The FBI’s coordination with social media companies ahead of the 2020 presidential election, revealed in Elon Musk’s “Twitter Files,” is galvanizing long-held suspicions that the FBI ran defense for then-candidate Joseph R. Biden as his links to son Hunter Biden’s potentially illegal business schemes emerged.
Mr. Musk’s steady drip of internal documents has exposed the extent to which the FBI worked with company executives to moderate content on the platform. It included weekly meetings with Twitter executives before the company suppressed the New York Post’s October 2020 report exposing emails found on Hunter Biden’s now-infamous laptop computer. The emails refuted Mr. Biden’s claims that he didn’t know about and wasn’t involved in his son’s overseas ventures.
During those meetings, which also included officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security, Twitter executives were cued to rumors that Hunter Biden would be the target of a “hack and leak operation.”
The FBI took possession of the laptop in December 2019, 10 months before the newspaper published materials from the computer, raising questions as to whether the bureau actively sought to discredit materials they had already authenticated.
“The key facts are: The FBI had the laptop,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican and the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “Then you’ve got the FBI talking to all of the social media platforms. The whole idea was that the Hunter Biden story was this Russian misinformation operation, but it looks like the misinformation operation was the other way around.
“Was it a giant information operation being run against the people by our government?” he said. “I don’t know the answer to that, but it makes you kind of wonder.”
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Mr. Jordan is one of several Republican leaders poised to explore Mr. Biden’s potential links to his son’s long trail of suspicious business dealings.
Former FBI officials told The Washington Times that the agents involved in the meetings with social media companies might not have been aware that the bureau had obtained the laptop. They also said the agents would be severely limited in the details they could provide if the laptop were the subject of a pending investigation.
Still, Lewis Schiliro, a former head of the FBI’s New York field office, said the matter would have garnered attention at the highest levels of the agency.
“This was a laptop that belonged to the son of a vice president, the son of somebody that was currently running to become president in the United States,” he said. “I can tell you that would have gone to the highest levels of the FBI. That there’s no question in my mind.”
Thomas J. Baker, a retired FBI special agent and author of “The Fall of the FBI,” said it is conceivable that the agents briefing Twitter were unaware of the details surrounding the laptop but added that the agency’s dismissal still raises questions.
“Quite frankly, on the face of it, that’s absurd,” he said. “The FBI had been in possession of the laptop for a considerable period of time. The FBI has technically trained people who could determine rather quickly whether or not it was hacked material.
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“The reality is that Hunter Biden himself never complained or never claimed that he was hacked or that his laptop was stolen,” he said. “So the warning was ridiculous.”
The FBI refused to address The Times’ questions about whether it actively downplayed information gleaned from Hunter Biden’s laptop computer, which was in the bureau’s possession.
In a statement to The Times, the FBI said there was nothing out of the ordinary about its consultations with Twitter executives: “The FBI regularly engages with private sector entities to provide information specific to identified foreign malign influence actors’ subversive, undeclared, covert or criminal activities. It is not based on the content of any particular message or narrative. Private sector entities independently make decisions about what, if any, action they take on their platforms and for their customers after the FBI has notified them.”
In 2019, Senate Republicans led by Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa began investigating the conflicts of interest arising from Hunter Biden’s position on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings while his father served as vice president in the Obama administration and as the White House point man for Ukraine.
The Senate inquiry began after President Trump accused Mr. Biden of using his position as vice president to improperly press for the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor to shield Burisma and his son from a corruption investigation.
The Senate report, based partly on suspicious activity filings with the Treasury Department’s financial crimes enforcement network, unlocked a trove of suspect payments that Hunter Biden received from foreign sources while his father served as vice president and thereafter.
The report showed that Obama administration officials were aware that Hunter Biden’s position on the board was “problematic” and interfered “in the efficient execution of policy with respect to Ukraine.”
The report, published in September 2020, stopped short of pinning wrongdoing on Mr. Biden.
Mr. Biden, who has denied any involvement in his son’s business deals and framed his son’s tribulations as a struggle to overcome years of addiction and grief, has largely been granted a free pass from the mainstream news media and the powers that be in Washington.
Mr. Biden immediately dismissed the Senate report as politically motivated. His campaign said the investigation was based on “a long-disproven, hardcore rightwing conspiracy theory.”
Details unearthed since the report was released have raised more questions about the president’s involvement.
The hard drive from Hunter Biden’s laptop, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, revealed emails that show Hunter Biden introduced his father to a top executive at Burisma less than a year after Mr. Biden pressured Ukrainian officials to fire the prosecutor.
“Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent some time together. It’s really an honor and pleasure,” the email from Vadym Pozharskyi read.
Further details pointing to Mr. Biden’s involvement have since trickled out and often were based on details recovered from the laptop.
