Twitter probably fumbled the Hunter Biden story. But don’t expect a sane investigation | Margaret Sullivan -

You can’t get Americans to agree on much these days – not on gas stoves, not on Chinese spy balloons, not on the books allowed in school libraries.

But one thing they apparently can bond over is whether the Republicans in the House of Representatives are likely to spend the next two years responsibly serving as the loyal opposition to President Biden and the Democrats who control the Senate.

Checks, balances and all that good stuff.

The consensus: fat chance.

Most Americans, in an NBC poll, think Republicans will spend too much time on investigations; a CNN poll showed three out of four respondents agreeing that House Republicans haven’t been paying enough attention to things that matter; a Pew Research poll finds two-thirds of Americans are concerned that they will focus too much on investigating the Biden administration.

In other words, the public has seen enough grandstanding to know exactly what’s coming.

“The GOP’s investigations are going to be drawn from a grab bag of rightwing grievances,” as Hayes Brown, an MSNBC editor, recently predicted.

Things kick off in earnest on Wednesday morning with the House oversight committee taking up how Twitter handled a controversial New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop, back in the fall of 2020.

Will this committee stay grounded in reality as members explore legitimate questions?

I’m not hopeful, especially after hearing committee chairman James Comer, Republican of Kentucky, speculating on Fox News a few days ago about the Chinese spy balloon. Comer suggested that the balloon might be loaded with bioweapons, and then went full Trump: “Did that balloon take off from Wuhan?”

Comer is the same guy who suggested back in December, again preaching to the Fox News faithful, that the Brittney Griner prisoner swap may had some tie to Hunter Biden. (Well, yes, of course, because in the Republican conspiracy world, everything must have that same diabolical connection.)

Then there’s the oversight committee’s Republican membership, which includes Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Lauren Boebert of Colorado. Not exactly a Mount Rushmore of governmental statesmanship.

Get out your tin-foil hats and, while you’re at it, your earplugs.

It’s too bad, because Congress’s oversight role is a crucial one.

What’s more, the way Twitter handled the New York Post story really was dubious, as Jack Dorsey, then the CEO, has acknowledged.

The Murdoch-owned paper reported in the fall of 2020 that it had received a copy of a hard drive of a laptop that Hunter Biden had left many months before at a Delaware repair shop and never retrieved, and that it included emails that showed attempted influence peddling by then vice-president Joe Biden’s wayward son.

For several days, Twitter blocked users from sharing links to the story.

To be sure, skepticism and caution were in order. Was there reason to wonder whether such a laptop even belonged to Hunter Biden? Was there reason on Twitter’s part to fear that the whole thing was part of a Russian disinformation campaign and thus to be wary of spreading it weeks before a presidential election?

Again, legitimate questions.

“We want to make sure that our national security is not compromised” is Comer’s explanation for bringing the former Twitter executives in for a grilling. (They are the former chief legal officer, Vijaya Gadde, former deputy general counsel James Baker, and former global head of trust and safety Yoel Roth.)

Dorsey himself later called his company’s decision to block the story without communicating the reasons “unacceptable”.

Major news organizations, meanwhile – considering the dubious source and unable to verify the facts in real time – held the New York Post’s article at arm’s length, while not entirely ignoring it.

One reason for caution: as the Washington Post wrote in an October 2020 analysis, the article repeated the debunked claim, spread by then president Trump, that Joe Biden, vice-president at the time of the alleged influence peddling, had pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor at his son’s behest.

But the media’s hesitancy to play up the story brought howls of partisan censorship from the right – especially because the presidential election was right around the corner.

Speaking to the National Press Club recently, committee chairman Comer talked a good game about how he wants to lead his committee with transparency and bipartisanship, hewing closely to the mission of rooting out government fraud and mismanagement. He unveiled a long list of targets to investigate, from prescription drug pricing to the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and of course, the inappropriate involvements of family members, which never seemed to trouble Republicans about the Trump clan.

Comer claimed the high ground: “I want [it] to be a substantive committee.”

I would love to believe that. But since what’s past is prologue, I will not be holding my breath.

By Justin

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