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James Comer’s Dick Pics Hearing Just Became an Alleged Stolen Laptop Hearing

As I have repeatedly pointed out, the first thing that James Comer chose to do after becoming Chair of the House Oversight Committee was to schedule a hearing about why he can’t look at non-consensually posted pictures of Hunter Biden’s dick on Twitter.

In letters asking former Twitter executives Jim Baker, Yoel Roth, and Vijaya Gadde to testify next week, Comer described the substance of the hearing to be about their, “role in suppressing Americans’ access to information about the Biden family on Twitter shortly before the 2020 election.” As Matt #MattyDickPics Taibbi has helpfully revealed, some of the “information about the Biden family” that Twitter suppressed Americans’ access to before the election were nonconsensual dick pics, including a number posted as part of a campaign led by Steve Bannon’s buddy Guo Wengui.

Certainly, the Twitter witnesses, who themselves have been dangerously harassed as the result of #MattyDickPics’ sloppy propaganda, would be within the scope of Comer’s stated inquiry to explain why a private company doesn’t want to be part of an organized revenge porn campaign, even if a Congressman from Kentucky wants to see those dick pics.

But Comer’s campaign also just became about something else: Twitter’s decision to suppress a story based off a laptop that its purported owner claims was unlawfully obtained.

As several outlets have reported (WaPo, CNN, NBC, ABC), Hunter Biden has hired Abbe Lowell, who has written letters to DOJ, Delaware authorities, and the IRS, asking for investigations into those who have disseminated the materials from the alleged laptop (though Lowell made clear that no one is confirming any of the versions of the laptop). Those included in the letters are:

  • John Paul Mac Isaac (whom a prior lawyer, Chris Clark, had already referred to SDNY)
  • Robert Costello, who first obtained the laptop from Mac Isaac
  • Rudy Giuliani
  • Steve Bannon
  • Garrett Ziegler (who plays a key role in the January 6 investigation but who now hosts the content as part of a non-profit)
  • Jack Maxey (who provided the “laptop” to multiple outlets)
  • Yaacov Apelbaum (whom Mac Isaac claimed had helped to create a “forensic” image of the laptop)

The lawyers also sent a defamation letter to Tucker Carlson for a story since proven to be false.

These letters aren’t likely to change what DOJ, at least, will do about the laptop. They’ve had the Mac Isaac copy in hand for some time, and the earlier SDNY referral would likely go to the same people already investigating the theft of Ashley Biden’s diary.

Ziegler may be an exception. DOJ likely already has interest for his role in January 6, the invitation to conduct an investigation may give reason to look more closely.

Eric Herschmann is not, according to reports, on these letters but he was even pitching “laptop” content while working at the White House.

But the public coverage of this will undoubtedly change the tenor of next week’s hearing. At the very least, it will validate Yoel Roth’s concerns in real time that the NYPost story was based on stolen data. It will, retroactively, mean that the NYPost story was a violation of Twitter’s terms of service agreement.

None of (the coverage of) these letters describes a key detail: How the Oversight Committee got the copy of the laptop they claim they have. These criminal complaints are broad enough that they likely include at least a few people involved in the channel via which the Committee obtained the laptop, meaning that the Committee would be — is — harboring data from a private citizen that he claims was illegally obtained.

Significantly, the letters include false statements to Congress among the crimes raised (probably with respect to Mac Isaac). Given that Comer’s actions are premised on what Mac Isaac has claimed (and as several of these stories note, Mac Isaac’s story has changed in significant ways, and never made sense in the first place), the allegation may give the Committee further reason to exercise caution.

At the very least, it’ll give Democrats on the Committee plenty to talk about in next week’s hearing.

I thought it would take some doing to top kicking off one’s chairmanship by having a hearing to complain about non-consensual dick pics. But having a hearing to complain that stolen private information wasn’t more widely disseminated may top that.

Kash Patel Wants the Insurrection Protection Committee to Investigate Why Robert Hur Tried to Protect Past Ongoing Investigations

Matt Taibbi (aka MattyDickPics) and Kash Patel are whining about the Nunes Memo again.

As you’ll recall, in the first year of the Trump Administration, Patel wrote a misleading memo for Devin Nunes purporting that the entire Russian investigation stemmed from the Steele dossier.  When the Carter Page IG Report and FISA applications were released, it became clear how Patel spun the facts. In this post I cataloged what both Nunes and Adam Schiff, in his counterpart to the Nunes memo, got wrong.

But it’s not the Nunes Memo itself that Taibbi and Patel are whining about. They’re complaining about the circumstances of its release five years ago.

Taibbi made it the subject of his latest Twitter Files propaganda thread and related Substack — the latter of which, astoundingly, says the public has to rely on the attributions of cloud companies, something Taibbi has always refused to do when discussing the GRU attribution of the 2016 hacks targeting Democratic targets. “It’s over, you nitwits. It’s time to stow the Mueller votive candles, cop to the coverage pileup created by years of errors, and start the reconciliation process,” Taibbi says, in appealing to precisely the kind of evidence he himself has refused to credit for more than six years. I dealt with both in this thread, but the important takeaway is that Taibbi doesn’t even manage to get facts that both the Daily Beast and I were able to cover in real time, including the fact that Republicans, too, were making unsupported claims based on the Dashboard’s reporting and Russian trolls were part of — just not the biggest part — of the campaign.

[A] knowledgeable source says that Twitter’s internal analysis has thus far found that authentic American accounts, and not Russian imposters or automated bots, are driving #ReleaseTheMemo. There are no preliminary indications that the Twitter activity either driving the hashtag or engaging with it is either predominantly Russian.

In short, according to this source, who would not speak to The Daily Beast for attribution, the retweets are coming from inside the country.

The source pointed to influential American users on the right, including Donald Trump Jr., with his 2.49 million followers, pushing the hashtag forward. It’s become a favorite of far-right Republican congressmen, including Steve King, who claimed the still-secret memo shows the FBI was behaving “worse than Watergate” in one viral tweet. Mark Meadows called it an “absolutely shocking” display of “FISA abuses,” referring to a counterintelligence process.

Rules of Engagement

There are reasons for skepticism about both the source’s claim and Alliance for Securing Democracy’s contrary findings.

Russian influence accounts did, in fact, send an outsize number of tweets about #ReleaseTheMemo—simply not enough for those accounts to reach the top of Twitter’s internal analysis.

Meanwhile, Kash Patel is outraged that Merrick Garland picked Robert Hur as Special Counsel to investigate Biden’s mishandling of classified documents because, when and after serving as a top aide to Rod Rosenstein in the early days of the Russian investigation, he opposed release of the memo.

This guy Hur needs to be the first one subpoenaed by the new Special Select Committee under Jim Jordan’s authority on the weaponization of government and do you want to know why? Because Hur — we have the receipts, Steve, and we’re going to release them later — was sending communications to the Justice Department and Rod Rosenstein’s crew arguing against the release of the Nunes memo. Saying that it would bastardize and destroy the United States national security apparatus. This guy is a swamp monster of the Tier One level, he’s a government gangster, he’s now in charge of the continued crime scene cover-up, which is why the first congressional subpoena that has to go out for the weaponization of government subcommittee is against Hur.

Remember, this committee was modified during the period when key insurrectionists were refusing to vote for Kevin McCarthy to include language authorizing the committee to investigate why the Executive Branch is permitted to conduct criminal investigations of US citizens.

the expansive role of article II authority vested in the executive branch to collect information on or otherwise investigate citizens of the United States, including ongoing criminal investigations;

It may be the intent to interfere in ongoing investigations into people like Scott Perry and Paul Gosar (who changed their votes on McCarthy later in the week, as these changes were being made) and Jordan (who will have great leeway to direct the direction of this committee). But Jordan may be surprised when he discovers that Merrick Garland will enforce the long-standing DOJ policies about providing Congress access to ongoing investigations that Jeff Sessions and Matt Whitaker and Bill Barr did not. Indeed, some precedents from the Russia investigation legally prohibit the sharing of this information with Congress.

