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House Republicans seek testimony from Twitter employees who oversaw handling of the New York Post's Hunter Biden laptop story

CNN 12/6/2022 Brian Fung

House Republicans say they will seek congressional testimony from top Twitter employees who oversaw the company’s handling of a New York Post report on Hunter Biden’s laptop in public hearings when Republicans officially reclaim control of the House in the next Congress, indicating that probes into digital content moderation will figure prominently.

On Tuesday, Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the top Republican and likely next chairman of the House Oversight Committee, wrote to three people who reportedly played key roles in the decision to temporarily suppress the Post’s story in the weeks before the 2020 election, calling on them to speak about what Comer described as “Big Tech’s control of free discourse and information sharing.”

The letters addressed to Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s former head of legal, policy and trust; Yoel Roth, its former site integrity lead; and James Baker, deputy general counsel, request the three individuals testify at a public, full committee hearing in the next Congress. CNN has reached out to all three individuals seeking comment.

The letters warn each recipient that they “have been identified as a figure central to suppressing information regarding President Biden and his family prior to an American election.”

Asked about the possibility of subpoenas for the individuals, Jessica Collins, a committee spokesperson, told CNN the former and current employees were expected to cooperate.

“The Committee is prepared to use any tools at its disposal to ensure their cooperation in order to provide transparency to the American people,” Collins said.

Comer’s letters come days after the journalist Matt Taibbi reported on internal Twitter communications that showed the three officials debating how to handle the Post story. The release of the records had been teased and amplified by Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, who promised that it would reveal “what really happened” inside Twitter that day.

Taibbi presented evidence that suggested the effort to suppress the Post story was coordinated. But the reported records largely affirm existing accounts of the incident. They showed how Twitter’s policy and legal employees grappled with the decision, and faced questions from the company’s communications officials about how to explain the move to the public. They also backed up public statements by Roth that Twitter feared the Post report could have been the result of a Russian “hack-and-leak” operation, consistent with general warnings by about foreign election meddling that US law enforcement had been providing to the company. Roth has also said in December 2020 sworn testimony submitted to the Federal Election Commission that in the meetings with law enforcement there was mention of “rumors that a hack-and-leak operation would involve Hunter Biden.”

The communications reported by Taibbi showed Twitter employees acting cautiously by suppressing the Post article for fear of spreading what they believed could have been hacked materials, and internal debate over the best course of action. Taibbi also said he has found no evidence in the Twitter records of government involvement in the Hunter Biden story. To date, there has not been any indication the material behind the Post story was part of a Russian information operation.

Taibbi has said he received the internal communications from “sources at Twitter,” and that he agreed to a number of unspecified conditions with Twitter in exchange for being able to report on the records.

Then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, in separate congressional testimony, later acknowledged that the decision had been a mistake. Roth has since echoed those remarks, agreeing it was a mistake and saying the Post story “didn’t reach a place where I was comfortable removing” it from Twitter. (Taibbi reported that Dorsey was not initially aware of the decision.)

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