The FBI pressured Twitter to suppress The Post’s blockbuster scoop about Hunter Biden’s laptop by warning it could be part of a Russian “hack and leak” operation — even while knowing the concern was unfounded, according to internal company records made public Monday.
The latest release of the “Twitter Files” authorized by new owner Elon Musk also provided more examples of former top FBI lawyer Jim Baker’s role in cracking down on The Post’s reporting while he worked as Twitter’s deputy general counsel, a job from which Musk fired him earlier this month.
Documents posted on Twitter by independent journalist Michael Shellenberger showed that Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth, was contacted by FBI Agent Elvis Chan just hours before The Post published the first laptop story on Oct. 14, 2020.
Chan used a special, one-way communication channel to send Roth and at least one other person 10 documents on the night of Oct. 13, 2020, and asked them to confirm receipt, Shellenberger found.
Approximately two-and-a-half hours earlier, Hunter Biden attorney George Mesires had called and emailed Delaware computer repair shop owner John Paul Mac Isaac after learning from The Post that the first article based on files recovered from the abandoned laptop would be published the next day.
“I am a lawyer for Hunter Biden and I appreciate you reviewing your records on this matter,” Mesires wrote to Mac Isaac.
At 5 a.m. on Oct. 14, The Post published the first of many scoops exposing questionable overseas business dealings conducted by Hunter Biden — details of which were hidden in plain sight on the hard drive of his laptop.
Mac Isaac had tipped off the FBI about criminal evidence on the laptop, and the feds confiscated the computer back in December 2019. Nine months later, having heard nothing from investigators, Mac Issac gave a copy of the laptop to Trump lawyer Rudy Guiliani.
Giuliani, in turn, supplied The Post with the trove of damning content.
But The Post’s story was suppressed by Facebook and Twitter, which temporarily banned the outlet in the wake of its publication. It was also ignored or discredited by mainstream outlets, many of whom quietly substantiated the report months later.
Although the contents of the documents Chan sent are unknown, the timing is suspect and was in keeping with the FBI’s efforts to squelch free speech on the platform on grounds of guarding against “foreign interference in elections,” Shellenberger said.
Chan’s move also came after he arranged “temporary Top Secret security clearances for Twitter executives” so the FBI could alert them to purported threats beginning 30 days before the Nov. 3, 2020, election.
In July 2020, three months before The Post broke the Hunter Biden laptop story, Chan emailed Roth suggested that beginning 30 days before Election Day, Twitter executives would be granted temporary security clearances to discuss purported threats with FBI officials.
“You get to pick who they would be,” Chan wrote.
Roth subsequently admitted in a sworn declaration that the feds had primed him to view any reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop as a “Russian ‘hack and leak’ operation.”
And Chan later admitted under oath that the FBI warnings were exaggerated.
“Through our investigations, we did not see any similar competing intrusions to what had happened in 2016,” Chan said, apparently referring to the infamous Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee’s emails.
Chan’s damning testimony came in a sworn deposition last month tied to a lawsuit — filed by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana — that alleges the federal government and Biden administration leaned on social media companies to suppress free speech.
Chan also insisted that no one had mentioned Hunter Biden’s laptop to him before The Post broke the story and that he had not discussed it with anyone at Twitter.
Internal documents published by Shellenberger revealed that Roth occasionally pushed back against Chan’s concerns about foreign meddling in the months before the 2020 election, and “resisted FBI efforts to get Twitter to share data outside of the normal search warrant process” early that year.
In June 2020, Roth responded to a Chan inquiry about an NBC report that foreign-controlled Twitter bots spreading misinformation about a purported government communications blackout amid protests in Washington DC following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Catch up on Twitter’s censorship of The Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story
“We haven’t seen anything to support that claim. Our review thus far shows a small-scale domestic troll effort that was amplified in some creative ways by real people – but not a significant bot or foreign angle,” Roth wrote Chan on June 2.
On Aug. 31, Roth told Chan that there was no evidence to support a Washington Post story that made “a lot of insinuations about foreign interference” on political messaging on the platform.
Undeterred, the FBI “repeatedly” requested information from Twitter that company executives refused to volunteer, according to Shellenberger before arranging for the Top Secret security clearances, emails released in the data dump revealed.
On Aug. 11, 2020, Chan shared information with Roth “relating to the Russian hacking organization, APT28.” The following month, Roth took part in the “tabletop exercise” — a term used by the Department of Homeland Security to describe planning for emergencies — gaming out a potential “Hack-and-Dump” operation relating to Hunter Biden.”