But Kash’s complaint (back atcha with the rap gangsta alliteration, Kash!) is a bellybutton moment in which he attempts to villainize Hur’s past commitment to those long-standing DOJ (and intelligence community, including the NSA that conduct much FISA surveillance) policies. Consider the things the memo revealed, many of which had never before been released publicly.

  • Details about the dates and approvals for four FISA orders
  • Financial details involving private individuals, including US citizens
  • Contents of the FISA memo (but not their true context)
  • A reference to a Mike Isikoff article that appeared in the Carter Page applications; Kash was outraged when his own public article was included in the warrant affidavit targeting Trump
  • Details from a Confidential Human Source file
  • Misrepresentations about both Bruce Ohr and his spouse, the latter of whom was a private citizen whose work was shared with the FBI as part of the effort to vet the dossier
  • Direct communications with the President-elect the likes of which Trump claimed were covered by Executive Privilege in the Mueller investigation
  • False claims about the texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that are currently the subject of two Privacy Act lawsuits; even aside from the privacy implications, at the time it was virtually unprecedented for texts between FBI officials to be released, even in criminal discovery (and many of these released, including some misrepresented in the memo, pertained to work matters unrelated to the Russian investigation)

In other words, Kash Patel wants to investigate Hur’s comments, made either at the time he was the key overseer of the Mueller investigation or during a transition period as he awaited confirmation to be US Attorney, advocating that DOJ protect informants, FISA materials, details about private citizens, and work texts between FBI officials.

The very first thing Kash wants the Insurrection Protection Committee to investigate is why, five years ago, a senior DOJ official advocated following long-standing DOJ policy.

Matt Taibbi Confesses He Hasn’t Read His Own Twitter Files

Matt Taibbi, whom I have taken to calling “#MattyDickPics” for his wails about tweets that were part of a coordinated revenge porn campaign targeting Hunter Biden being taken down, confessed yesterday he knows virtually nothing about his own “Twitter Files” campaign, including what he himself has posted. In response to a Twitter account with just four followers that observed that his campaign had exposed nothing, MattyDickPics tweeted the following:

Before I use MattyDickPics to debunk MattyDickPics, let’s first unpack his claims: He says that, “These DHS/FBI programs are not for building cases” which he judges is “Not even close to the criminal case-building mission.”

Let’s talk about his premise, first of all — the claim that the “mission” is about “criminal case-building.”

The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, the part of DHS that runs what Taibbi calls a “program,” describes its public-facing mission this way:

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) leads the national effort to understand, manage, and reduce risk to our cyber and physical infrastructure. We connect our stakeholders in industry and government to each other and to resources, analyses, and tools to help them build their own cyber, communications, and physical security and resilience, in turn helping to ensure a secure and resilient infrastructure for the American people.

In his January 6 Committee testimony, former CISA Director Chris Krebs described the kinds of things CISA would do to help protect the vote.

In terms of the bidding internal to the U.S. Government on who had lead in those three areas [targeting of campaigns, targeting of election infrastructure, disinformation], it was clear, you know, once Jeh Johnson, the prior Secretary in 2017, January of 2017, designated election infrastructure critical infrastructure, it was, you know, CISA had the lead for working with State and local election officials on protecting critical infrastructure — or election infrastructure. That’s the systems. That’s the hardware. That’s the equipment and the processes associated with conducting an election.

Q Ands so can stop you there for a second?

A Yes.

Q Is that primarily protecting against what we would think of as hacking?

A No, not necessarily. It’s, again, critical infrastructure, we had an all-hazards approach. So we worked with election officials to conduct active shooter drills and 13 assessments. We would go look at election warehouses where equipment is stored in the off season, do physical risk assessments. In the wake of hurricanes, we would work with election officials. In fact, Kyle Ardoin, who’s the Secretary of State in Louisiana, in 2000 — the summer of 2020, I guess, where they got hit pretty hard by an election, we helped him work with FEMA and some of the response efforts there to get resources he needed to be able to conduct the election in 2020. So it was not just cyber. That tended to be the public – at least what the public cared about or the media cared about, just because it’s 2016, but it was – again, it was an all hazards. And we did — I don’t want to put numbers on it, because I don’t recall, again, off the top of my head, but a significant number of physical assessments of election facilities.

[snip]

Q You talked earlier about the infrastructure and protecting that. How did you work with State officials to make sure that their – to help them ensure that their equipment was safe and secure?

A We had a number of different offerings that we had. There’s an entire catalog. There’s an election security catalog. It’s not in here because it’s thick. But we would go out and conduct things like security and vulnerability assessments. We could do red team. We could do fairly in-depth assessments of voter registration database configurations 1) We had a, what’s known as cyber hygiene scan that they would sign up for and we’d do a regular scan to see if anything touching the internet was mis- – well, not misconfigured, but running an old vulnerable version. We developed in the summer before the election a product called – or tool called Crossfeed, which was a little bit more in-depth of assessing vulnerabilities of systems and websites that are touching the internet. ~ And then we would provide them reports and technical assistance on how they might secure things.

The stuff that MattyDickPics is concerned about was an effort to facilitate state election officials’ ability to rebut false claims about elections.

Q We’ve seen some documents that were produced by DHS relating to efforts to connect with social media platforms, Twitter, for example, to working with State and local officials to try to address claims that were being made on Twitter that were false.

A Uhhh,

Q Are you familiar generally with that initiative?

A I think generally, yes. And I gave an example of the 2018 election, at least, how we were able to connect I think it was Ohio with one of the platforms.

Q And it seemed as if that was a fairly robust — I was going to say operation. That’s probably too strong a word. But there was a fairly – it looked to be, from the documents I’ve seen, a fairly well-coordinated effort to put State officials in touch with the social media platforms and try to provide the information necessary to address what were false claims in their respective jurisdictions.

A I think certainly the efforts to make those connections was a priority. We had frequent — I think it was monthly – at least monthly I think monthly, let me put it that way meetings between interagency partners, so FBI, DNI, and CISA, with representatives from the social media platforms. And we sometimes did those out in California. You know, I would attend every now and then some of those meetings. Now, State and local partners were not there. This was just making sure the Federal Government and the social media platforms were connected and were sharing kind of our understanding of how things were playing out, what our concerns were.

None of that, CISA’s role in information-sharing, is law enforcement. The one example Krebs mentioned that involved an attempted hack, CISA passed off to the FBI and intelligence agencies.

And there was a State, Delaware observed an unknown actor trying to exploit an Oracle database vulnerability that they had had patched. So what we were able to do is Delaware let us know. We said, that’s interesting. ~ But because we were integrated with the FBI and the intelligence community and others, we could actually say, hey, 12 guys so it wasn’t just for our benefit, like | said, decision support. We were able to share it with our operational partners for them to go do whatever they need to do. Soit was a functional operational watch cell, also coordinating situational awareness, coordinating action. And that was and that was the day.

CISA didn’t ask for anything back from Twitter because CISA is not a law enforcement agency (note: one other thing MattyDickPics is referencing is that a Signal thread the FBI used for sharing information was treated as one way, but according to Chan, the social media companies would respond by other channels). It has no law enforcement mandate. Is has no case-building mandate.

With regard to CISA — and MattyDickPics is not alone in this gross misunderstanding of CISA’s mandate or legal status — MattyDickPics’ entire premise is false.

But that also means his complaint is wrong. Is MattyDickPics complaining that people make an effort to correct errors about the election? Would he prefer that local election authorities try to chase down rumors and false claims themselves, even as they’re putting in 16-hour days trying to run an election? Does he think that deliberate misinformation about elections, like non-consensually posted dick pics, must be protected on social media sites? Is he angry — as Elon Musk seems to be — that social media sites choose not to be the vehicle for messaging that makes it harder to conduct successful elections?

