Social network says it censored story after briefing from government agents
Chuck Ross • October 10, 2022 2:45 pm
Two FBI officials who briefed Facebook ahead of its decision to censor news stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop donated to Democrats in 2020, according to court filings and campaign finance records.
Laura Dehmlow, the unit chief for the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force, and Elvis Chan, the head of the FBI’s San Francisco cyber division, were “involved” in the communications between the FBI and Facebook that led to the social media giant’s “suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story,” according to a court filing on Thursday. The FBI’s interactions with Facebook have been of interest since Mark Zuckerberg said in August that Facebook blocked access to an October 2020 New York Post article about Biden’s laptop because the FBI had earlier warned the company to be on “high alert” for Russian efforts to release derogatory information about the Bidens before the election.
According to campaign finance records, Dehmlow gave $60 to the Democratic National Committee in 2020. Chan contributed $50 each to Democratic Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for their runoff campaigns in November 2020. According to the court filing, Facebook parent company Meta identified Dehmlow and Chan in response to a subpoena for records of interactions with the Biden administration. The filing, released by the Missouri attorney general’s office on Monday, does not detail Dehmlow and Chan’s interactions with Facebook or any other social media companies. The attorney general’s office is suing the Biden administration for allegedly colluding with social media companies to “censor free speech.”
The contributions are likely to revive longstanding concerns about political bias in the FBI’s probe of Hunter Biden, who is under federal investigation over his taxes and foreign business dealings. Republican lawmakers have accused the FBI of shutting down aspects of the investigation into Biden and of inaccurately referring to reports about the Biden family’s business dealings as Russian disinformation.
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) have for months pressed the FBI for information about who met with social media companies to warn them about the Post’s laptop story, which cited Hunter Biden’s emails with his Ukrainian business partners. After Zuckerberg’s comments, the Republicans asked the FBI and Justice Department to detail interactions with social media companies and accused the agencies of “falsely” portraying negative reports about the Biden family as Russian disinformation.
Twitter joined Facebook in censoring the Post’s story about Hunter Biden based on information from intelligence officials. Yoel Roth, the head of Twitter’s site integrity unit, has said he blocked access to the story because the officials, who have not been identified, said there were “rumors” that Russia would release derogatory material about Hunter Biden.
Facebook and Twitter executives have acknowledged they were wrong to censor the Biden story. There is no evidence that Russia hacked Hunter Biden or released his emails. A computer repair shop owner in Delaware says Biden dropped off his laptop for repairs in April 2019 but never retrieved it. The shop owner, John Paul Mac Isaac, provided a copy of Biden’s hard drive to the FBI in late 2019, and released another copy to the media in 2020.
According to Grassley and Johnson, FBI whistleblowers claim that an FBI official in the Washington Field Office who oversaw aspects of the Hunter Biden investigation shut down inquiries into derogatory allegations about him in October 2020. The official, Timothy Thibault, criticized Republicans in multiple social media posts.
FBI director Christopher Wray established the Foreign Influence Task Force in 2017 “to identify and counteract malign foreign influence operations targeting the United States.” According to the FBI, the task force has focused primarily on foreign influence operations in which foreign actors “use false personas and fabricated stories on social media platforms to discredit U.S. individuals and institutions.”
Chan, who works in the FBI’s San Francisco field office, has spoken publicly about his interactions with social media companies in the run-up to the 2020 election. He said he “was very involved in helping to protect the U.S. elections in 2020” and that the FBI “worked in conjunction with the private sector.” He said he met with technology and social media companies “on a weekly basis” before the election to share intelligence regarding any “unusual” activity on their networks.
“That’s where the FBI and the U.S. government can actually help companies,” he said.
The FBI has been dogged by allegations of political bias since the investigation into former president Donald Trump’s possible ties to Russia. Peter Strzok, who led the investigation, was fired after the discovery of anti-Trump text messages he exchanged with FBI attorney Lisa Page. Another FBI attorney who worked on the investigation, Kevin Clinesmith, sent text messages after the 2016 election urging “Viva le resistance,” a reference to anti-Trump groups that emerged after the election.
The FBI and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.