WASHINGTON - The House hearing Wednesday into Twitter's brief suppression of a story about Hunter Biden's laptop outlined the queasiness of former executives to block it and provided a bare-knuckle arena for partisan lawmakers to debate allegations against President Joe Biden.
Former Twitter executives told the House Oversight and Accountability Committee the company blocked links to the New York Post story in October 2020 because of similarities to the posting of leaks from hacked Democratic computers before the 2016 election. The executives called the 24-hour suppression a mistake and said it was difficult to judge between contentious and dangerous speech during a campaign.
Against that backdrop, Republican lawmakers argued Twitter's decision could have thrown the election to Biden rather than former President Donald Trump. Some lawmakers called for legislation to prevent Twitter from blocking posts or government agencies from recommending against publication.
But Democrats called the hearing "silly" and a "bizarre political stunt" because Twitter is a private company free to make its own decisions about what to publish. Democrats also questioned the basic allegations against Biden stemming from the laptop as "categorically false."
Here are seven takeaways from the hearing:
Former Twitter executives call 2020 laptop decision mistake based on 2016 concerns
Former Twitter executives said elements of the New York Post story in October 2020 appeared under an "initial assessment" similar to the results from the 2016 theft of Democratic documents distributed by Wikileaks.
The company blocked links to the story before reversing course 24 hours later. But the former executives said people could still post comments about the story and discuss it.
"Our judgement was colored by the experience of 2016 and by the very real Russian activities we saw play out that year," said Yoel Roth, Twitter's former global head of trust and security, who didn't agree with the decision to suppress the story. "But this isn't a case where I was right, and others were wrong: The decisions here aren't straightforward, and hindsight is 20/20."
Former Twitter executives denied violating First Amendment as a private company
The former Twitter executives said they hadn't been contacted by the FBI to block links to the story, as some House Republicans allege.
"Moreover, I am aware of no unlawful collusion with, or direction from, any government agency or political campaign on how Twitter should have handled the Hunter Biden laptop situation," said James Baker, Twitter's former deputy general counsel.
Added: But Republicans alleged Twitter partisanship, based on internal emails and on campaign contributions to Democrats, to thwart the story.
"I think you guys got played by the FBI," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. "I think you wanted this taken down.
Comer: Twitter able to 'suppress and delegitimize' news about Hunter Biden's laptop
The committee chairman, Rep. James Comer, said the result was to "suppress and delegitimize" information about alleged Biden family business schemes.
"Twitter, under the leadership of our witnesses today, was a private company the federal government used to accomplish what it constitutionally cannot: limit the free exercise of speech," said Comer, R-Ky.
Greene blasts Twitter for banning her
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene blasted Twitter executives for banning her from the site in 2022 until after she won her election in November and said she was glad the former executives lost their jobs.
Greene, R-Ga., argued the company violated her First Amendment rights by censoring her for posts about COVID-19 vaccines despite Twitter being a private company rather than a government censor.
"You abused the power of a large corporation - Big Tech - to censor Americans," Greene said. "Guess what? I'm so glad that you're censored now and I'm so glad that you've lost your jobs."
Yoel Roth, Twitter's former global head of trust and security, said Greene was banned after multiple warnings and timeouts for posting misinformation about COVID vaccines.
Democrats call inquiry 'silly' and 'bizarre political stunt'
The top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Jamie Raskin, called the inquiry an "authentically trivial pursuit" because Twitter is a private company, blocked links to the story briefly and later apologized.
"Silly does not begin to capture this obsession," said Raskin, D-Md.
Ian Sams, a White House spokesperson, said the inquiry pursued "long-debunked conspiracy theories" and was a "bizarre political stunt."
Goldman calls Ukraine allegations about President Joe Biden 'categorically false'
Rep. Dan Goldman, who previously served as a Democratic lawyer in the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump, challenged the main accusation Wednesday against President Joe Biden stemming from his son's laptop.
Goldman, D-N.Y., said the first accusation in the New York Post story is that as vice president Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its prosecutor general for investigating Burisma, a company that employed Hunter Biden. But Goldman said the coordinated policy of the U.S. and Europe was to oust the prosecutor for not investigating corruption.
"We've seen no actual evidence for any lies or any support for Joe Biden being involved in anything having to do with Ukraine other than promoting U.S. foreign policy," Goldman said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hunter Biden laptop and Twitter hearing enflames House lawmakers