A Repulican-led US House of Representatives panel on Wednesday questioned three former Twitter employees over the Hunter Biden laptop scandal.
The Hunter laptop scandal refers to the 2020 blocking of The New York Post story based on the contents of the Hunter's laptop that was accessed by them. Hunter is President Joe Biden's son.
The censorship by Twitter on grounds that The Post story featured hacked material was criticised by free speech advocates. The Republicans have also seen the censorship as a collussion between the Democratic Party and Twitter.
The laptop scandal is just one of the many scandals that Hunter is embroiled in. The Republicans had earlier declared their intention to investigate Hunter with the goal of finding alleged corrupt practices of the Biden family.
Here we explain what happened in House panel hearing on Wednesday, what is the Hunter Biden scandal, and what it means politically.
What happened in Hunter Biden hearings?
House Republicans questioned former Twitter executives on Wednesday about the platform's handling of reporting on Hunter Biden. Three former executives appeared before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee to testify for the first time.
"Today's hearing is the House Oversight and Accountability Committee's first step in examining the coordination between the federal government and Big Tech to restrict protected speech and interfere in the democratic process," Rep. James Comer, the chairman, said in his opening statement.
The witnesses Republicans subpoenaed to testify are Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's former chief legal officer; James Baker, the company's former deputy general counsel; and Yoel Roth, former head of safety and integrity.
Democrats have a witness of their own, Anika Collier Navaroli, a former employee with Twitter's content moderation team. She testified last year to the House committee that investigated the Capitol riot about Twitter's preferential treatment of Donald Trump until the then-president was banned from Twitter two years ago.
What's Hunter Biden laptop scandal?
Hunter Biden has long been accused of profiting by utilising his father Joe Biden's name. The allegations date back to Biden senior's Vice Presidential days.
It's alleged that Hunter charged or at least sought huge sums of money for lobbying purposes when his father Joe Biden was the Vice President. The alleged acts include connecting top-ranking officials with foreign businesspersons.
"One prospective partner reported that despite reports of Hunter's womanizing and substance abuse, he could still be a valuable partner due to his purported 'access' to the State and Treasury departments as well as the 'highest level' in China," reported Insider.
The Insider reported that Hunter accompanied his father on his official visit to Beijing where Joe Biden met Chinese venture capitalist Jonathan Li, who had earlier contracted Hunter with a private equity fund. Hunter also received a 3-carate diamond from another Chinese tycoon.
"Other documents, derived from Hunter Biden's abandoned laptop, suggest that his associates were managing some of Joe Biden's finances and paying the vice president's utility and Delaware home repair bills out of his son's accounts," reported Insider.
Hunter's laptop also had material linking him to suspected corrupt practices in Ukraine.
"The Post published what it claimed were emails showing that an adviser to Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, Vadym Pozharskyi, emailed Hunter in May 2014 asking Hunter for "advice on how you could use your influence" to aid the company. At the time, Burisma's president was under investigation by Ukraine's then-prosecutor general Viktor Shokin...On April 17, 2015, Pozharskyi emailed Hunter to thank him for connecting him with his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden." reports Newsweek.
Hunter has long been involved in controversies and the Republicans are set to raise the issue in the run-up to 2024 presidential elections.
Personally too, Hunter has a history of drug abuse and affairs. He had an affair with his late brother's widow and has fathered a child with a stripper.
The politics over Hunter Biden scandal
The hearing is the GOP's opening act into what lawmakers promise will be a widespread investigation into President Joe Biden and his family, with the tech companies another prominent target of their oversight efforts.
The White House criticised congressional Republicans for staging “a bizarre political stunt,” hours after Biden's State of the Union address where he detailed the bipartisan progress made in his first two years in office.
White House spokesperson Ian Sams said, "This appears to be the latest effort by the House Republican majority's most extreme MAGA members to question and relitigate the outcome of the 2020 election...This is not what the American people want their leaders to work on."
The New York Post first reported in October 2020, weeks before the presidential election, that it had received from Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, a copy of a hard drive from a laptop that Hunter Biden had dropped off 18 months earlier at a Delaware computer repair shop and never retrieved. Twitter blocked people from sharing links to the story for several days.
Months later, Twitter's then-CEO, Jack Dorsey, called the company's communications around the Post article "not great". He added that blocking the article's URL with "zero context" around why it was blocked was "unacceptable".
The newspaper story was greeted at the time with scepticism due to questions about the laptop's origins, including Giuliani's involvement, and because top officials in the Trump administration had already warned that Russia was working to denigrate Joe Biden before the White House election.
(With AP inputs)