“The goal was to shape how the media covered it — and how social media carried it,” the author said.
The event was organized, reports Shellenberger, by Vivian Schiller, a former top executive at media organizations such as NPR, the New York Times and NBC News, in addition to Twitter. Attendees included Facebook’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher; and David Sanger and Ellen Nakashima, top national security reporters for The Times and the Washington Post, Shellenberger said.
Neither Schiller, Gleicher, Sanger or Nakashima immediately responded to inquiries from The Post about the event.
Meanwhile, as Chan doled out the security clearances, he worked closely with his former FBI colleague Baker, who was fired by Musk earlier this month after his role in trying to stop the release of the “Twitter Files” was revealed.
On Aug. 26, 2020, Chan asked a Twitter contact if anyone at the company held a Top Secret clearance “so they can get a briefing on something.” When his correspondent suggested Baker, Chan responded: “I don’t know how I forgot Baker is there now” before adding that he would be “perfect.”
In fact, according to Shellenberger, there were so many former FBI employees working at Twitter in the runup to the 2020 election that they had their own private Slack channel, “Bu alumni,” complete with a crib sheet to onboard new members.
By mid-September, Chan and Roth agreed to set up a “virtual war room” for internet executives and the FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, according to internal emails.
On Sept. 15, FBI Foreign Influence Task Force leader Laura Dehmlow and Chan asked to give Baker a classified briefing without any other Twitter executives present.
After The Post broke the laptop story, Roth seemed reluctant to take any action, writing “it isn’t clearly violative of our Hacked Materials Policy, nor is it clearly in violation of anything else.”
Baker pushed back hard, insisting there were “some facts that indicate the materials may have been hacked,” and claimed: “I’ve seen some reliable cybersecurity folks question the authenticity of the emails in another way (i.e. that there is no metadata pertaining to them that has been released and the formatting looks like they could be complete fabrications).”
Baker made his claims despite The Post publishing a picture of a computer store receipt signed by Hunter Biden and an FBI subpoena for the laptop in 2019. By that point, the computer had been in the bureau’s possession for 10 months.
By 10:12 a.m. on Oct. 14, just over five hours after the article was published, Roth sent an internal email saying that a “consensus from experts monitoring election security and disinformation” found the piece “looks a lot like a hack-and-leak,” and recommended attaching a warning to the article as it was shared on Twitter.
Later that afternoon, Baker – who was investigated twice while at the FBI for leaking information to reporters – arranged a call with FBI lawyer Matthew Perry, according to Shellenberger.
In subsequent days, Shellenberger alleged, federal investigators fasely spread the claim that the laptop was a Russian influence operation, even making the claim to GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who were investigating the Biden family’s overseas interests.
The senators later claimed the meeting was “unnecessary”and was done “to falsely attack our Biden investigation as advancing Russian disinformation.”
A month after Joe Biden defeated Trump, Baker sent an email to FBI employees thanking them for protecting Twitter users and voters from “misinformation/disinformation,” a copy of the missive showed.
Hunter Biden’s laptop detailed how he traded on his father’s name for a high-paying job at a Ukraine energy company when the elder Biden was still vice president. It also showed he pursued a deal with a Chinese energy company executive now accused of fraud that would net him $10 million a year for introducing executives to his father.
The hard drive also included raunchy sexual images, and footage of Hunter apparently smoking crack.
Republican officials slammed the latest revelations about how Twitter squelched the story Monday, and called for the FBI to be held accountable.
“Today’s installment of the Twitter Files confirms the Swamp’s strongarming of and premeditated collusion with Big Tech to censor and suppress explosive reporting about the Biden family’s business schemes,” Incoming House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) said in a statement. “Republicans on the House Oversight Committee have called on several former Twitter executives to testify at a public hearing next Congress about this coordinated effort to hide information from the American people. With the power of the gavel, we will deliver the answers, transparency, and accountability that the American people deserve.”
“At least 80 FBI agents collaborated with Twitter to help monitor the social media site. How many more were working with other Big Tech companies?,” tweeted Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.
The developments came as new owner Elon Musk vowed to pull back the curtain on how the social network has moderated content, and silenced conservative voices.
Selected journalists have been tasked with combing through the documents and had begun releasing “Twitter Files” earlier this month.Musk, who bought the platform for $44 billion in October with the intent to turn it into a free speech bastion, was apparently poised to step down as CEO Monday after telling users he would abide by the results of a poll that showed he lacked their support.