If you’re complaining that an information-sharing agency is sharing information, then ultimately your complaint is that you don’t think that information should be shared, that you don’t think election officials should make an effort to ensure information about elections is clear and accurate — or at least, you don’t think the federal government should do anything to protect elections. If that’s your view, own it.

Even with FBI, MattyDickPics’ premise that the mission is “case-building” is partly wrong. In addition to its law enforcement mission, FBI has a counterintelligence mission, which would cover a good deal of interaction with social media sites. Indeed, a great deal of entire threads of MattyDickPics’ rants pertain to the FBI passing on assessments about such operations, as when accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency were shared. The FBI has built several cases against the IRA, but that’s not the primary goal. The primary goal is to track how Russia and China and Iran attempt to interfere in our country.

Some of what MattyDickPics seems to misunderstand about this is that foreign spooks will pretend to be Americans as part of their efforts to fuck in democratic elections. For example, MattyDickPics has said nothing about the most significant hack-and-disinformation campaign from 2020, an Iranian attempt to pose as Proud Boys to send messages to Democrats to discourage them from voting. It’s not impossible that some of what he has portrayed as FBI interest in “Americans” was actually an effort to adopt the identity of Proud Boys — effectively maligning right wing Trump supporters — as cover for their operation. This kind of FBI investigation might never result in charges — because you’re never going to arrest the Iranian spooks behind it — but posing as American Proud Boys to interfere in the election could be charged under FARA laws.

One can complain about FBI’s dual mission — lord knows I have! But one cannot claim that FBI has exclusively a case-building mission and be entirely accurate.

Still, maybe all that can be excused because MattyDickPics decided to respond to a 4-follower Twitter account that also misunderstood the premise of some of what this information sharing is about.

It’s the claim that the FBI “program,” at least, is not about building cases, that I find outrageous.

Among the single screen caps that Twitter Files followers have latched onto most — along with one about Adam Schiff inappropriately and unsuccessfully trying to use Twitter’s QAnon rules to protect staffers (I won’t link that because MattyDickPics doxxed the person in question), a CIA official asking to be included in a public event, and the NSA asking whether Twitter still prohibited Dataminr from sharing the “firehose” of Twitter content with intelligence agencies (they did, though under Elmo, the Saudis and Qataris will reportedly be given access to it) — is this one, which they claim is proof that the FBI asked for location data without legal process:

As a threshold matter, note what this is not: an email from Elvis Chan, the guy in charge of San Francisco’s Election Command Post, to Twitter. It is an email from the National Election Command Post to Chan. MattyDickPics doesn’t explain how Twitter got this. He has “censored” how Chan sent this to Twitter.

Before I get into the content, let me repeat some background that two of Elmo’s pets, at least, claim to be familiar with, which I laid out here. Here’s how Chan explained the actions of both the National and San Francisco Election Command Post, which is behind a great deal of the FBI to Twitter requests MattyDickPics wails about.

A. During FBI San Francisco’s 2020 election command post, which I believe was held from the Friday before the election through election night, that Tuesday at midnight, information would be provided by other field offices and FBI headquarters about disinformation, specifically about the time, place or manner of elections in various states. These were passed to FBI San Francisco’s command post, which I mentioned to you before I was the daytime shift commander, and we would relay this information to the social media platforms where these accounts were detected. So I do not believe we were able to determine whether the accounts that were posting time, place or manner of election disinformation, whether they were American or foreign.

Q. But you received reports, I take it, from all over the country about disinformation about time, place and manner of voting, right?

A. That is — we received them from multiple field offices, and I can’t remember. But I remember many field offices, probably around ten to 12 field offices, relayed this type of information to us. And because DOJ had informed us that this type of information was criminal in nature, that it did not matter where the — who was the source of the information, but that it was criminal in nature and that it should be flagged to the social media companies. And then the respective field offices were expected to follow up with a legal process to get additional information on the origin and nature of these communications.

Q. So the Department of Justice advised you that it’s criminal and there’s no First Amendment right to post false information about time, place and manner of voting?

[snip]

A. That was my understanding.

Q. And did you, in fact, relay — let me ask you this. You say manner of voting. Were some of these reports related to voting by mail, which was a hot topic back then?

A. From my recollection, some of them did include voting by mail. Specifically what I can remember is erroneous information about when mail-in ballots could be postmarked because it is different in different jurisdictions. So I would be relying on the local field office to know what were the election laws in their territory and to only flag information for us. Actually, let me provide additional context. DOJ public integrity attorneys were at the FBI’s election command post and headquarters. So I believe that all of those were reviewed before they got sent to FBI San Francisco.

Q. So those reports would come to FBI San Francisco when you were the day commander at this command post, and then FBI San Francisco would relay them to the various social media platforms where the problematic posts had been made, right?

A. That is correct.

Q. And then the point there was to alert the social media platforms and see if they could be taken down, right?

A. It was to alert the social media companies to see if they violated their terms of service.

[snip]

Q. And this command post was chosen to be — I mean, it addresses nationwide election-related information, right?

A. So every field office, every FBI field office was mandated by headquarters to stand at a command post at least on election day. And FBI San Francisco was responsible for relaying any time, place or manner disinformation or malign-foreign-influence information to the social media companies as well as accepting any referrals from the social media companies.

Q. So FBI San Francisco had the special job of referring concerns to social media companies?

[snip]

THE WITNESS: Yes, and the reason for that is because the majority of the social media companies are headquartered in FBI San Francisco’s territory. [my emphasis]

That is, much of this activity (including this screen cap in particular) came in the context of a DOJ Public Integrity determination that lying about the time, place, or manner of voting might be a crime, and — Chan’s understanding at least — referrals to Twitter had already been vetted by a Public Integrity prosecutor.

As I’ve noted, this is not a frivolous claim. In early 2021, one of Bill Barr’s closest associates, Seth DuCharme, then serving as EDNY US Attorney, charged a Jack Posobiec associate named Douglass Mackey with violations of the Ku Klux Klan Act for doing this kind of thing at scale, by tweeting that users could text their vote in rather than show up and cast it, in 2016. Almost 5,000 people responded to this campaign and texted in their “vote” for President. It took two years and some HuffPo reporting before Mackey was identified and several more years to charge him.

Mackey is aggressively contesting the charge, including on First Amendment grounds; his trial is scheduled to start on March 13.

There’s even a tie between Mackey’s campaign and Elmo’s efforts to restore white supremacists to the platform. Right wingers have been lobbying Elmo to reinstate the pseudonymous Ricky_Vaughn99 account.

That’s what this is about: Efforts, some conducted at scale, to suppress the vote of certain Americans by lying to them about how or when or where to vote. And the involvement of prosecutors on the front end indicates that this was not just an effort to alert Twitter to misinformation so it could remove it if it chose to. This activity — which, again, makes up a great deal of what MattyDickPics has wailed about — was conducted in the context of law enforcement investigations.

But MattyDickPics has already confirmed that. The very screen cap in question — one of the screen caps that MattyDickPics’ frothers are most outraged about (caveating, again, that MattyDickPics chose to “censor” how Chan actually passed this onto Twitter) — asks for the following regarding 25 accounts that are “spread[ing] misinformation about the upcoming election:”

  1. Coordination between [San Francisco’s Field Office] and Twitter to determine whether the accounts identified below have violated Twitter’s terms of service and may be subject any actions deemed appropriate by Twitter.
  2. The issuance of preservation letters regarding any of the accounts identified below to preserve subscriber information and content information pending the issuance of legal process.
  3. Any location information associated with the accounts that Twitter will voluntarily provide to aid the FBI in assigning any follow-up deemed necessary to the appropriate FBI field office.

MattyDickPics has focused primarily on Bullet 1: If this violates Twitters terms of service, then — the FBI request suggests — Twitter can choose to do what it wants. That’s the “censorship” of efforts to dupe people into wasting their ability to participate in democracy that MattyDickPics is so outraged about.

