Another technology company, not the FBI, likely spread “rumors” of a hack-and-lead operation involving Hunter Biden during meetings with technology companies, a former top censor for Twitter told Congress on Wednesday.
Twitter’s ex-head of Trust & Safety Yoel Roth acknowledged only there being a mysterious “coincidence” that Hunter Biden’s name was repeatedly mentioned as the government warned social media giants of foreign interference campaigns in the run-up to the last presidential election.
.@RepScottPerry : "Do you find it highly coincidental that it actually happened and it was Hunter Biden at all?"
Roth: "My statement does not suggest the FBI told me it would involve Hunter Biden… I think there is a coincidence there and I really can't speak as to how" pic.twitter.com/YAKVINV4NH
— Michael Shellenberger (@ShellenbergerMD) February 8, 2023
Across multiple lines of inquiry during a House Oversight Committee hearing, GOP members asked Roth about his sworn declaration to the Federal Election Commission back in December 2020 in which he talked about government agencies holding “regular” meetings with members of the technology industry.
While Roth said federal law enforcement agencies communicated that they expected “hack-and-leak operations” by state actors likely in October 2020, Roth separately noted that he learned in these meetings “that there were rumors that a hack-and-leak operation would involve Hunter Biden.”
During his testimony, Roth said he wanted to clarify that his declaration “does not suggest” the FBI told him such an operation would involve Hunter Biden, though he acknowledged that is a “popular reading” of the statement.
“My recollection is it was mentioned by another technology company in one of our joint meetings, but I don’t recall specifically whom,” Roth said in an exchange with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). However, Roth failed to come up with a name or company, asserting it “was a long time ago.”
Roth testified alongside FBI general counsel-turned-Twitter lawyer Jim Baker and former Twitter Chief Legal Officer Vijaya Gadde. All three were pushed out of Twitter following Elon Musk’s takeover of the company, which was followed by a series of “Twitter Files” disclosures offering an unprecedented look into the social media company’s internal deliberations about censorship.
.@RepAOC @AOC: "It's an abuse of public resources…We could be talking about health care…We could be talking abortion rights, civil rights, voting rights, but instead we're talking about Hunter Biden's half fake laptop story. I mean this is an embarrassment." pic.twitter.com/IrgYvhb5n1
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 8, 2023
Democratic members cast the hearing as a waste of time and resources, but Republicans argued they were uncovering how the government, namely the FBI, influenced social media companies in a way that potentially tilted the outcome of an election. Twitter “got played” by the FBI, Jordan said.
Twitter got played by the FBI. pic.twitter.com/78O2fbzWK9
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) February 8, 2023
During his testimony, Roth said he concluded Twitter “made a mistake” in temporarily blocking the New York Post’s “smoking-gun email” report from October 2020, which focused on communications about Hunter Biden introducing a Ukrainian businessman to his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden. Roth revealed he learned of Twitter’s decision from his direct supervisor, vice president of trust and safety Del Harvey. “Ultimately I didn’t disagree with it enough to object to it,” he said.
Reporting about Hunter Biden raised questions about whether people from foreign countries had influence over the elder Biden as he ran for the White House. Further stoking concerns, despite Joe Biden claiming he had no knowledge of his son’s business dealings, was Hunter Biden revealing he was under federal investigation shortly after the elder Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.
Much of the reporting about Hunter Biden derives from materials found in a laptop abandoned at a Delaware computer repair shop. The FBI seized that laptop in 2019, and with that in mind, Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-NC) questioned Roth about an Aspen Institute exercise in September 2020 on a potential “hack and dump” operation relating to Hunter Biden, as revealed in a “Twitter Files” disclosure.
Though Roth confirmed his participation in the exercise, he said he could not recall whether anyone from the intelligence community was present. Roth similarly hinted at the limits of his memory, saying Twitter did not give him access to his laptop, when asked what was in 10 documents sent to him by FBI agent Elvis Chan via the Teleporter platform on the night before the New York Post story broke. However, Roth said the FBI asserted the documents did not relate to Hunter Biden and that matched his recollection.
Toward the end of the hearing, Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) asked Roth if he would at least acknowledge that all the chatter about Hunter Biden before the New York Post broke the story seems suspicious.
“I think there is a coincidence there and I really can’t speak as to how that came about,” Roth replied.