeated violations of Twitter’s Covid-19 misinformation policy, the company said at the time. Her account was reinstated in November after Musk bought Twitter.

Democrats say they aim to poke holes in Republican allegations about the laptop story — while questioning the committee’s decision to hold the hearing in the first place.

“They’re cherry-picking witnesses that fit their narrative. It’s not like an objective examination of how Twitter works and the good and bad practices that could lead to real reforms or fixes. That’s not their goal. here,” said representative Gerry Connolly. , a Democrat from Virginia.

Before the hearing, Musk traveled to Capitol Hill and met with a number of House Republicans, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Comer. The Kentucky Republican said Musk offered him advice on lines of questioning, though Comer declined to provide more details ahead of the hearing.

“We’re going to save it,” Comer said. “Thank God for Elon Musk.”

CNN’s Evan Perez contributed to this report.

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