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 Joe Biden as his links to 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 amid the company’s decision to suppress the New York Post’s October 2020 report exposing emails found on Hunter Biden’s now infamous laptop computer that 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.”
But the FBI had taken possession of the laptop in December 2019, months before the newspaper published materials from the laptop, 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.”
Mr. Jordan is one of several Republican leaders poised to explore President Biden’s potential links to his son’s long trail of suspicious business dealings.
Former FBI officials told The Times it is possible that those FBI officials involved in the meetings with social media companies were not aware that the bureau had obtained the laptop. They also said that if the laptop was the subject of a pending investigation, the agents would be severely limited in the details they could provide.
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 that while it is conceivable the agents briefing Twitter were unaware of the details surrounding the laptop, he said 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.”
“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 White House and the FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In 2019, Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Sen. Chuck 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 the White House’s point man in Ukraine.
The Senate inquiry followed accusations by President Trump that Mr. Biden had used his position as vice president to improperly press for the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor, angling to shield Burisma and his son from a corruption investigation.
The report, which was based in part on suspicious activity reports filed with the Treasury Department’s financial crimes enforcement network, unlocked a trove of suspect payments Hunter Biden received from other 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 then-candidate Biden.
The elder 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.”
But further details unearthed since, have raised more questions about the president’s past involvement.
The hard drive from Hunter Biden’s laptop computer, 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 [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure,” the email from Vadym Pozharskyi read.
Further details pointing to Mr. Biden’s involvement have since trickled out, often 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 and stepmother Jill Biden as office mates along with Mr. Gongwen.
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 the elder Biden in Los Angeles in 2017 while attempting to set up a new venture for Chinese investments, SinoHawk Holdings.
Mr. Bobulinski, a former U.S. 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 assure him he was “clear” after reading a newspaper story detailing Hunter Biden’s dealings with CEFC.
The newspaper reported that Mr. Ho called Jim Biden upon his arrest. Jim Biden told the newspaper that he believed the call was meant for his nephew, though the outlet reported that it was “unclear whether Hunter Biden struck any deals with CEFC.”
“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.”
And yet, Mr. Biden’s campaign persistently branded the now authenticated laptop as Russian disinformation.
That explanation was also peddled by more than 50 former U.S. senior intelligence officials in an open letter and by social media platforms that, acting on FBI warnings on the authenticity of the laptop computer, began censoring online discussion of the laptop ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Lawmakers have also questioned the FBI’s direct involvement in discrediting the information.
In August 2020, Mr. Grassley and Mr. Johnson said that FBI and intelligence committee officials held an unsolicited briefing for lawmakers on matters related to their probe during which the officials labeled the Senate investigation as Russian disinformation.
The senators said the briefing, which took place 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 of the bureau 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 his 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 just how extensive the FBI’s involvement in monitoring social media content had become.
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, 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 also disclosed these 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 alleged 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 described as occurring regularly 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.