FEC says Twitter acted legally in blocking Hunter Biden laptop stories, pointing to claim of intel warnings about hacking

The Federal Elections Commission said on Wednesday its members unanimously rejected complaints from the Republican National Committee and others that Twitter’s decision to block the sharing of links to articles from the New York Post related to Hunter Biden’s laptop constituted an illegal contribution to now-President Joe Biden’s candidacy.

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In announcing the decision, the FEC pointed to Twitter’s assertion that part of the reason it stopped the spread of the New York Post articles in October was over concerns that foreign actors obtained the salacious materials through hacking. The social media giant claimed the U.S. Intelligence Community was warning about such an effort in the lead-up to the 2020 election. No evidence has emerged that the Hunter Biden laptop story stemmed from a foreign hacking operation.

The FEC said there was a 6-0 vote in finding “no reason to believe” that Twitter violated the law “by making corporate in-kind contributions” and “no reason to believe” that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey or Brandon Borrman, who was Twitter vice president of global communications, broke the law.

In response to reporting on the decision published on Monday, RNC spokeswoman Emma Vaughn said the group was “weighing its options for appealing this disappointing decision from the FEC.”

An October complaint from the RNC alleged: “Through its ad hoc, partisan oppression of media critical of Biden, [Twitter] is making illegal, corporate in-kind contributions as it provides unheard-of media services for Joe Biden’s campaign.” The RNC argued at the time that Twitter was “doing so for the clear purpose of supporting the Biden campaign.”

Robert Kelner, a lawyer who had represented retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn before Sidney Powell took over his representation, helped represent Twitter in the FEC complaint, writing in December that “Twitter undertook, for bona fide commercial reasons” actions to block potentially hacked content.

A lengthy statement from Yoel Roth, head of site integrity for Twitter, was included in Kelner’s response.

“Since 2018, I have had regular meetings with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and industry peers regarding election security,” Roth said. “During these weekly meetings, the federal law enforcement agencies communicated that they expected ‘hack-and-leak operations’ by state actors might occur in the period shortly before the 2020 presidential election, likely in October. 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… I also learned in these meetings that there were rumors that a hack-and-leak operation would involve Hunter Biden.”

NYT DELETES CLAIM HUNTER BIDEN LAPTOP STORY WAS ‘UNSUBSTANTIATED’

Roth added: “The Site Integrity Team preliminarily determined that the information in the articles could have been obtained through hacking, based on, among other things, the type of material, the sourcing described in the articles, and the information security community’s initial reactions.”

The laptop was given to a computer shop in Delaware for repair in April 2019, according to John Paul Mac Isaac, the computer store’s legally blind owner, who said the hardware was never retrieved by the owner. The laptop and hard drive were reportedly seized by the FBI through a grand jury subpoena in December 2019. One copy of the hardware’s contents was obtained by Rudy Giuliani, then a personal lawyer to former President Donald Trump, and the data were shared with various media outlets.

Hunter Biden has never denied the authenticity of the computer materials that have since been published.

The New York Post reported emails showed evidence of a possible meeting between Hunter Biden , his father, who was the vice president at the time,  and Burisma Holdings adviser Vadym Pozharskyi, which the elder Biden denies took place as described in the reporting.

The newspaper also detailed Hunter Biden’s financial dealings with shady Chinese businessmen . Hunter Biden held a position on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, from 2014 to 2019.

When the New York Post attempted to post the articles on its Twitter  account, the social media company claimed it violated its rule against sharing “hacked” materials. In fact, Twitter and Facebook limited users from sharing it for a time.

Pozharskyi sent Hunter Biden an email on April 17, 2015, saying, “Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together.”

Biden’s presidential campaign denied the meeting took place based on “Biden’s official schedules from the time.”

Roth has a number of anti-Trump tweets from before he took his position with Twitter.

He tweeted in September 2016, “I’ve never donated to a presidential campaign before, but I just gave $100 to Hillary for America. We can’t f-ck around anymore.” He said in November that year that “we fly over those states that voted for a racist tangerine for a reason.” In January 2017, he said Trump won partly because of “racism.” That month he also claimed that there were “ACTUAL NAZIS IN THE WHITE HOUSE.”

The Trump War Room tweeted in 2020 that Roth “has a history of tweeting terrible and vile things that show he has a very bad case of Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS)!”

Borrman’s LinkedIn states that he left Twitter in June to become an adviser for the Franklin Project, and offshoot of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project.

The FEC signaled that it believed Roth’s explanation with its “factual and legal analysis” in August claiming that Twitter “has credibly explained that it acted with a commercial motivation in response to the New York Post articles rather than with an electoral purpose.” The commission said “the actions taken by Twitter in response to the October 2020 New York Post articles, i.e., blocking users from tweeting hacked or personal information … appear to reflect bona fide commercial considerations rather than an effort to influence a federal election.”

The FEC wrote “federal law enforcement agencies apparently communicated to Twitter that they expected hack-and-leak operations by state actors might occur in the period shortly before the 2020 presidential election and warned that such a hack-and-leak operation might involve Hunter Biden” and “these circumstances appear to reflect a commercial, not electoral, basis for Twitter to have blocked users from sharing this information on its platform.”

Despite offering no proof, Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign and many in the media dismissed the October laptop story as part of a Russian disinformation operation. However, then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe “there is no intelligence” indicating the laptop was part of a Russian disinformation effort. A senior intelligence official told the Washington Examiner that “the IC and DOJ are in lock-step on this: there is absolutely zero evidence or intel that the laptop or the information contained therein is a Russian op.”

Concerns about Hunter Biden gained broader attention in late 2020 after confirming he was under federal investigation. Multiple outlets reported he is being federally investigated in connection with his taxes and potentially related to his overseas business with China and other countries.

Joe Biden’s son went on a media blitz this year to promote his memoir , Beautiful Things, during which he admitted the laptop could be his. However, he said he doesn’t remember and that it could have been stolen, he could have been hacked, or Russian intelligence could have been involved, without providing any evidence. A forensic analysis of the laptop’s emails reportedly concluded that “no evidence was found to suggest that the timestamps or data were altered or manufactured.”

The day after Twitter blocked the New York Post’s mid-October stories on Hunter Biden, Dorsey tweeted, “Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix.”

Dorsey testified  about the controversy before the Senate Judiciary Committee in November after Biden defeated Trump.

“We made a quick interpretation, using no other evidence, that the materials in the article were obtained through hacking, and, according to our policy, we blocked them from being spread,” Dorsey said. “Upon further consideration, we admitted this action was wrong and corrected it within 24 hours.”

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The 50 former intelligence officials who signed a letter suggesting Russia was involved with the Hunter Biden laptop matter are now largely silent about why they weighed in on the story weeks before the 2020 presidential election. During a presidential debate, Joe Biden dismissed the laptop emails as part of a “Russian plan” and cited the letter.

Hunter Biden also falsely claimed the intelligence community publicly concluded that stories involving his laptop is “Russian disinformation.”

FEC Commissioner Sean Cooksey released remarks dated September, saying he had joined the unanimous vote but disagreed with the reasoning of his colleagues.

“I’m not so sure” that “none of the behavior at issue was for the purpose of influencing the 2020 presidential election,” Cooksey said. He called this “irrelevant,” however, arguing that “Twitter is a publisher with a First Amendment right to control the content on its platform and to favor or disfavor certain speech and speakers.”

 

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