Bullet 2, however, single-handedly refutes MattyDickPics’ claim from yesterday. Chan was supposed to ask for preservation letters, a request that Twitter preserve the account long enough that the FBI could follow up with a subpoena and/or warrant to get the subscriber information and then the content. This screen cap is explicitly about FBI’s case-building mission. MattyDickPics proved, on December 16, that MattyDickPics’ claims yesterday are false.

And even Bullet 3 — the reason this was deemed such an abuse — is about building a case. The National Command Post was not asking, voluntarily, for information that would help it identify whose mother’s basement this disinformation campaign was launched from, whether Brooklyn or Iran. Rather, it was asking for location information sufficiently detailed such that DOJ could assign follow-up leads to a US Attorney’s office that might be able to prosecute it. In fact, Mackey is challenging his prosecution, in part, by challenging venue in Brooklyn, a subject on which Judge Nicholas Garaufis has reserved judgment. That request for location information — accompanied as it was by a request for preservation order to get location information with a warrant — was all part of building a case.

One can certainly argue that the prosecution of Mackey and people like him for trying to affect the election by duping people out of their vote is a violation of the First Amendment, just like one can argue, as MattyDickPics is, that Twitter should be forced to permit users to use the platform to dupe others — Mackey allegedly targeted Blacks and Spanish speakers — out of casting their vote.

That’s a debate we can have.

But there’s no debate about whether these Command Post requests came in a framework that envisioned the possibility of case-building. MattyDickPics has already proven that MattyDickPics is lying about that.

“Dumb & silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter:” Elvis Chan, Hacks, the Klan, and the Twitter Files

In one of many false claims Michael Shellenberger made (see this thread for another) in his Twitter Files thread purporting to address Twitter’s handling of the “Hunter Biden” “laptop” (but which focused a lot on non-Twitter material on the “laptop”), he made this claim about the deposition of FBI Assistant Agent in Charge Elvis Chan.

Chan was interviewed as part of the lawsuit filed by Eric Schmitt before Schmitt was elected to the Senate. The suit alleges that the government has violated the First Amendment rights of Americans by pressuring social media companies to take down misinformation. The bolded language below, from an address by George Washington, appears in the first paragraph of Schmitt’s complaint.

if Men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind; reason is of no use to us—the freedom of Speech may be taken away—and, dumb & silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter. [my emphasis]

Shellenberger’s tweet is part of an argument that the FBI warned the social media companies specifically about Hunter Biden. Indeed, his tweet is premised on the claim that the FBI gave “warnings of a hack-and-leak operation relating to Hunter Biden.” [my emphasis]

In fact, though Hunter Biden came up in this deposition 36 times, Chan’s testimony was that Hunter Biden came up in just one briefing with social media companies, one in which someone from FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force, Laura Dehmlow, refused to comment in response to a question from Facebook about the already-published NY Post story.

Q. BY MR. SAUER: Do you know that in 20– so you remember sometime in 2020 a Facebook analyst asked the FBI to comment on the status of the Hunter Biden investigation?

A. That’s correct.

Q. And you believe that this occurred after there had been, you know, a New York Post article about the contents of the laptop that you referred to — I think you referred to earlier you finding out about it that way, right?

A. Yeah, I only found out through news media. I have no internal knowledge of that investigation, and yeah, I believe that it was brought up after the news story had broke.

Q. And so the — what did the Facebook analyst ask Ms. Dehmlow? Did they ask, you know, “Hey, we have the story. Can you confirm it,” or what did they ask?

A. Yeah, they just — I can’t remember the exact question, but I believe the investigator asked if the FBI could provide any information about the Hunter Biden investigation.

Q. Did they refer to the laptop in particular that had been the subject of the news stories?

A. I can’t recall.

Q. And what did Ms. Dehmlow respond?

A. She said no comment. She said something to the effect that the FBI has no comment on this.

Q. Did she indicate why the FBI declined to comment?

A. Yes. It was because — at the time I do not believe that we had confirmed that it was an active — we had — at the time we had not confirmed that the FBI was actually investigating Hunter Biden. So she did not have the authority to say anything or to comment about it.

Q. Did she know at the time that the FBI had the laptop and that the contents had not been hacked?

MR. SUR: Objection; calls for speculation and gets into law enforcement privilege.

Q. BY MR. SAUER: To your knowledge?

A. I have no idea. I never asked her, and she never told me.

Q. Did Hunter Biden come up with any other social media platforms during 2020?

A. Not to my knowledge.

Q. Do you recall any mention of Hunter Biden at any meetings with any social media platforms?

A. No. It stood out because that Facebook meeting was the only one where an individual from one of the companies even asked about it.

Q. You’re confident that Hunter Biden did not come up at any other meetings between federal government officials and social media platforms in 2020?

A. I was confident that I was not a party to any meeting with social media companies where Hunter Biden was discussed outside of the one incident that I told you about.

Q. That was the one where it was a FITF Facebook meeting where the analyst asked Ms. Dehmlow and she refused to comment, correct?

A. That is correct. That is correct.

Note that Twitter Files propagandists often refer to Dehmlow’s actions in 2020 and describe that she was in charge of the entire FITF effort, but at the time she was only in charge of the China unit. That has the effect of falsely suggesting she and all the other FITF warnings were focused primarily on Russia (Iran is similarly neglected from the focus of the Twitter Files propagandists).

In his deposition, Chan takes issue with former Twitter head of Trust and Safety Yoel Roth’s use, in a declaration explaining why Twitter took down links to the NY Post article, of the word, “expectation,” to describe FBI’s warnings to be on the lookout for hack-and-leak operations and notes that the FBI would have been the only federal law enforcement agency who offered such warnings; CISA, which organized other meetings with the FBI, is not a law enforcement agency (though the Twitter File propagandists have at times claimed it is). He also has to correct Schmitt’s lawyer when he treats Roth’s reference to the Infosec community’s response to the NY Post story to include the FBI, as opposed to the private sector Infosec community.

But Chen’s testimony — whether it accords with Twitter’s own records or not — is quite clear: while the FBI (and CISA and ODNI) were absolutely warning that there might be hack-and-leak operations in 2016, those warnings did not mention Hunter Biden. Rather than admitting that, Shellenberger instead states as fact that these warnings were “relating to Hunter Biden.”

And then he does something funnier. To prove that these warnings “relating to Hunter Biden” that weren’t related to Hunter Biden weren’t based on any new information, he points to Chan’s repeated comments that the FBI had not seen any intrusions like the 2016 ones.

Q. You said that there might be a Russian hack-and-dump operation?

A. So what I said was although we have not seen any computer intrusions into national-level political committees or election officials or presidential candidates at this time, we ask you to remain vigilant about the potential for hack-and-dump operations, or something to that effect.

Q. Did you specifically refer to the 2016 hack-and-dump operation that targeted the DCCC and the DNC?

A. I believe I did.

Q. Did you provide any basis to the social media platforms for thinking that such an operation 20 might be coming?

A. The basis was — my basis was it had happened once, and it could happen again.

Q. Did you have any other specific information other than it had happened four years earlier?

[snip]

THE WITNESS: Through our investigations, we did not see any similar competing intrusions to what had happened in 2016. So although from our standpoint we had not seen anything, we specifically, in an abundance of caution, warned the companies in case they saw something that we did not.

Q. BY MR. SAUER: So did you ask the companies if they had seen any attempts at intrusions or unauthorized access?

A. This is something that we — that I regularly ask the companies in the course of our meetings. 

Q. Did you ask them in these meetings?

A. Not at every meeting, but I believe I asked them at some meetings.

Q. And did you repeatedly warn them at these meetings that you anticipated there might be hack-and-dump operations, Russian-initiated hack-and-dump operations?

[snip]

THE WITNESS: So repeatedly I would say — can you — can you ask your question like — what do you mean by “repeatedly”? Like times, five times?

Q. BY MR. SAUER: Well, did you do it more than once?

A. I did it more — yes. I warned the companies about a potential for hack-and-dump operations from the Russians and the Iranians on more than one occasion, although I cannot recollect how many times. [my emphasis]

But note that Chan specifically referenced hacks of “national-level political committees or election officials or presidential candidates.”

