FBI Official Casts Doubt on Twitter's Rationale for Censoring Hunter Biden Laptop Story

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
December 7, 2022

An FBI official's testimony last week is setting up a potential showdown with Twitter over the social media company's censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story before the 2020 election.

FBI supervisory special agent Elvis Chan disputed former Twitter executive Yoel Roth's claims that the FBI warned that Russia would likely release Hunter Biden's emails before the 2020 election. Roth, who led Twitter's Site Integrity team until he resigned last month, told the Federal Election Commission that the FBI warnings prompted Twitter to censor an Oct. 14, 2020, news article that detailed Biden's business emails.

But Chan said in a Dec. 3 deposition that FBI officials did not mention Hunter Biden in their weekly meetings with Twitter prior to the election. "I do not remember us specifically saying 'Hunter Biden' in any meeting," said Chan. "So this would have been something that [Roth] would have just thought of as a hot-button issue on his own that happened in October."

Chan's testimony further clouds Twitter's controversial decision to censor the Hunter Biden story, which detailed emails from the troubled businessman's laptop. According to Roth's version of events, the FBI warnings were a factor in Twitter's decision to censor the story.

"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," Roth said in a Dec. 17, 2020, affidavit to the Federal Election Commission.

"I also learned in these meetings that there were rumors that a hack-and-leak operation would involve Hunter Biden."

Chan testified that he met on a regular basis with officials from Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other tech companies regarding foreign governments' misinformation campaigns. He continued meeting with Roth until the day after the 2022 midterms, according to his deposition.

Chan said that he and other FBI officials had no evidence of an ongoing hacking operation before the 2020 election but that the bureau was nonetheless concerned about the "potential" for one.

Roth may be grilled about the contradiction should he appear before Congress as part of its investigation into Big Tech's crackdown on conservatives. Rep. James Comer (R., Ky.), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, this week called on Roth to testify about his involvement in censorship at the tech giant.

Roth has long been a source of controversy at Twitter. In 2017, he derided Trump White House officials as "ACTUAL NAZIS." He lashed out at conservative states after Donald Trump's 2016 election win, writing that "we fly over those states that voted for a racist tangerine for a reason."

Internal Twitter emails released last week show that executives censored the Hunter Biden story even though they were uncertain whether the story was based on hacked materials.

James Baker, who served as Twitter's deputy general counsel, advised Twitter to block access to the article even though "we need more facts to assess whether the materials were hacked."

New Twitter CEO Elon Musk announced on Tuesday he fired Baker because of his "possible role in the suppression of information important to the public dialogue."

Baker, who was the FBI's general counsel before joining Twitter, approved the bureau's applications for surveillance warrants against a Trump campaign adviser that were based on the fraudulent Steele dossier.