The New York Post’s story Wednesday, featuring purported emails about Hunter Biden’s former work with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma is already full of holes. But it’s also yet another step in the running smear operations by President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, which led to a propaganda campaign and abuse of power scandal last year that resulted in Trump’s impeachment.
This laptop was brought to you by Rudy Giuliani
The laptop was reportedly given to a computer repair shop in Delaware under mysterious circumstances in April 2019. According to the Post, the shop owner copied its entire contents and turned them over to a Giuliani associate.
Citation [New York Post, 10/14/20]
The customer who brought in the water-damaged MacBook Pro for repair never paid for the service or retrieved it or a hard drive on which its contents were stored, according to the shop owner, who said he tried repeatedly to contact the client.
The shop owner couldn’t positively identify the customer as Hunter Biden, but said the laptop bore a sticker from the Beau Biden Foundation, named after Hunter’s late brother and former Delaware attorney general.
Photos of a Delaware federal subpoena given to The Post show that both the computer and hard drive were seized by the FBI in December, after the shop’s owner says he alerted the feds to their existence.
But before turning over the gear, the shop owner says, he made a copy of the hard drive and later gave it to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello.
The computer shop owner, John Paul Mac Isaac, is inconsistent with his story. “Throughout the interview, Mac Isaac switched back and forth from saying he reached out to law enforcement after viewing the files in the laptop to saying that it was actually the Federal Bureau of Investigation that contacted him.” [The Daily Beast, 10/14/20]
Hunter Biden has lived in Los Angeles since 2018. “In early 2018, he moved to Los Angeles. The idea, he said, was to ‘completely disappear.’” [The New Yorker, 7/8/19]
Rudy Giuliani has been attempting to peddle dirt against Joe Biden since early 2019. “Mr. Giuliani has discussed the Burisma investigation, and its intersection with the Bidens, with the ousted Ukrainian prosecutor general and the current prosecutor. He met with the current prosecutor multiple times in New York this year. The current prosecutor general later told associates that, during one of the meetings, Mr. Giuliani called Mr. Trump excitedly to brief him on his findings, according to people familiar with the conversations.” [The New York Times, 5/1/19]
Giuliani has often pushed smears from Russian-connected actors, such as Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach. “The two men met while Giuliani was trying to dig up dirt in Ukraine on Biden. In late 2019, they appeared together on the One America News Network, where they pushed their debunked corruption allegations against the former vice president. Giuliani used clips of that segment again on his podcast this March.” [NPR, 9/11/20]
Fox News' own “Brain Room” even documented Giuliani's role in spreading disinformation.
Citation [The Daily Beast, 2/6/20]
Fox News’ own research team has warned colleagues not to trust some of the network’s top commentators’ claims about Ukraine.
An internal Fox News research briefing book obtained by The Daily Beast openly questions Fox News contributor John Solomon’s credibility, accusing him of playing an “indispensable role” in a Ukrainian “disinformation campaign.”
The document also disputes the credibility of Trump personal attorney and frequent Fox News guest Rudy Giuliani. While the former New York mayor has regularly appeared on Fox to justify his efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter on Trump’s behalf, Murphy claims Giuliani is easily fooled by Ukrainian disinformation.
Murphy writes that Giuliani has a “high susceptibility to disinformation” disseminated by Ukrainians like Lutsenko and Firtash. The document notes that two indicted Giuliani pals, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, had “strong reported financial links to Firtash.”
“Reading the timeline in its entirety—not a small task—makes clear the extensive role played by Rudy Giuliani and his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, in spreading disinformation,” Murphy writes.
Giuliani’s source Derkach has been sanctioned by the U.S. government for attempts to influence American elections. “Derkach, a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament, has been an active Russian agent for over a decade, maintaining close connections with the Russian Intelligence Services. Derkach has directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election.” [U.S. Department of the Treasury, 9/10/20]
The White House was warned in 2019 that Giuliani was the target of an “influence operation” by Russian intelligence. Four former officials told The Washington Post that “Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence” and that the “warnings were based on multiple sources, including intercepted communications, that showed Giuliani was interacting with people tied to Russian intelligence” while in Ukraine to gather dirt on Joe Biden and his son. The Post reported that national security adviser Robert O'Brien told “Trump in a private conversation that any information Giuliani brought back from Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia.” [The Washington Post, 10/15/20]
Trump reportedly knew about this story in advance. “In recent weeks, Donald Trump was made aware of an alleged secret trove of material about Hunter Biden’s foreign dealings and private life, and was keen on getting it out into the public domain as soon as possible, according to two sources familiar with the matter.” [The Daily Beast, 10/14/20]
Fox News host Sean Hannity also knew about it in advance. Speaking on his radio show Wednesday, Hannity said: “We do have a breaking news story. Look, I have been told now for a while that this all exists. I have had numerous sources tell me. I've not seen it myself. I have heard that what is in this is even worse — that what came out in the New York Post today will only be the tip of the iceberg.”
