Evidence is mounting that both the Biden campaign and the federal government interfered in the 2020 election by running an info op to convince voters the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation. Missouri and Louisiana have unearthed some of the most damning evidence in their First Amendment lawsuit against the Biden administration, but a close analysis of the court filings suggests the FBI is not being forthright in identifying the players involved.
As part of the lawsuit Missouri and Louisiana’s attorneys general initiated, the states obtained limited initial discovery. Among other things, the plaintiffs obtained a list of government officials who communicated with Twitter about so-called content moderation and the deposition testimony of Elvis Chan, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Francisco Cyber Branch.
In his deposition, Chan testified that he is one of the “primary” FBI agents who communicates with social media companies about so-called disinformation. During the 2020 election cycle, Chan coordinated meetings between the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF) and at least seven of the major tech giants, including Meta/Facebook, Twitter, Google/YouTube, Yahoo!/Verizon Media, and Microsoft/LinkedIn. Those meetings occurred at first quarterly and then monthly and weekly as the election neared.
In questioning Chan, attorneys representing Missouri and Louisiana pushed him on several points related to the censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop. The lawyers succeeded in eliciting testimony from Chan that the FBI regularly raised the possibility of “hack and dump” operations with senior officials at the various tech companies. Those discussions included the FBI warning the companies of a potential hack-and-leak occurring shortly before the 2020 election, like the Democratic National Committee hack and WikiLeaks that occurred in 2016.
The plaintiffs also quizzed Chan on the names of any government officials who discussed “hack-and-dump Russian operations” with the tech giants. Chan mentioned Section Chief Laura Dehmlow, “among others.” But Chan then danced around who those others were, saying he couldn’t recollect. Chan eventually identified four FBI officials that attended Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) meetings at which the FBI discussed the risk of hack-and-leak operations. These officials were Brady Olson, William Cone, Judy Chock, and Luke Giannini.
Regarding whether anyone within the FBI suggested Chan should raise the possibility of Russian hack-and-dump operations with the tech giants in 2020, Chan repeatedly said he could “not recall,” but at one point acknowledged, “They may have, but I don’t recollect at this time.”
The plaintiffs in Missouri v. Biden claim Chan’s “I do not recall,” is not credible. They say it is “facially implausible that Chan does not recall whether other federal officials discussed warning platforms about ‘hack-and-leak’ operations during 2020, especially after the fiasco of censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story.” Furthermore, the plaintiffs added, “the only aspect of [Chan’s] internal discussions with the FBI about hack-and-leak operations that he does not recall is whether someone from the FBI suggested or directed him to raise the issue with social-media platforms.”
Uncovering whether someone — and if so, who — directed Chan or other FBI agents to warn tech companies about a potential hack-and-leak operation is necessary to unravel the extent of the government’s info ops. Did FBI agents with knowledge of either the Hunter Biden laptop or the existence of damaging communications possessed by other governments, such as Ukraine or China, prompt Chan and others to warn of an impending hack-and-leak to protect the Biden family from any fallout?
Chan also appeared less than forthcoming when questioned about whether he had discussed the 2020 election with any of the people involved in the DNC hack. Here, an unnoticed tidbit from Chan’s deposition proves interesting: Chan testified that he served as the supervisor for the Russian cyber squad that investigated the DNC server before the San Francisco office handed it off to FBI headquarters.
When asked whether “subsequent to the 2016 investigation of the hack of the DNC server,” he had “any communications with anyone involved in that investigation about the possibility that a hack-and-leak operation” could happen prior to the 2020 election, Chan initially provided a misleading response, saying he did “not remember discussing the potential for a 2020 election with any of the FBI personnel because they had moved on to different roles.”
Catching Chan’s narrowing of the question from “anyone” to “FBI personnel,” the plaintiffs’ attorney quickly queried, “and people outside the FBI?” Chan then noted he would have discussed national security cyber investigations involving Russian matters with Sean Newell, a deputy chief at the DOJ National Security Division who also worked on the DNC hack. But Chan refused to say whether Newell or anyone else who worked on the DNC hack had raised the issue of a 2020 hack-and-release repeat.
Chan’s reticence raises red flags. But piecing together two exhibits filed in the Missouri v. Biden case reveals a thread to pull to start getting some answers.
Exhibit 23 used during Chan’s deposition includes a series of emails related to the DNC hack that were filed in the special counsel’s criminal prosecution of former Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann. In addition to Chan and Newell, the emails include names of about another dozen government agents.
When those names are cross-checked against the names of the federal officials with whom Twitter “had meetings or discussions” about so-called content moderation issues — a list Twitter provided the plaintiffs in Missouri v. Biden in response to a third-party subpoena — two names overlap: Chan and Jonathan Sills.
Sills, an attorney with the FBI’s Office of General Counsel, appeared in several emails in which Sussmann and the FBI discussed logistical details for conveying a copy of the DNC server data to the FBI. Given Sills was only added to the email threads when they discussed whether the FBI would pay CrowdStrike to make a copy of the data, it seems unlikely Sills had a broader involvement in the DNC hack-and-release investigation.
But why then was Sills communicating with Twitter about so-called content moderation issues? Was it about payments to Twitter? Or something else?
Recall we still don’t know the identities of the “folks in the Baltimore field office and at HQ that are just doing keyword searches for violations,” as then-Twitter legal executive Stacia Cardille complained in a Nov. 3, 2020, email to Jim Baker, the then-deputy general counsel for Twitter. “This is probably the 10th request I have dealt with in the last 5 days,” Cardille noted.
Remember also that the FBI’s Baltimore field office provided coverage to the Delaware U.S. attorney’s office out of which the Hunter Biden investigation was being run — to the extent FBI headquarters allowed.
When reached by phone in his D.C. office, Sills told The Federalist he was not authorized to comment on the matter, which is unfortunate because the people who can comment seem not to recollect the most pertinent points. A follow-up email to Sills went unanswered.
Eventually, though, these threads will all be pulled when discovery occurs in Missouri v. Biden. While some will lead nowhere, as the initial discovery proves, there is much to learn about the government’s involvement in the Hunter Biden info ops and its role in censoring speech on social media.