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Tipsheet

Ahead of Looming Big Tech Hearings, GOP Should Be Smart About Questions and Questioners

AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File

It's coming.  Everyone understands that the new incoming Republican House majority will all but guarantee some high-octane confrontations with big tech companies, the tone of which might sound something like this, or could get even more hostile.  The GOP should be mindful that for many Americans, battles over Twitter, censorship, and Hunter Biden seem like niche political fights.  Republicans should train most of their focus on issues that are most relevant to voters -- which is not to say that the aforementioned matters are irrelevant or should be ignored.  They're important.  On Hunter Biden's laptop, a legitimate and potentially-explosive news story was falsely declared 'Russian disinformation' by a presidential campaign, right before a contested election.  This inaccurate assertion was echoed by dozens of former intelligence community officials, conferring legitimacy on the claim, which was also wrongly being seeded by the FBI, offering tech companies and media outlets plenty of 'expert' cover to suppress, censor, or ignore the story.  

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The country's oldest newspaper had its Twitter account suspended for weeks as punishment for reporting an accurate story that was damaging to Democrats.  Months later, after Joe Biden was safely elected, other news organizations finally started to admit that the material in question was authentic.  The new approved talking point, seamlessly embraced by many of the same people who peddled the 'Russian disinformation' lie, is that the contents of the laptop needed to be kept out of the public's eye because it was pornographic material of the president's adult son.  But that's not what the scandal is about.  The scandal is about the younger Biden's overseas business dealings, about which the now-president categorically claimed he knew nothing at all -- a claim that is highly dubious, and has been directly contradicted by an eyewitness and close business associate of the Bidens.  This may not be the biggest corruption bombshell in the history of politics, but it's a real story about the First Family's influence peddling and ties to foreign governments.  And it's not based on fabricated (or even hacked) content, as was initially 'decided' by the Narrative formers -- and it's not about nude images, the new excuse or censorship many of the same people have landed on.

All of this merits scrutiny and tough questions, along with other related issues.  As I said on Fox earlier, based on a conversation I had on the radio with Mollie Hemingway, it will be important for Republicans to frame these issues as important and serious to an audience beyond hyper-online and cable-news-junkie members of their own base.  And when it comes to holding tech companies' feet to the fire, the questions in play need to be specific and savvy, and those asking them need to be well-versed in these matters.  Having a parade of technology-challenged lawmakers inveigh at high decibels -- with little substantive understanding of how things work, what the anticipated responses are, and how to probe further for new information -- would be a disservice:

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Hemingway made the point in our on-air exchange that during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, Republican Senators outsourced much of their questioning of Kavanaugh's accuser (who presented zero evidence that she ever even met Kavanaugh, and lost the trust of her own friend and star witness and her father) to an expert investigator of sex crimes. Though that Q&A exchange was halting and broken up into short increments, it exposed important holes in the accuser's story, which the expert (who was just elected County Attorney in Maricopa, Arizona) presented to Republican Senators in a closed-door meeting.  This was one of the turning points of that outrageous circus.  If all the questions had been asked by Senators, it very well may have been much less fruitful, and the outcome may have been different.  Hemingway suggested this could be a model for the Big Tech hearings, where particular members, staffers, or even GOP-aligned outside experts do much of the heavy lifting.  The Wall Street Journal editorial board raised these points earlier in the week:

The Twitter documents published by Mr. Taibbi include part of what appears to be a memo from James Baker, the Twitter deputy general counsel. “I support the conclusion that we need more facts to assess whether the materials were hacked. At this stage, however, it is reasonable for us to assume that they may have been and that caution is warranted,” Mr. Baker wrote. He continued that “there are some facts that indicate that the materials may have been hacked, while there are others indicating that the computer was either abandoned and/or the owner consented to allow the repair shop to access it for at least some purposes. We simply need more information.” With an election so close, any delay helped the Biden campaign, which was trying to squelch the Hunter Biden story that raised questions about what Joe Biden knew about Hunter’s foreign business dealings. Twitter went ahead and suppressed the story across its platform, going so far as to suspend the New York Post’s Twitter account.

Readers may recall that Mr. Baker was director Jim Comey’s general counsel at the Federal Bureau of Investigation during the Russia collusion fiasco in 2016. He was the main FBI contact for Michael Sussmann, the Clinton campaign lawyer who spread falsehoods about the Trump campaign regarding Alfa Bank, among other things. Mr. Baker’s ties to the former intelligence officials who signed the “Russian information operation” statement may have influenced his Twitter memo and the censorship decision. All of this is likely to be fodder for House Republican hearings into the FBI’s role in the Hunter Biden story. The partisan foray by current and former U.S. intelligence officials in the last two elections should be deeply troubling to Americans on the left and right. They have authority by dint of access to information that isn’t confirmable by the press, which takes their spin as gospel. This is a form of political corruption that needs to be exposed, and perhaps the Twitter documents will help to unlock the story.

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That editorial was published on Sunday.  By mid-week, Baker had been fired by Elon Musk, who accused that the lawyer of undermining new management's push for greater transparency.  Musk also said that journalists Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss have been granted access to more of the 'Twitter files' for additional reporting and exposure.  I'll leave you with a reminder of this blanket denial by then-candidate Joe Biden.  If he wasn't telling the truth, which seems very plausible-to-likely, shouldn't the self-described truth-seekers in journalism be interested in why?  Or are they too invested in a 'nothing to see here' cover-up in which many of them are personally complicit?


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