The Laptop Saga

The recent revelations relating to the laptop computer once owned by President Biden’s son, Hunter, shed some new light on a strange and unfortunate chapter of the 2020 Presidential election campaign.

Most people know the general origins of the laptop story. In 2019, Hunter Biden’s laptop was left off with a repair shop in Delaware, but the person who dropped it never returned to claim it and never paid for services. The shop owner eventually turned over the laptop to the FBI, but first made a copy of its contents and shared it with Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s lawyer.  The laptop contents ended up in the possession of the New York Post, a newspaper which endorsed President Donald Trump for re-election.

On October 14, 2020, about three weeks before the election, the Post published a story about the laptop and its contents. In addition to much salacious content on the laptop (which probably should have been suppressed), there were emails showing a meeting, at Hunter Biden’s apparent urging, between Vice President Joe Biden and an adviser to Burisma, the Ukrainian company that had retained the younger Biden. Vice President Biden was later involved in the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor who said he had plans to investigate Burisma.

There seemed to be a full court press to keep the Post story out of the news. Numerous media outlets declared the information on the laptop to be unauthenticated and declined to report on it. (They finally got around to authenticating it well after the election.) Important social media outlets, including Facebook and Twitter also refused to circulate the story.

This week, Twitter, now under Elon Musk’s management, began to publish the results of an investigation of the decision process within Twitter that led to the suppression of the laptop story. A group of senior executives (although not its chairman, Jack Dorsey) had been in frequent contact with the Biden campaign, and decided not to allow its transmission, even on direct mail, on the false ground that the information was “hacked” and because its transmission was deemed unsafe.

But the suppression did not end with the news media. A few days later, a letter signed by 50 national security and law enforcement officials claimed that the laptop story had the mark of a foreign intelligence sting. Of course, this letter had no basis in fact, but it was used by Joe Biden during the second Presidential debate to refute the Post story. In addition, new accounts have revealed a periodic campaign by the FBI, which had already been provided Hunter Biden’s laptop, warning social media outlets that there was going to be a “hack and leak” campaign orchestrated by “foreign powers”.  Of course, the FBI warning gave one more reason for suppression. 

All of this seems a pretty unfortunate story. If social media sites like Twitter want to maintain the public’s confidence, they can’t be seen as censoring the news to prop up one political party over the other. (Indeed, Twitter’s former President, Mr. Dorsey, eventually agreed that suppression on his site was the wrong decision.) The idea that unfavorable news compromises “safety” is, under almost every scenario, an untenable argument.  Even worse was the role of the FBI, which had some prior knowledge about the laptop, in providing advice that led to the suppression of a legitimate news story and of officials who signed on to the bogus warning about the story.  

None of the foregoing is to agree at all with Mr. Trump’s latest communication on his Truth Social platform. Mr. Trump used the laptop situation to claim that “massive and widespread fraud” justifies either his immediate installation as President or a new election, asserting that the situation justifies termination of all rules, even those in the Constitution. This statement is frankly dangerous nonsense which needs to be disavowed. The laptop situation was bad enough without being the subject of inflammatory comments of this type.

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