Hunter Biden is not and was not a national-level political committee.

Hunter Biden is not and was not an election official.

Hunter Biden is not and was not a presidential candidate.

Having misrepresented what Chan said about the extent of any discussions of Hunter Biden (whether it is accurate or not), Shellenberger then pointed to testimony about hacks of political candidates to disclaim the FBI had any information about hacks of someone who is not a political candidate.

And while it doesn’t show up in this deposition because Eric Schmitt doesn’t much care about Russian hacking, Chan’s reference to Russia and Iran is significant: because according to former CISA Director Chis Krebs’ January 6 Committee deposition, both did hack “election-adjacent systems” in 2020.

Q Are you able to form any conclusions as to whether there was a cyber intrusion in connection with the 2020 election?

A Yes. In fact, we released alerts on these things throughout. There were both Russian and Iranian actors that were able to gain access to election-adjacent systems. The Iranians, in one case, I think, had access to a voter registration database. But we’re not aware of any instance where they were in a system that would’ve been directly connected or, you know, involved in casting, counting, certifying of votes.

Indeed, Iran conducted the most notable information operation in 2020, emails to Democrats in Florida purporting to be Proud Boys providing disinformation about the election. So a good deal of the wailing about last minute warnings to social media companies in 2020 had to do, in part, with foreigners maligning far right militia members, not Hunter Biden. We haven’t heard anything about the FBI’s efforts to protect the reputation of the Proud Boys from Elmo’s propagandists, though.

Several more points about Chan’s responses on hack-and-leak campaigns are worth nothing. First, Chan said he kept raising the potential of a hack-and-leak campaign, “in case [the tech companies] saw something that we did not.” Russian denialists like Matt Taibbi — who espoused the Single Server fallacy until at least 2019 — don’t understand this, but when GRU engaged in a hack-and-leak campaign in 2016, tech companies were seeing the operation and attributing it to Russia in real time (though not Twitter, that I am aware of). Tech companies saw some parts of the attack before the FBI did. Yet in his deposition, Chan had to repeatedly explain to Schmitt’s lawyer that most of his interactions with social media companies involve hacks, not disinformation.

THE WITNESS: Yeah. The majority of my interaction with Facebook is not in the disinformation or malign-foreign-influence realm. It is actually for things related to my — to the Cyber Branch, which are specifically cyber investigations.

One time Chan even had to explain that “malign foreign influence” sometimes involves hacking (the Iranian campaign targeting the Proud Boys appears to have, for example). And Chan described several times that his team not only investigated part of the 2016 hack, but still had an active investigation into those actors. That’s important not only because he would have firsthand knowledge of the kinds of attribution social media companies (and Google and Microsoft) had in 2016, but for another reason: On October 19, 2020, DOJ indicted a bunch of GRU hackers, including one charged in the 2016 hack-and-leak campaign, for a variety of additional hacks, including the hack-and-leak targeting Emmanuel Macron. The Macron campaign, specifically, included both Google and Twitter components. So in the very same weeks when — right wingers complain — Elvis Chan was in close contact with Twitter about the ongoing election, he or his subordinates were likely working with prosecutors in Pittsburgh on an indictment implicating both Google and Twitter.

Emmanuel Macron is not mentioned in the Chan deposition.

Something else not mentioned in the Chan deposition — not once among the 36 mentions of Hunter Biden!!! — is Burisma Holdings. Mind you, it was not FBI that had attributed a 2019 hack of Burisma to the GRU, the very same actors under discussion, earlier in 2020, it was a Bay Area Infosec company, that same Infosec community that Yoel Roth had attributed some of his concerns about Hunter Biden to. We have no idea whether the FBI — whether a team under Chan’s direction, possibly! — similarly discovered that GRU had hacked Burisma in 2019. Chan was never asked. It’s one of the questions you’d have to ask, though, if you wanted to know whether the FBI had any knowledge that might lead them to believe that Hunter Biden — as distinct from “national-level political committees or election officials or presidential candidates” — had been targeted with a GRU info op during the 2020 presidential cycle.

So there are several things that you would want to ask Elvis Chan about whether he knew of things in 2020 that might have raised concerns that the NYPost article was part of a hack-and-leak campaign, including what hacks Russian and other foreign countries did do, his interactions with Bay Area companies Google and Twitter in those very same weeks in advance another indictment of the GRU, as well as his knowledge of the Bay Area attribution of a GRU campaign targeting Burisma. Eric Schmitt’s lawyer didn’t ask. Which is to say that nothing in this deposition addresses Shellenberger’s specific claims, which unsurprisingly didn’t stop him from claiming it did.

But at least we know he knows of the deposition, though from the looks of his screen cap, he may have mostly just searched it for isolated language that would confirm his priors.

Lee Fang, whose single entry in Twitter Files is the least dishonest, has also read it. He posted a screen cap reporting as “news” that the FBI weighs in on legislation that affects the FBI (which is tantamount to confessing that Fang knows next to nothing about how DC works; Fang did not retract his wildly erroneous article that was significantly debunked by Chan’s deposition).

In other words, two people associated with the Twitter Files have at least claimed familiarity with this deposition.

And yet, as recently as Friday, #MattyDickPics has continued to make grossly false claims about what FBI was doing.

Over and over again, Matty has complained that the FBI sent Twitter URLs for tweets, including tweets written by Americans.

Some of the moderation decisions he reviewed in his first Twitter File thread focus on Tweets about the means and method of voting. He calls Tweets advertising an incorrect day for election day “silly numbers.”

In short, Matt Taibbi has gone from being furious that Twitter removed non-consensually posted dick pics, some of which were the product of inauthentic campaign launched by Steve Bannon buddy Guo Wengui, to being outraged that the FBI shared Tweets advertising the wrong day for election day.

He has done so in spite of the fact that Chan’s deposition explains why the FBI was doing that: because sending false information that might lead someone to lose their opportunity to vote is a crime.

Q. But you received reports, I take it, from all over the country about disinformation about time, place and manner of voting, right?

A. That is — we received them from multiple field offices, and I can’t remember. But I remember many field offices, probably around ten to 12 field offices, relayed this type of information to us. And because DOJ had informed us that this type of information was criminal in nature, that it did not matter where the — who was the source of the information, but that it was criminal in nature and that it should be flagged to the social media companies. And then the respective field offices were expected to follow up with a legal process to get additional information on the origin and nature of these communications.

Q. So the Department of Justice advised you that it’s criminal and there’s no First Amendment right to post false information about time, place and manner of voting?

[snip]

A. That was my understanding.

Q. And did you, in fact, relay — let me ask you this. You say manner of voting. Were some of these reports related to voting by mail, which was a hot topic back then?

A. From my recollection, some of them did include voting by mail. Specifically what I can remember is erroneous information about when mail-in ballots could be postmarked because it is different in different jurisdictions. So I would be relying on the local field office to know what were the election laws in their territory and to only flag information for us. Actually, let me provide additional context. DOJ public integrity attorneys were at the FBI’s election command post and headquarters. So I believe that all of those were reviewed before they got sent to FBI San Francisco.

Q. So those reports would come to FBI San Francisco when you were the day commander at this command post, and then FBI San Francisco would relay them to the various social media platforms where the problematic posts had been made, right?

A. That is correct.

Q. And then the point there was to alert the social media platforms and see if they could be taken down, right?

A. It was to alert the social media companies to see if they violated their terms of service. [my emphasis]

I’ve got a request into the FBI but have not gotten a response about what crime this violated, but I believe the crime DOJ was relying on — Bill Barr’s DOJ! — was the Ku Klux Klan Act, which was passed in 1871 to prevent racists from conspiring to deprive former slaves from voting. This is the same crime that Douglass Mackey was charged with for allegedly conducting a more systematic campaign to misinform black voters about when to vote in 2016 (Mackey has pled not guilty and is vigorously contesting the constitutionality of the statute).

