Over the weekend, Trump called for the “termination . . . of the Constitution.” In response, GOP congressional leaders called for Congress to investigate Twitter employees who decided in October 2020 not to allow Twitter users to post pornographic photos and hacked emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop. Huh? How are those two developments related? And why shouldn’t you look away from this sordid affair as yet another example of attention-seeking sensationalism from Trump being indulged by the media?
Please don’t look away. This story matters on many levels. It matters because:
The leading contender and likely GOP nominee for president in 2024 called for the “termination of the Constitution.” We dismiss that statement at our peril.
Trump’s statements are directly relevant to his criminal liability for insurrection and obstruction of Congress on January 6th. They create new urgency in the need to indict Trump.
The precipitating cause of Trump’s outburst was a failed attempt by newly radicalized Elon Musk to weaponize Twitter on Trump’s behalf.
The underlying conspiracy theory—“Hunter Biden’s laptop”—will be a dominant throughline of the GOP investigatory efforts in Congress for the next two years.
If you have managed to avoid the cesspool of stories related to Hunter Biden’s laptop up to this point, good for you! But that misbegotten laptop is now grounds for overthrowing the Constitution—at least in the hellish landscape of GOP swamp rats and conspiracy theories. At some point, we all need to understand what the heck is going on. If you don’t feel up to the task today, go ahead and set this newsletter aside—but keep it somewhere for future reference when you find yourself asking, “Wait! What? Why is Hunter Biden’s laptop central to GOP claims of “election interference” in 2020?”
Many news outlets are rightly focusing on the treasonous statement by Trump to “terminate” the Constitution—as they should! But the back story matters as well because it demonstrates the dangerous acceleration of hate speech on Twitter that is being fueled by Elon Musk’s online radicalization. And the backstory will help you understand, process, and stop worrying about investigations into “Hunter Biden’s laptop.”
Let’s take it a step at a time to see how we arrived at a moment where the undisputed head of the GOP has called for the termination of the Constitution—and no GOP leaders have condemned that statement.
Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Hunter Biden has led a troubled and dissolute life. To compensate for his personal failures, he attempted to trade on his father’s fame and accomplishments (just like every adult child of Donald Trump). Hunter’s effort led to questionable financial success and entanglement with unsavory characters across the globe. None of those ventures involved his father. Moreover, Hunter’s drug addiction apparently fueled all manner of sexual indiscretions (and worse) that were recorded on his laptop.
In April 2019, someone dropped off Hunter’s laptop at a computer store for repair and never reclaimed it. The store operator seized the property as his own (as provided by the repair contract). But the store owner then examined the private contents of the hard drive and realized they related to Hunter Biden. He then sold the electronic contents of the hard drive to political operatives, who believed they had found a “silver bullet” to end Joe Biden’s presidential aspirations. See generally, Vox, Trump’s Hunter Biden attacks, explained: Alleged laptop and email leaks - Vox
Publication of emails allegedly from Hunter Biden’s laptop.
In October 2020, GOP operatives (including Rudy Giuliani) “shopped around” the alleged contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop (but not the laptop itself; instead, they were offering “copies of copies” of the alleged laptop hard drive). There were (and are) legitimate questions about the authenticity of the emails purportedly taken from the laptop. Reputable media outlets determined that less than 20% of the emails could be authenticated as coming from Hunter Biden. See, e.g., WaPo, Hard drive containing Hunter Biden laptop data examined by two forensic experts. (“The vast majority of the data — and most of the nearly 129,000 emails it contained — could not be verified by either of the two security experts who reviewed the data for The Post.”)
Given concerns about authenticity and the possibility that the contents had been modified somewhere in a murky chain of custody, most major media outlets and Twitter declined to publish stories based on the laptop. Indeed, the story was so suspect that Fox News and the Wall Street Journal refused to publish it. But since nothing is below the standards of the NYPost, it published salacious and private emails of questionable authenticity as part of Trump’s effort to unleash an “October Surprise” in the final month of his campaign against Joe Biden.
Major media outlets ignore the “Hunter Biden laptop” story, leading to GOP claims of “election interference” and “censorship.”
Despite the NYPost’s sensational reporting, the rest of the media ignored the story, causing Trump and the GOP to react with anger. They claimed that the failure of reputable media to write about the laptop amounted to “election interference” and “censorship.” See, e.g., Washington Times (NOT WaPo), Media’s suppression of Hunter Biden’s laptop was election interference, and Daily Wire, “How The Censorship Of Hunter Biden’s Laptop Story Helped Joe Biden Win.” (I refuse to link to the Daily Wire; you can Google the story if you are interested in reading it.)
