Judicial Watch files lawsuit against DOJ for docs on Big Tech censorship, Hunter Biden laptop story

Judicial Watch has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Justice Department for records of communications between the FBI and social media sites regarding the Hunter Biden laptop story and foreign influence in elections.

The latest suit by the conservative watchdog group came after they say the FBI failed to respond fully to a previous FOIA request in August for all records between FBI personnel and employees of Meta, Twitter, and other Big Tech companies.

The August request sought communications concerning Biden’s laptop, the news media’s reporting on the laptop, and “the threat of disinformation disseminated by foreign actors related to any U.S. election.”

According to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia earlier this month, the FBI acknowledged receipt of the original FOIA request in September but since then has provided no further information. The court filing noted the FBI had until Sept. 26 to make a final determination on whether to comply with the request, notify Judicial Watch of the agency’s decision, and produce the requested records or demonstrate that the requested records are exempt.

Hunter Biden's laptop was at the center of a Big Tech censorship campaign in 2020.

Hunter Biden’s laptop was at the center of a Big Tech censorship campaign in 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

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The FBI is “violating FOIA by failing to produce all records responsive to [Judicial Watch’s] request or demonstrate that the requested records are lawfully exempt from production,” the complaint states.

Judicial Watch is requesting that the court order the FBI to produce, by a date certain, all non-exempt records in response to its requests and award the group “attorneys’ fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred.”

The original FOIA request came months before the so-called “Twitter Files” were released and revealed the FBI coordinated with the Big Tech giant on content moderation, systemically flagging tweets that it deemed problematic and wanted taken down — especially ones related to the 2020 election.

The documents also showed the FBI repeatedly asked Twitter whether it had seen foreign activity leading up to the 2020 election, which the company at the time said it hadn’t. Then the day before the New York Post broke its Hunter Biden story in October 2020, FBI officials sent Twitter ten unknown documents through its secure one-way Teleport channel.

The Post obtained and wrote about emails from a laptop that the president’s son had abandoned at a repair shop in Delaware. The emails discussed his business dealings abroad and mentioned Joe Biden meeting a top executive at Ukrainian energy firm Burisma.

FILE - Tesla and SpaceX Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk speaks at the SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition in Washington, Monday, March 9, 2020.

FILE – Tesla and SpaceX Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk speaks at the SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition in Washington, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

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Shortly after the story was published, Andy Stone, Facebook’s policy communications director, boasted the social media giant was “reducing its distribution on our platform.” He added the story would be scrutinized by third-party fact checkers “to reduce the spread of misinformation.” 

Stone previously worked for former Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Twitter, meanwhile, quickly blocked users from posting or reading the story. The company even locked the Post’s primary Twitter account, citing “the lack of authoritative reporting on the origins of the materials included in the article.”

According to independent writer Michael Shellenberger, who released some of the Twitter Files last month, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies had “repeatedly primed [Twitter] to dismiss reports of Hunter Biden’s laptop as a Russian ‘hack and leak’ operation.”

Shellenberger also published a February 2021 email that revealed the FBI paid Twitter over $3.4 million since October 2019. FBI officials told Fox News at the time that the money was a “reimbursement” for the “reasonable costs and expenses associated with their response to a legal process … For complying with legal requests, and a standard procedure.”

A split image of an FBI agent in an official windbreaker and the Twitter logo on a blue screen.

A split image of an FBI agent in an official windbreaker and the Twitter logo on a blue screen. (iStock and AP Photo/Gregory Bull, respectively)

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However, critics have argued the money stemmed from a partnership geared to suppress tweets and accounts of primarily conservative voices under the guise of countering misinformation and foreign influence operations.

“The FBI was literally paying Twitter to censor Americans just before the 2020 election!” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The FBI seems to have interfered in the 2020 election to help Joe Biden by encouraging Big Tech to censor Americans about the Hunter laptop and other debates. And to add to the scandal, they are now covering up their misconduct.”

The FBI didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story but rejected allegations of collusion in a statement to Fox News earlier this week.

“The correspondence between the FBI and Twitter show nothing more than examples of our traditional, longstanding, and ongoing federal government and private sector engagements, which involve numerous companies over multiple sectors and industries,” the agency said. “As evidenced in the correspondence, the FBI provides critical information to the private sector in an effort to allow them to protect themselves and their customers … It is unfortunate that conspiracy theorists and others are feeding the American public misinformation with the sole purpose of attempting to discredit the agency.”

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Beyond the FBI’s communications with Big Tech, Judicial Watch has filed other lawsuits targeting alleged government censorship.

Judicial Watch is, for example, suing the Department of Homeland Security for all records of communications between the Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency, which is part of the department, and the Election Integrity Partnership, which was created to flag online election content that it deemed misinformation.

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