[iHeartRadio, The Sean Hannity Show, 10/14/20]
The author of the NY Post article is a former Hannity staffer. “The author of the Post’s stories on the stolen Hunter Biden emails, Emma-Jo Morris, is a former Hannity segment producer-booker who has written a total of three articles, all of them covering the Biden story and published today. If Giuliani is obfuscating about how he came across these emails, Morris does not seem to be the reporter who is most likely to crack open his cover story.” [New York magazine, 10/14/20]
Hannity was also a major player in Giuliani’s propaganda campaigns. A reported internal document by the Fox News “Brain Room” noted Hannity’s misleading segments: “The document notes omissions by Hannity, who frequently had [John] Solomon, [Victoria] Toensing, [Joe] diGenova, and Giuliani on his show.” According to the Daily Beast, Fox News senior political affairs specialist Bryan S. Murphy noted that “the primetime star continued to refer to Solomon as an ‘investigative reporter’ even after The Hill explicitly labeled his work to be ‘opinion.’ The briefing also dings Hannity for failing to mention, in a segment featuring Toensing and diGenova about an affidavit filed on behalf of [Dymtro] Firtash, that the pair were working for the Ukrainian oligarch Firtash—an obvious conflict of interest.” [The Daily Beast, 2/6/20]
The computer was allegedly turned over to the FBI in December 2019 — but a Senate Republican report last month found no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden. “Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who led the investigation as chair of the Homeland Security Committee, had openly said he hoped the election-year probe would hurt the Democratic nominee and help President Donald Trump while Democrats had decried the effort as purely political.” [ABC News, 9/23/20]
The emails might instead be the product of a hack by Russian intelligence. “The Times reported last January that Burisma had been hacked by the same Russian GRU unit that was one of two groups that hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016. Last month, United States intelligence analysts contacted several people with knowledge of the Burisma hack for further information after they had picked up chatter that stolen Burisma emails would be leaked in the form of an ‘October surprise.’” [The New York Times, 10/14/20]
It is unclear when these documents were created. “For example, metadata on the PDF files purporting to show Hunter Biden’s emails published by the Post suggest they were created on a Mac laptop on September 29 and October 10, 2019—around the same time Giuliani’s Ukrainian associates who helped him dig up dirt on the Bidens, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were arrested and charged with breaking campaign finance laws. The timing of the creation of those PDF files—several months after Biden allegedly dropped off his laptop at the PC repair store in April 2019—raises questions about how and when Giuliani came into possession of the purported emails.” [The Daily Beast, 10/14/20]
The NY Post failed to demonstrate any improper action by Joe Biden.
The Post produces an email, allegedly sent by an adviser to the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma. The email reads, in part, “Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father.” [New York Post, 10/14/20]
The email does not demonstrate such a meeting or special influence.
Citation [Politico, 10/14/20]
The Post story included a screenshot of what the paper said was a 2015 email from Burisma adviser Vadym Pozharskyi to Hunter Biden, thanking him for “the opportunity to meet your father.” But the email doesn’t indicate whether Pozharskyi was describing a meeting that had already occurred or one intended to occur in the future. Nevertheless, the Post reported that the existence of such a meeting undercut Biden’s long-held assertions that he had no involvement with his son’s business dealings.
Biden’s campaign would not rule out the possibility that the former VP had some kind of informal interaction with Pozharskyi, which wouldn’t appear on Biden’s official schedule. But they said any encounter would have been cursory. Pozharskyi did not respond to a request for comment.
The Biden campaign says the New York Post never contacted them for comment.
Citation [Politico, 10/14/20]
In a statement, Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said, “we have reviewed Joe Biden's official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.”
Bates added that the Biden campaign could not immediately respond to the story’s allegations in the Post story when it ran on Wednesday morning, because the publication “never asked the Biden campaign about the critical elements of this story. They certainly never raised that Rudy Giuliani — whose discredited conspiracy theories and alliance with figures connected to Russian intelligence have been widely reported — claimed to have such materials.”
