By Brian Fung, CNN
For days, Twitter owner Elon Musk had teased a massive bombshell disclosure based on internal company documents that he claimed would reveal “what really happened” inside Twitter when it decided to temporarily suppress a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden and his laptop.
But on Friday, instead of releasing a trove of documents to the public, Musk’s big reveal pointed to a series of tweets by the journalist Matt Taibbi, who had been provided with emails that largely corroborated what was already known about the incident.
Attracting thousands of retweets, Taibbi’s winding tweet thread reaffirmed how, in the initial hours after the Post story went live, Twitter employees grappled with fears that it could have been the result of a Russian hacking operation.
It showed employees on Twitter’s legal, policy and communications teams debating — and at times disagreeing — over whether to restrict the article under the company’s hacked materials policy, weeks before the 2020 election, where Joe Biden, Hunter Biden’s father, ran against then-President Donald Trump.
While some questioned the basis for the decision and warned that Twitter would be inviting allegations of anti-conservative bias, others within the company, including senior officials, said the circumstances surrounding the Post story were unclear and recommended caution, according to screenshots of internal communications shared by Taibbi.
(Then-CEO Jack Dorsey — whom Taibbi said was not involved in the decision — has told US lawmakers that in hindsight, suppressing the story was a mistake.)
The emails Taibbi obtained are consistent with what former Twitter site integrity head Yoel Roth told journalist Kara Swisher in an onstage interview earlier this week. During that interview, Roth said he felt at the time that the Post reporting bore the hallmarks of a Russian hack-and-leak operation, an assessment that was shared at the time by dozens of former US intelligence officials. Roth did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
The Taibbi posts undercut a top claim by Musk and Republicans, who have accused the FBI of leaning on social media companies to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop stories.
Musk tweeted Friday night, amid the Taibbi posts, that Twitter had acted “under orders from the government.”
Taibbi said in his series of tweets that “there is no evidence – that I’ve seen – of any government involvement in the laptop story.”
Lawyers for Facebook parent company Meta have made similar comments in recent weeks, disputing claims from Republicans that the FBI coerced Facebook to suppress the laptop stories.
Taibbi said the material he reviewed referenced general FBI warnings about potential attempted Russian interference in the elections, which also dovetails with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s public account of Facebook’s handling of the New York Post story and affirms how Twitter was on high alert for possible foreign meddling.
In the wake of the article’s suppression, Taibbi said one Democratic congressman, California Rep. Ro Khanna, wrote to Twitter’s chief legal officer suggesting it was a bad look and a departure from First Amendment ideals to suppress a news report containing details that affect a presidential candidate. Khanna noted in the email he was saying this even though he was a “total Biden partisan.” Khanna did not respond to a request for comment.
The tweet thread also highlighted how officials from both political parties routinely wrote to Twitter asking for specific tweets to be removed. Taibbi included a screenshot of an email from the “Biden team” asking to delete tweets. A CNN review of those tweets on an archive site showed some purported photos of Hunter Biden, including nudity, that may have violated Twitter policy.
Taibbi said the contact from political parties happened more frequently from Democrats, but provided no internal documents to back up his assertion. He also did not say that Democrats requested that Twitter suppress the Post story, and his account did not suggest that the US government had ever pressured Twitter to suppress the story.
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CNN’s Evan Perez, Darcy Oliver and Donie O’Sullivan contributed to this report.