Claims of “election interference” and “censorship” are based on grotesque distortions of the facts and a profound misunderstanding of the First Amendment. But the above GOP falsehoods and ignorance about the Constitution are the predicate for the coming two years of investigations by the House GOP into “Hunter Biden’s laptop.”
Twitter applies its “terms of service” to block posts by users about Hunter Biden’s laptop.
When reputable media outlets would not publish emails or stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop, GOP operatives turned to Twitter. Among other items, they posted pornographic pictures of Hutner Biden and his sexual partners as well as unauthenticated emails.
On their own, the pornographic photos and possibly hacked emails violated Twitter’s terms of service and were subject to removal under Twitter’s content moderation policies. As posts with those items proliferated on Twitter, the Biden campaign flagged those posts for Twitter’s content moderation team. Many (most?) of the offending items flagged by the Biden campaign were Hunter Biden’s “d*ck pics.” (Sorry I had to write that last sentence.)
Before Twitter removed the posts that violated its terms of service, the content moderation team engaged in thoughtful discussion about whether the offending material should fall into an exception because of possible political relevance. Twitter’s team ultimately decided to remove the offending posts. Recall, however, that much of the information had already been published in the NYPost, so Twitter’s decision to block the posts did not remove the information from reaching the public domain.
The internal discussions by the Twitter content moderation team are central to what happened over the weekend—and are the precipitating cause of Trump’s call to terminate the Constitution.
Elon Musk decides to publish the discussions of the Twitter content moderation team regarding Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Elon Musk has gleefully converted Twitter into his personal platform to “own the libs.” He is embracing and promoting right-wing ideology, granting amnesty to vile users who promote white supremacy and antisemitism and forcing right-wing content on users who have not asked to see such content. As a result, hate speech on Twitter has increased significantly in the few short weeks of Musk’s ownership. See CNN, Hate speech dramatically surges on Twitter following Elon Musk takeover, research shows.
Last Friday, Musk announced that he would be releasing emails relating to Twitter’s internal discussion about whether posts relating to Hunter Biden’s laptop violated Twitter’s terms of service. Musk was giddy with anticipation as he announced that so-called “gonzo” journalist Matt Taibbi would publish a curated selection of those emails. Musk tweeted,
What really happened with the Hunter Biden story suppression by Twitter will be published on Twitter at 5pm ET! . . . . This will be awesome!
What followed was three hours of boring drivel as Taibbi demonstrated merely that Twitter’s content moderation team engaged in serious discussions about whether publishing hacked or faked emails and pornographic photos violated its terms of service.
As expected, the Musk / Taibbi “snooze fest” was ignored by the media. See Rolling Stone, Elon Musk’s ‘Twitter Files’ Exposé on Hunter Biden is a Snoozefest.
And that is when the shredded wheat hit the fan.
Trump and the GOP were furious that the media was not breathlessly reporting on Taibbi’s mind-numbing (and error-ridden) narration of mind-numbingly boring emails about a business going about its business. As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo wrote in his Editor’s Blog (behind a paywall, and worth the price of admission!),
I was frankly shocked at how underwhelming it was. . . . [P]eople taking their responsibilities seriously, trying to make the right decisions. Shocking stuff.
You might agree or disagree but there was nothing underhanded or dishonest about it.
It is important to note that one year after Twitter made the real-time decision to remove posts relating to the laptop, then-CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, described the decision as a “mistake” in congressional testimony. And Twitter’s chief trust and safety officer later acknowledged during an interview that
We didn’t know what to believe, we didn’t know what was true, there was smoke. Everything about it looked like a hack and leak.
So, everything that Matt Taibbi posted on Twitter on Friday was already in the public domain. Elon Musk’s effort to reignite the controversy with stale news impressed no one, but it did provoke one Twitter user to write that disclosure of the Twitter files justified the use of “bullets” not “ballots.” See Newsweek, Former GOP Candidate Calls for ‘Bullets’ in Response to Twitter Files.
Trump and GOP react to Musk’s release of the “Twitter Files.”
Despite the fact that nothing of consequence was revealed in Matt Taibbi’s boring recitation of business emails, Trump exploded. He published the following statement on Truth Social on Saturday morning:
So, with the revelation of MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION in working closely with Big Tech Companies, the DNC, & the Democrat Party, do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION?”
A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great ‘Founder’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!
GOP non-response to “termination of all rules . . . even those found in the Constitution.”
Despite Trump’s call for “termination of . . . the Constitution,” GOP leaders have ignored his dangerous statement. Instead, they went on the Sunday talk shows and demanded that Congress investigate the Twitter employees who made the decision that the possibly hacked emails and pornographic photos violated Twitter’s terms of service. See, e.g.,
The Independent, GOP congressman promises to call Twitter employees to testify over ‘election suppression.’
