Musk says Twitter lawyer fired amid Hunter Biden laptop dispute

Elon Musk accuses executive of possibly suppressing information about Twitter’s handling of Hunter Biden laptop story.

Elon Musk speaks at the SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition on March 9, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Elon Musk has announced he fired Twitter’s deputy general counsel over concerns the high-ranking executive tried to suppress information about the Hunter Biden laptop controversy [File: Susan Walsh/AP]

Elon Musk said he “exited” Twitter’s deputy general counsel over concerns the high-ranking executive tried to suppress information about the social media platform’s handling of the Hunter Biden laptop controversy.

Musk, who bought Twitter last month for $44bn, said in a tweet on Tuesday he pushed out James Baker, the FBI’s top lawyer before joining the social media giant in 2020, over his “possible role in suppression of information important to the public dialogue”.

Musk said Baker, who played a key role in the FBI probe into claims of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, had offered an “unconvincing” explanation for his actions when confronted.

Musk’s announcement came shortly before independent journalist Matt Taibbi wrote on Twitter that the planned publication of new internal files related to Twitter’s handling of the Hunter Biden laptop story had been delayed due to Baker’s “vetting” of the documents without management’s approval.

Taibbi, a former Rolling Stone journalist who now writes on Substack, said he and fellow independent journalist Bari Weiss had faced “obstacles” searching internal documents shared with them by Musk. Taibbi said he and Weiss had resumed reviewing the documents, dubbed the “Twitter files”, and were preparing to publish the next instalment.

Al Jazeera has reached out to Baker for comment on Twitter and Linkedin.

Taibbi on Friday published internal correspondence from October 2020 detailing how Twitter executives made the decision to restrict the sharing of a New York Post article detailing materials found on a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, US President Joe Biden’s son.

In the communications, Twitter top brass are shown discussing — and at times disagreeing — whether and how to restrict the article, which alleged Hunter Biden traded on his father’s name in his business dealings in Ukraine and China.

Twitter executives ultimately decided the article should be restricted under its policy against hacked materials amid claims by former US intelligence officials that the laptop story bore the hallmarks of Russian disinformation, although no evidence of Russian involvement has ever been produced.

Baker was among the executives who supported restricting the article, arguing it was “reasonable for us to assume” it contained hacked material and “caution is warranted,” according to the emails published by Taibbi.

The documents released on Friday also purport to show correspondence from the Biden campaign requesting Twitter to take down certain tweets — including purported nude photos of Hunter Biden that were shared without consent — but do not indicate that the Biden team, law enforcement or any government agency requested the suppression of the New York Post article specifically.

Taibbi’s publication of the files drew a polarised response over the weekend. While media figures and politicians on the right cast the documents as confirmation of Twitter’s liberal bias and hostility to free speech, many on the left described it as a non-story that simply showed the platform’s good-faith efforts to grapple with difficult moderation decisions.

Some former Twitter executives pointed to the publishing of the documents, which included names and email addresses, as the latest example of Musk’s irresponsible leadership of the company, with Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, saying the move had put employees “in harm’s way”.

Twitter’s decision to restrict the New York Post article weeks out from the 2020 presidential election prompted heated debate about the role of social media in managing politically sensitive information, with conservatives accusing the platform of favouritism towards then-candidate Biden’s campaign.

Media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post and CBS later reported that forensic analysis showed that thousands of documents, including materials published by the New York Post, were genuine.

Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey later told a congressional hearing on misinformation and social media that he thought the platform’s handling of the article was a “total mistake”.

Source: Al Jazeera