A September 2017 email showed that Hunter Biden planned to set up a Washington office that would include his father and Gongwen Dong, who ran a $33 billion energy fund, CEFC China Energy, and maintained ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
“Please have keys made available for new office mates,” Hunter Biden wrote in an email to the office building manager. He listed his father, uncle James Biden and stepmother Jill Biden as office mates along with Mr. Dong.
The office sign was to read: The Biden Foundation and Hudson West (CEFC US).
Hunter Biden’s former business partner Tony Bobulinski revealed before the 2020 election that he met with Mr. Biden in Los Angeles in 2017 while attempting to set up a venture for Chinese investments, SinoHawk Holdings.
Mr. Bobulinski, a former Navy officer, was set to become the CEO and Hunter Biden the chairman. Hunter Biden’s father, believed to be referred to as “the big guy” in an email thread, was to receive a 10% cut in the venture. The deal, however, fell through.
In a voicemail from 2018, Mr. Biden called his son to say he had read a newspaper article detailing Hunter Biden’s dealings with CEFC and to assure him that he was “clear.”
“I thought the article released online … was good,” Mr. Biden said in the voicemail recording to his son. “I think you’re clear. And anyway, if you get a chance give me a call. I love you.”
Yet Mr. Biden’s campaign persistently branded the now-authenticated laptop as Russian disinformation.
More than 50 former U.S. senior intelligence officials peddled that explanation in an open letter and on social media platforms. Acting on FBI warnings about the authenticity of the laptop computer, platforms began censoring online discussions about the laptop ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Lawmakers also have questioned the FBI’s direct involvement in discrediting the information.
In August 2020, Mr. Grassley and Mr. Johnson said, FBI and other intelligence community officials held an unsolicited briefing for lawmakers on matters related to their investigation and labeled the Senate investigation as Russian disinformation.
The senators said the briefing, weeks before they published their report, was a “scheme to downplay derogatory information on Hunter Biden for the purpose of shutting down investigative activity.”
Mr. Grassley told The Times that the FBI’s briefings to the social media giants appear to be more evidence that the bureau was taking a political stance in favor of Mr. Biden.
“I’ve exposed plenty of political bias in the FBI,” he said. “This is just more concrete information that I was right. Only in this particular case, their ancillary to the fact that the government is violating the Constitution by having organizations violate constitutional free speech.”
Mr. Musk’s Twitter Files reveal the extent of the FBI’s involvement in monitoring social media content.
In one internal Slack exchange disclosed by Matt Taibbi, one of several journalists given access to Mr. Musk’s vault, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth, wrote that he met with federal officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security as the scandal over Twitter’s censorship of the story unfolded.
“Weekly sync with FBI/DHS/DNI re: election security,” Mr. Roth reported to co-workers in one chat. “The meeting happened about 15 minutes after the aforementioned Hacked Materials implosion, the government declined to share anything useful when asked.”
“Monthly meeting with FBI [foreign influence task force],” the report continued. “Briefed on several ongoing investigations.”
In other exchanges, Mr. Roth alluded to disguising his interactions with federal officials as generic meetings on his public calendar.
“I’m a big believer in calendar transparency,” Mr. Roth wrote to his co-workers. “But I reached a certain point where my meetings became … very interesting … to people and there weren’t meeting names generic enough to cover.”
“DEFINITELY NOT meeting with the FBI I SWEAR,” he quipped.
“lmao,” an anonymous co-worker responded.
In another internal chat, Twitter’s policy director Nick Pickles strategized with an anonymous employee on how to disguise information obtained from federal officials in external communications.
“Are you comfortable with Marketing talking about misinfo by saying that we detected it through [machine learning], human review and ***partnerships with outside experts*?” the anonymous employee asked Mr. Pickles. “I know that’s been a slippery process, so not sure if you want our public explanation to hang our hat on that.”
“Can we just say ‘partnerships?’” Mr. Pickles responds. “Not sure how we’d describe the FBI/DHS as experts.”
Mr. Roth disclosed the meetings in a December 2020 declaration to the Federal Elections Commission in response to a lawsuit against Twitter by the Tea Party Patriots Foundation. The lawsuit claimed that the company made an inappropriate contribution to the Biden campaign by removing coverage of the laptop from its platform.
“I was told in these meetings that the intelligence community expected that individuals associated with political campaigns would be subject to hacking attacks and that material obtained through those hacking attacks would likely be disseminated over social media platforms, including Twitter,” Mr. Roth wrote.
Mr. Roth said he also learned during meetings with federal officials, which he indicated had become regular since 2018, of “rumors that a hack-and-leak operation would involve Hunter Biden.”
“These expectations of hack-and-leak operations were discussed throughout 2020,” he wrote.
Mr. Roth’s sworn statement does not specifically state who raised concerns that Hunter Biden would be targeted.