In other words, after complaining that Twitter chose to take down revenge porn targeting Joe Biden’s son, Taibbi is now complaining that DOJ enforced a law designed to protect Black people’s right to vote.

And his fellow Twitter File propagandists, at least two of whom claim familiarity with Elvis Chan’s deposition that explains this, are letting him continue to grossly misrepresent an effort to protect the right to vote.

Elon Musk’s Self-Described “Crime Scene”

On Saturday, Elon Musk tweeted that the social media site he owns is a crime scene.

I’m pretty sure his confession to owning and running a crime scene was not intended as an invitation for the Securities and Exchange Commission to mine the site for evidence that Elmo engaged in one or several securities-related violations in conjunction with his purchase of it. (As I’ll get to, Elmo’s claim that his own property is a crime scene may, counterintuitively, be an attempt to stave off that kind of investigative scrutiny.)

Similarly, he probably wasn’t boasting that the Federal Trade Commission and a bunch of European regulators are investigating how Elmo’s recklessness has violated his users’ privacy. He cares so little about that, his newly installed head of Twitter Safety, Ella Irwin, confirmed she was spending her time in charge of a woefully gutted department sharing private user data with one of the mouthpieces Elmo has gotten to rifle through Twitter documents. Worry not, though: Irwin deemed sharing the moderation history of three far right activists — and the control panel used for moderation — not to be a security or privacy risk.

Likewise, I’m virtually certain Elmo didn’t mean to boast that San Francisco has started cataloguing the beds he had installed at Twitter headquarters so he can flog his (often H1B-captive) engineers to work round the clock.

Given what has come out of the “Twitter Files” project so far, not to mention the number of coup-conspirators Elmo has welcomed back on the platform, I assume he doesn’t mean to emphasize that Twitter is one of the key sources of evidence about the failed January 6 coup attempt, even against — especially against — the coup instigator. On the contrary, Elmo has invited a bunch of pundits to write long breathless threads about the ban of Trump’s account that entirely leave out what happened on January 6. Here too, then, Elmo may be trying to undercut a known criminal investigation by labeling his social media site a crime scene.

No.

When Elmo says Twitter is a crime scene, he’s not imagining federal investigators swarming his joint to collect evidence that would be introduced in a legal proceeding according to the Rules of Criminal or Civil Procedure.

Indeed, a central part of the breathless Twitter Files project involves insinuating, at every turn, malice on the part of either law enforcement (often the FBI) or other federal organizations mislabeled as law enforcement (like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, CISA, which is part of DHS), even while presenting evidence that disproves the allegations being floated. That’s what Matt Taibbi — whom I will henceforth refer to as #MattyDickPics for his wails that the DNC succeeded in getting removed nonconsensually posted dick pics — some of which were part of an inauthentic campaign that Steve Bannon chum Guo Wengui pushed out. (Side note: my Tweet linking to MotherJones’ story on the Guo Wengui tie, which shows that these tweets were doubly violations of Twitter’s Terms of Service, got flagged by Twitter as “sensitive content.”)

In one attempt to prove that former head of Twitter Safety Yoel Roth was too close to law enforcement, for example, MattyDickPics showed that Roth didn’t have weekly meetings pre-scheduled, and therefore could get blown off in favor of the Aspen Institute or Apple.

In another, Matty showed Roth writing to what appears to be an internal Slack, but claiming it was a “report to FBI/DHS/DNI,” about Twitter’s Hunter Biden response. Taibbi has discovered something genuinely newsworthy: Per Roth, when he asked about the “Hunter Biden” “laptop,” the government declined to say anything useful.

Weekly sync with FBI/DHS/DNI re: election security. The meeting happened about 15 minutes after the aforementioned Hacked Materials implosion; the government declined to share anything useful when asked. [my emphasis]

This entire campaign largely arose out of suspicion that the FBI was ordering Twitter to take action to harm Trump (or undermine the Hunter Biden laptop story). Matty here reveals that not only did that not happen, but when Twitter affirmatively asked for information, “the government declined to share anything useful.”

This is one of those instances where the conclusion should have been, “BREAKING: We were wrong. FBI did not order Twitter to kill the Hunter Biden laptop story.” Instead, Matty labels this a “report to” the government, not a “report about” a meeting with the government. And he says absolutely nothing about the evidence debunking the theory he and the frothy right came in with.

Instead, Matty makes a big deal out of the fact that, “Roth not only met weekly with the FBI and DHS, but with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).” Reminder: At the time, DHS was led (unlawfully) by Chad Wolf. ODNI was led by John Ratcliffe. And one of Ratcliffe’s top aides was Trump’s most consistent firewall, Kash Patel. Roth may have been meeting with spooks, but he was meeting with Trump’s hand-picked spooks.

In another fizzled pistol, Matty shows Twitter responding to two reported Tweets from the FBI (without describing the basis on which FBI reported them) and in each case, debunking any claim that the Tweets were disinformation.

Matty complains that Twitter applied a label reassuring people that voting is secure. This is either just gross cynicism about efforts to support democracy, or a complaint that Twitter refused to institutionally embrace conspiracy theories. Whichever it is, it amounts to a complaint that Twitter tried to protect the election.

Perhaps my favorite example is where Matty, who is supposed to be showing us what happened between the Hunter Biden laptop moment and when, after Trump attempts a coup, Twitter bans him, instead shows us Slacks that post-date January 6. He provides no date or any other context. He shares these, he says, because they are an example of a Twitter exec “getting a kick out of intensified relationships with federal agencies.” They show Roth joking about how he should document his meetings.

Matty provides no basis for his judgment that this shows Twitter execs “getting a kick out of intensified relationships with federal agencies.” It’s even possible that Roth was claiming this was an FBI meeting the same way people name their wifi “FBI surveillance van,” as a joke. This is the kind of projection of motive that, elsewhere, Matty complains about Twitter doing (I mean, I guess he counts as Twitter now!), but with literally no basis to make this particular interpretation.

Honestly, I wish Matty had committed an act of journalism here — had at least provided the date of these texts! — because these texts are genuinely interesting.

It’s highly unlikely, though, that Roth is worried about documenting that he had meetings with the FBI, and Matty has already shown us why that’d obviously be the case. As Matty has shown, Roth had weekly meetings with the FBI on election integrity and monthly meetings on criminal investigations. He listed those meetings with the FBI as meetings with the FBI.

Yoel Roth was not afraid to document that he had meetings with the FBI, and Matty, more than anyone, has seen proof of that, because this breathless thread is based on Roth documenting those meetings with the FBI.

One distinct possibility that Matty apparently didn’t even consider is that, in the wake of the coup attempt, Roth had meetings with law enforcement, including the FBI, that were qualitatively different from those that went before because … well, because Twitter had become a crime scene! Consider the possibility, for example, that FBI would need to know how Trump’s tweets were disseminated, including among already arrested violent attackers. It was evident from very early in the investigation, for example, that Trump’s December 19 Tweet led directly to people planning, among militia members and totally random people on the Internet, to arm themselves and travel to DC. Or consider the report in the podcast, Finding Q, that only after January 6 did the FBI investigate certain aspects of QAnon that probably could have been investigated earlier: Twitter data on that particular conspiracy would likely be of interest in such an investigation. Consider the known details about how convicted seditionists used Trump’s tweets in the wake of the failed coup attempt in discussions of planning a far more violent follow-up attack.

Matty, for one, simply doesn’t consider whether Elmo’s observation explains all of this: that Twitter had become a crime scene, that the FBI would treat it differently as Twitter became a key piece of evidence in investigations of over 1,200 people.

None of this shows the “collusion” with the Deep State that Matty is looking for. Thus far, it shows the opposite.

Which may be why, close to the beginning of this particular screed, Matty explained (as he did about several other topics), that he was making grand pronouncements about Twitter’s relationship with law enforcement (and non-LE government entities like CISA) even though, “we’re still at the start of reviewing” the records.