New York Post, Rep. McCarthy: Google, Facebook should be investigated after Twitter report.
Even worse, many Republican politicians said that Trump’s call to “terminate the Constitution” would not cause them to stop their support for Trump. See ABCNews, Trump’s call to suspend Constitution not a 2024 deal-breaker, leading House Republican says. During an interview on Sunday, GOP Representative Dave Joyce told George Stephanopoulos,
I will support whoever the Republican nominee is. You know, [Trump] says a lot of things. I can’t be really chasing every one of these crazy statements that come from any of these candidates. [Trump] says a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ever going to happen. So, you got to [separate] fact from fantasy -- and fantasy is that we’re going to suspend the Constitution and go backwards. We’re moving forward.
Claiming that we should not take Trump’s outrageous statements seriously ignores the attempted insurrection on January 6th. The collective acquiescence by GOP leaders in the face of this most recent threat by Trump is reckless to the point of complicity.
Implications of Trump’s call to terminate the Constitution and “re-do” the 2020 election.
The more Trump speaks, the more he incriminates himself. Two grand juries are investigating criminal liability for the January 6th attempted insurrection and coup. One difficult element of proof for prosecutors is Trump’s “state of mind” on January 6th. As Dennis Aftergut writes, Trump’s statements on Saturday are clear evidence of Trump’s criminal intent on January 6th. See Dennis Aftergut, The Bulwark, Trump Stands in the Middle of Fifth Avenue and Shoots the Constitution.
As Aftergut writes,
Suppose you’re Special Counsel Jack Smith. If your target openly calls for the termination of the instrument that establishes the federal government, you’re a good way closer to proving his readiness to overthrow it than you were the day before he made his statement.
As part of the charge, suppose prosecutors are trying to show that a core component of Trump’s sedition was to stop one of the defining political traditions of our republic—the peaceful transition of presidential power. Then one day, Trump says, We need the Constitution terminated so we can undo the transition that happened. That would bring prosecutors so close to home they could smell bread baking in the oven.
Aftergut concludes that Trump seems so careless about incriminating himself he may not care about conviction. Instead, he may be thinking:
Why not take extreme measures to regain the protection of the presidency? Even if I hand my jailers another padlock, I can cut it when I’m back in the Oval Office.
I agree with Aftergut. Trump’s strongest defense is retaking the presidency. That is why we cannot “look away” from Trump’s call to “terminate the Constitution” or the fake controversy over Hunter Biden’s laptop that provides the pretense for Trump’s treasonous rallying cry. However painful and nauseating it is to continue to talk about Trump, we ignore him at our peril. We must maintain the pressure on GOP officials to disown Trump or embrace him. Either way, we increase our chances of electoral victory in 2024.
Well, that was a heavy lift, and if you are still reading, thank you for your patience and attention. As a mental distraction for you (and me), I have the following to report on the 48-hour babysitting duty that my wife and I just finished with one of our two-year-old granddaughters:
It has been more than half a century since my wife and I have been inside an inflatable “bouncy house.” It was a humbling experience. We should get some sort of award for being “the cool grandparents.”
We listened to the soundtrack for The Little Mermaid about two dozen times (except for the “scary” songs). As I wrote this newsletter, I could only “hear” the text in Ariel’s voice to the tune of “Under the Sea,” so if something seems fishy to you, my apologies.
We took both granddaughters to church. Both are about two years old, so we sat in the “crying room” for infants and toddlers. My son-in-law texted, “How’s it going.” I replied, “Goat rodeo,” which was an understatement!
We are exhausted, in a good way! Talk to you tomorrow!
Great analysis. Because Democrats are so nice they did not pursue Jared Kushner's removal of the White House Visitor's logs while his distraught property in Manhattan received a hundred year lease and all the trips to Saudi Arabia on "the peoples money" and alleged Government Business to frame up his 2 billion dollar grant of the Jared and Ivanka use of Air Force 1 or the 650 plus million Ivanka made on copyrights in China or the Trump hotel in DC profits ..........The list goes on. The GOP is bent, wholly swallowed by the dark side...so everyone needs to follow Joyce Vance's advice to call your congressmen and women, your senators, your governors, anyone who has a microphone and call this out over and over and over again about Trump's shredding the constitution and also questions about his children's contact who were part of the government. She gave the number of 202-224-3121 to call to contact your federal politicians in Washington. Thanks Robert (and thanks Joyce)!
-The first clear and concise explanation I have read about Hunter Biden's laptop. Since very few details were actually published by the mainstream media for the very good reasons you mention - them being extremely wary of publishing unsubstantiated accusations. They are of the old school - honorable people with ethical standards, unlike the far right "news" sources). I loved the delightful end of the article too regarding certain babysitters :)