Former Twitter execs tell Republicans they erred on Hunter Biden laptop story

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Former Twitter executives told a Republican-led U.S. House committee on Wednesday that they made a mistake by blocking tweets about a laptop said to belong to President Joe Biden's son Hunter but said government officials were not involved.

At a combative day-long hearing before the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, Republicans claimed that Twitter cooperated with government officials and the news media to suppress a New York Post article on the laptop's contents, two weeks ahead of Biden's 2020 election victory over former President Donald Trump, a Republican.

The committee's witnesses, three former Twitter executives, said in subpoenaed testimony that they mistakenly believed the Post article contained hacked material and reversed their decision to limit its circulation on the social media platform within 24 hours.

Democrats accused Republicans of pursuing a politically motivated fishing expedition against Biden and raised concerns about witness intimidation after a Republican lawmaker warned the former executives that they would be held accountable for activities she deemed "highly illegal."

The proceedings, which came a day after Biden offered to work with Republicans on some of the nation's toughest problems in his State of the Union address, represented the first public hearing of an investigation into the Biden family's business dealings that Republicans promised their most hardline supporters during last year's midterm election campaign.

The White House issued a statement denouncing the hearing as "a bizarre political stunt" motivated by denial of Biden's election victory over Trump, who continues to claim falsely that his defeat was the result of fraud.

"America witnessed a coordinated campaign by social media companies, mainstream news and the intelligence community to suppress and de-legitimize the existence of Hunter Biden's laptop and its contents," committee Chairman James Comer said at the outset of the proceedings.

Hunter Biden's attorney Abbe Lowell has denied in a statement any connection between his client and what he called the "so-called laptop," including contents that Republicans "allege to be Mr. Biden's personal data."

Yoel Roth, Twitter's former head of trust and safety, testified that the team responsible for enforcing rules on content was separate from Twitter personnel involved in government relations.

He said Twitter was trying to avoid the kind of interference that occurred in 2016, when Russian officials allegedly hacked Democratic National Committee computers and disseminated material through social media.

The Twitter executives also said company policy sought to mitigate content that could lead to political violence, such as what later occurred in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump's supporters.

"I am here to tell you that doing nothing is not an option. If we continue to do nothing, violence is going to happen again," said Anika Collier Navaroli, a former member of Twitter's U.S. safety policy team.

Democrats raised concerns about witness intimidation after Republican Representative Anna Paulina Luna presented what she called proof that Twitter and the federal government had acted jointly to censor Americans.

"It's highly illegal. You were all engaged in this action. And I want you to know that you will all be held accountable," Luna told the witnesses.

Representative Jamie Raskin, the panel's top Democrat, urged members to keep in mind that Twitter is a private company with the power to choose its own content.

"It's even more important now that we have members who are actually threatening witnesses with arrest and prosecution for clearly imaginary offenses," Raskin said.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)