Seven Tweets before he made that admission — “we’re still at the start of reviewing” these files — Matty insinuates, in spite of what his thread would show turned out to be evidence to the contrary — that Twitter struggled as Trump increasingly attacked democracy “perhaps under pressure from federal agencies.”

He and his fellow-Elmo mouthpieces have reached their conclusion — that Twitter did what it did “perhaps under pressure from” the Feds, even though they’ve only started evaluating the evidence and what evidence they’ve shown shows the opposite.

This is, nakedly, an attempt to attack the Deep State, to invent claims before actually evaluating the evidence, even when finding evidence to the contrary.

I mean, Matty is perfectly entitled to fabricate attacks against the Deep State if he wants and Elmo has chosen to give Matty preferential access to non-public data from which to fabricate those attacks. But it certainly puts Elmo’s claim that his site is a crime scene in different light.

Elmo has chosen a handful of people, including Matty and several others with records of making shit up, to confirm their priors using Twitter’s internal files. He’s doing so even as he threatens to crack down on anyone with actual knowledge of what went down speaking publicly. That is, Elmo is trying to create allegations of criminality based off breathlessly shared files — a replay of the GRU/WikiLeaks/Trump play in 2016 — by ensuring the opposite of transparency, ensuring only people like Matty, who has already provided proof that he’s willing to make shit up to confirm his priors, can speak about this evidence.

That’s Elmo’s crime scene.

Elmo has targeted Anthony Fauci.

He fired former FBI General Counsel, Jim Baker, because Jim Baker was acting as a lawyer — and because Jonathan Turley launched an attack on Baker.

He has fabricated an anti-semitic attack on Roth, suggesting the guy who made the decision to throttle the NYPost story on “Hunter Biden’s” “laptop” is a pedophile.

These are scapegoats. Elmo is inviting House Republicans to drag them through the mud; incoming Oversight Chair James Comer has already responded with a demand from testimony for Jim Baker and Yoel Roth. Elmo has not invited law enforcement into his self-described crime scene. The mouthpieces Elmo has invited in to tamper with any evidence have, instead, speculated (in spite of evidence to the contrary) that pressure from law enforcement led people like Jim Baker and Yoel Roth to make the decisions they did.

That’s Elmo’s crime scene.

A week before Elmo announced that he hosted a crime scene, he posted this, “Anything anyone says will be used against you in a court of law,” then within a minute edited it, “Anything anyone says will be used against me in a court of law.”

Elmo’s response to buying a crime scene, used to incite an attack on American democracy, is to flip the script, turn those who failed to do enough to prevent that attack on democracy into the villains of the story. It’s a continuation of the tactic Trump used, to turn an investigation into Trump’s efforts to maximize a Russian attack on democracy into an investigation, instead, into an investigation that created FBI villains, just as Matty invented pressure from law enforcement while displaying evidence of none.

And Elmo’s doing so even while using the fascism machine he bought, which Trump used to launch his coup attempt, to incite more violence against select targets.

Matty Taibbi’s Dick Pics

Apparently, Elon Musk decided that the best person to disclose what he promised would show, “what really happened with the Hunter Biden story suppression by Twitter” was Matt Taibbi, someone who — by his own admission (an admission on which he has apparently flip-flopped) — apologized for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because he was, “so fixated on Western misbehavior that I didn’t bother to take [the] possibility [of Russian invasion] seriously enough.”

Reverse chauvinism, Taibbi called it.

Taibbi’s own apologies for Russia didn’t just start with the Russian imperialism and war crimes, however.

He was long a critic of what he called “RussiaGate” based on the tried and true tactic of treating the Steele dossier and Alfa Bank allegations — and not the legal verdicts that confirmed Trump’s National Security Advisor, campaign manager, Coffee Boy, personal lawyer, and rat-fucker all lied to hide the true nature of their Russian ties — as the primary substance of the case. Taibbi scolded others about shoddy reporting even while he adhered to the Single Server fallacy that not only assumed all the hacked material came from just one server, but ignored the hack of Amazon Web Services content and abundant other evidence attributing the hacks to Russia from other cloud companies. Then there was the time Taibbi tried to smack down on claims that Maria Butina used sex to entice targets, in which he made error after error, all without allowing his false claims to be disrupted by consulting the actual primary sources.

That’s the guy Elmo decided would be a credible voice to tell us what happened with the “Hunter Biden” “laptop” story.

That matters because, as Andy Stepanian explained last night, Twitter had advance warning of a Russian information operation targeting Hunter Biden during the summer of 2020, months before the release of the “Hunter Biden” “laptop.”

Matt Taibbi is either woefully misinformed about this or cynically lying. How do I know? Because I attended two meetings with Twitter representatives in July and August 2020 wherein the Hunter Biden story was discussed within the larger framework of election integrity.

Matt Taibbi’s analysis has myriad problems but the biggest problem is his failure to underscore what initially prompted twitter staff to designate the content in the Post story as “stolen” or “hacked” material. This came from conversations with law enforcement in summer of 2020.

During the election integrity meetings I was present for little was known about how the material would eventually be published. I recall one spokesperson suggesting the Hunter Biden content may publish via “something like wordpress” or “wikileaks-styled” website.

This is the contact with FBI that Twitter and Facebook had about Hunter Biden in 2020, not any immediate response to the Post story. It’s almost certainly what Mark Zuckerberg was referring to in a Joe Rogan interview that has been misrepresented in the aftermath.

Taibbi, the self-described reverse chauvinist, describes any Hunter Biden-specific warnings as general — mentioning neither Hunter Biden nor Russia — and omits the timing.

Perhaps Elmo didn’t give Taibbi this important earlier context. Perhaps it’s Elmo’s fault that his hand-picked Russian apologist left out the specific details of the warning — that they included Hunter Biden and preceded the NYPost story by months — that are necessary context to the stupid decisions Twitter made. But the silence about those details is anything but “what really happened.”

And note Taibbi’s conclusion: There was no government involvement in the laptop story.

Assuming Taibbi were a credible reporter, that should end it. Game over.

Stupid moderation decisions, but not stupid moderation decisions done as a result of pressure from the government.

Taibbi has debunked the conspiracy theory the frothy right has been chasing for months.

Curiously, Taibbi concludes there was no government interference in the story even while he showed proof of a government surrogate pressuring Twitter about its (stupid) moderation decisions on the laptop story.

Taibbi was so deep in his conspiracy theories he didn’t realize that that — a surrogate of the sitting President demanding that Twitter give his campaign advance notice of their content moderation decisions — is closer to a First Amendment violation than suppressing the Post story, no matter how stupid Twitter’s decision was. To be clear: it’s not a First Amendment violation, but kudos to Taibbi for getting closer than all the frothy Republicans have to finding proof of inappropriate pressure.

It came from Trump.

In fact, Taibbi admits that Twitter was honoring requests from the White House, as well as the private entity of the Joe Biden campaign, for takedowns using the content moderation tools.

Taibbi claims that he’s concerned about First Amendment implications of the government pressuring Twitter about content. And then … he ignores the evidence he presents about (what is probably shorthand for) the Trump White House pressuring Twitter about content. Let’s see those specifics, Matty!

Or rather he excuses it, using the old charade of campaign donations which show what a small portion of Twitter employees spend.

And Taibbi’s other claims of bias are just as problematic. In one Tweet, Tweet 30, Taibbi claims that Ro Khanna was the only Democratic official he could find that expressed concern about the Post takedown.

Three Tweets later, Tweet 33, Taibbi describes an emailed report from a research firm polling the response of congressional offices, including Democrat Judy Chu’s, describing that both Democrats, plural, and Republicans “were angry,” which sure seems like Taibbi missed at least one Democrat besides Khanna expressing concern.

Ro Khanna, incidentally, was the leading recipient of donations from Twitter employees in 2022, almost 10% of the total, so to the extent Twitter employees disproportionately donate to Democrats, they’re funding Taibbi’s chosen voice of the First Amendment problems with Twitter’s decision.

The most telling part of Taibbi’s screed, however, is his complaint that when private entity “the Biden team” asked for some take-downs, Twitter obliged.

What Taibbi is complaining about is the way in which Twitter, the entity, always proved most responsive to high level requests.

He seems to think that damns pre-Elmo Twitter, when if anything, Elmo’s moderation decisions have far more dramatically reflected the whims of those with personal access, starting with Andy Ngo, who has personally gotten a bunch of anti-fascists banned from Twitter. If you have a problem with arbitrary, personalized moderation decisions, Elmo is the last guy you should be fronting for.

But there’s an even bigger problem with Taibbi’s smoking gun, the primary evidence he presents that the Biden crowd got special treatment of any kind.

As numerous people have laid out — most notably Free Beacon reporter Andrew Kerr — a number of these takedown requests were of dick pics and other personal porn, a celebrity kind of revenge porn. Others were of Hunter Biden smoking crack — at least a violation of law. But none so far identified pertain to allegations of influence peddling.

Tabbi’s smoking gun amounts to takedown requests of stolen dick pics, precisely the kind of thing that content moderation should be responsive to.

“Handled,” Elmo responded with glee about proof that his predecessors had seen fit to remove leaked porn and dick pics.

That Matty Taibbi, of all people!, would shift subjects, after debunking the conspiracy theory of government pressure that started all this, to dick pics is fairly stunning. That’s because Taibbi is famously thin-skinned when people on Twitter talk about his own — unlike the Hunter Biden pictures, voluntarily exposed — dick exploits from when he lived in Russia. Every time someone on Twitter discusses what a misogynist slime Taibbi was in his Moscow days, he, suspected sock-puppets, and a few persistent Taibbi defenders show up to complain that people on Twitter are talking about what Taibbi did with his dick while under the influence overseas (or to claim it was all, even the misogynistic language, make-believe).

Taibbi was always a poor choice for an exposé based on primary sources.

But Taibbi is a particularly bad surrogate for Elmo to pick to complain about the takedowns of stolen dick pics.

Yet that, in episode one of what Elmo and Taibbi promise will be a series, is the best they’ve got.

“Handled.”

Update: Matty Dick Pics wouldn’t tell his subscribers what conditions he had to agree to to peddle Elmo’s complaints about dick pics.

What I can say is that in exchange for the opportunity to cover a unique and explosive story, I had to agree to certain conditions.

Update: Tim Miller shreds the whole fiasco.

While normal humans who denied Republicans their red wave were enjoying an epic sports weekend, an insular community of MAGA activists and online contrarians led by the world’s richest man (for now) were getting riled up about a cache of leaked emails revealing that the former actor James Woods and Chinese troll accounts were not allowed to post ill-gotten photos of Hunter Biden’s hog on a private company’s microblogging platform 25 months ago.

Now if you are one of the normals—someone who would never think about posting another person’s penis on your social media account; has no desire to see politicians’ kids’ penises when scrolling social media; doesn’t understand why there are other people out there who care one way or another about the moderation policies surrounding stolen penis photos; or can’t even figure out what it is that I’m talking about—then this might seem like a gratuitous matter for an article. Sadly, it is not.

Because among Republican members of Congress, leading conservative media commentators, contrarian substackers, conservative tech bros, and friends of Donald Trump, the ability to post Hunter Biden’s cock shots on Twitter is the number-one issue in America this weekend. They believe that if they are not allowed to post porno, our constitutional republic may be in jeopardy.

I truly, truly wish I were joking.

[snip]

Right-wing commentator Buck Sexton (real name), said this was a “bright red line violation” and that Biden should be IMPEACHED for it. Rep. James Comer (R-TN) was on Fox promising that everyone at Twitter involved with this would be brought before the House Oversight committee. Rep. Billy Long retweeted several MAGA influencers praising Elon for, among other things, “exposing corruption at the highest levels of society” (Projection Alert). Meanwhile Kari Lake hype man Pizzagate Jack Posobiec declared this the “biggest story in modern presidential election history,” claimed that “we can never go back to the country we were before this moment,” and donned this “a digital insurrection.”

In reality, all they really had was a digital erection.

David Gregory & NBC Give John McCain Blowjob; Screw Americans

Saturday evening, the New York Times put up an important editorial, The Banks Win Again, on its website regarding the financial crisis, an editorial piece that would be key in their Sunday Morning Edition Opinion Section:

Last week was a big one for the banks. On Monday, the foreclosure settlement between the big banks and federal and state officials was filed in federal court, and it is now awaiting a judge’s all-but-certain approval. On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve announced the much-anticipated results of the latest round of bank stress tests.

How did the banks do on both? Pretty well, thank you — and better than homeowners and American taxpayers.

That is not only unfair, given banks’ huge culpability in the mortgage bubble and financial meltdown. It also means that homeowners and the economy still need more relief, and that the banks, without more meaningful punishment, will not be deterred from the next round of misbehavior.

The nation is on the cusp on having the government, both federal and states, sign off on arguably the biggest financial fraud on the American public in history, and doing so in a way that massively rewards the offending financial institutions and refuses serious investigation, much less prosecution, of any participants perpetrating the conduct. This pattern of craven conduct cratered not just the US economy, but most of the world economy.

In the face of all this, David Gregory and MTP had on the Sunday morning show one of the most senior Senators in the United States Senate, John McCain, who serves as a key member of both the Governmental Affairs and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees, both of which Read more

The New Robber Barons

image002Previously, Marcy Wheeler noted the unsavory blending of the private interests of health insurance companies with the power and hand of the US government:

It’s one thing to require a citizen to pay taxes–to pay into the commons. It’s another thing to require taxpayers to pay a private corporation, and to have up to 25% of that go to paying for luxuries like private jets and gyms for the company CEOs.

It’s the same kind of deal peasants made under feudalism: some proportion of their labor in exchange for protection (in this case, from bankruptcy from health problems, though the bill doesn’t actually require the private corporations to deliver that much protection).In this case, the federal government becomes an appendage to do collections for the corporations.

The reason this matters, though, is the power it gives the health care corporations. We can’t ditch Halliburton or Blackwater because they have become the sole primary contractor providing precisely the services they do. And so, like it or not, we’re dependent on them. And if we were to try to exercise oversight over them, we’d ultimately face the reality that we have no leverage over them, so we’d have to accept whatever they chose to provide. This bill gives the health care industry the leverage we’ve already given Halliburton and Blackwater.

Marcy termed this being “On The Road To Neo-feudalism” and then followed up with a subsequent post noting how much the concept was applicable to so much of the American life and economy, especially through the security/military/industial complex so intertwined with the US government.

Marcy Wheeler is not the only one recently noting the striking rise in power of corporate interests via the forceful hand of US governmental decree (usually at the direct behest of the corporate interests). Glenn Greenwald, expanding on previous work by Ed Kilgore, penned a dynamic description of the dirty little secret (only it is not little by any means) afoot in modern American socio-political existence:

But the most significant underlying division identified by Kilgore is the divergent views over the rapidly growing corporatism that defines our political system.

Kilgore doesn’t call it “corporatism” — the virtually complete dominance of government by large corporations, even a merger between the two — but that’s what he’s talking about. He puts it in slightly more palatable terms:

To put it simply, and perhaps over-simply, on a variety of fronts (most notably financial restructuring and health care reform, but arguably on climate change as well), the Obama administration has chosen the strategy of deploying regulated and subsidized private sector entities to achieve progressive policy results. This approach was a hallmark of the so-called Clintonian, “New Democrat” movement, and the broader international movement sometimes referred to as “the Third Way,” which often defended the use of private means for public ends.

As I’ve written for quite some time, I’ve honestly never understood how anyone could think that Obama was going to bring about some sort of “new” political approach or governing method when, as Kilgore notes, what he practices — politically and substantively — is the Third Way, DLC, triangulating corporatism of the Clinton era, just re-packaged with some sleeker and more Read more