One supposed email said the Burisma adviser would contact Biden staffer Amos Hochstein. No such contact occurred. “I know for a fact he never contacted me or my office,” Hochstein said who at the time worked closely with Biden as special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs.. “I provided every record to the Senate investigation, and no mention of this guy was ever made, no emails, no correspondence. I know almost every player in the energy sector in Ukraine. I never met this guy.” [The Washington Post, 10/14/20]
The NY Post article gets the Ukraine story wrong from the first sentence.
The NY Post story begins with a long-debunked assertion about former Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin. The article’s lede paragraph says that “the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company.” But at the time of Shokin’s firing, he was not actively investigating Burisma. As Bloomberg reported, “At the time Biden made his ultimatum, the probe into the company — Burisma Holdings, owned by Mykola Zlochevsky — had been long dormant, according to the former official, Vitaliy Kasko. ‘There was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against Zlochevsky,’ Kasko said in an interview last week. ‘It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.’” [New York Post, 10/14/20; Bloomberg, 5/17/19]
Shokin had previously been faulted for sabotaging investigations into Burisma, rather than pursuing them. “Mr. Shokin had dragged his feet on those investigations, Western diplomats said, and effectively squashed one in London by failing to cooperate with U.K. authorities, who had frozen $23.5 million of Mr. Zlochevsky’s assets.” [The Wall Street Journal, 9/22/19]
Shokin’s firing had been a multilateral effort, due to his office’s corruption. “The Obama administration, American allies, the International Monetary Fund and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists, among others, had all made clear that they were displeased with the performance of Viktor Shokin, who became prosecutor general in 2015. Shokin was widely faulted for declining to bring prosecutions of elites' corruption, and he was even accused of hindering corruption investigations. His deputy, Vitaliy Kasko, resigned in February 2016, alleging that Shokin's office was itself corrupt.” [CNN, 9/25/19]
Right-wing media have embraced the story, and used it to downplay Trump scandals
Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon shopped this new story around. “Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Trump, told The Post about the existence of the hard drive in late September and Giuliani provided The Post with a copy of it on Sunday.” [New York Post, 10/14/20]
Bannon appeared Wednesday morning with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, and the two challenged “the media” to cover the story. “Listen, the bottom line is the mainstream media’s credibility is going to be on line here. They have got to stand up, and they’ve got to hold Biden accountable,” Bannon said.
[Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, 10/14/20]
John Solomon, another Giuliani media associate, has also admitted his prior knowledge of the story and has said he hasn’t been able to corroborate the email’s authenticity. “I’ve been familiar with this email, we have not been able to corroborate its authenticity. We’ve worked very hard on it for over a month. But it’s out there in the public now.”
Solomon has been a major conduit for Giuliani’s smear operation. “Through Solomon, Giuliani injected his disinformation campaign straight into the heart of conservative media — Fox News — with seemingly full knowledge of at least some at Fox.” [Media Matters, 10/17/19]
Fox News host Steve Doocy called the story an “October surprise.”
[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/14/20]
Hugh Hewitt read out the entire New York Post story — and compared it to The New York Times’ story on Trump’s taxes. “So I think every cable news channel that covered the tax question, and the tax returns story, should be covering this story today.” [Salem Radio Network, The Hugh Hewitt Show, 10/14/20]
Fox News broadcast claims by the computer shop owner that he feared Hunter Biden would harm him. The report also noted that Mac Isaac is a registered Republican, and that he was frustrated with the Trump impeachment. [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 10/14/20]
Tucker Carlson called the New York Post a “major American newspaper,” and declared that it published “apparently an entirely accurate story.” The New York Post is a tabloid sister publication of Fox News. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 10/14/20]
Chanel Rion cited Hunter Biden emails with Burisma executives and laptop contents reported by the New York Post as evidence that “Joe Biden knew exactly what Hunter Biden was up to.” Rion said that Joe Biden was telling “a lie of outrageous proportions” when he said he never discussed business with Hunter Biden, insisting that “his drug addict son” was appointed to the board of Burisma through influence peddling and claiming that Joe Biden “wants you to believe that his role as point man in Ukraine had nothing to do with any of this.” [One America News, 10/15/20]
On Steve Bannon’s podcast, Rudy Giuliani said that he learned of Hunter Biden “cover-up” a few weeks ago -- along with Steve Bannon. [War Room: Pandemic, 10/15/20]
Sean Hannity said he’s been “briefed on the contents” of Hunter Biden’s hard drive. He said the full “cache of new information” is “devastating, it is a game-changer, is is blockbuster” and features “corruption on a level that you can’t even believe.” Hannity alleged that the conspiracy is “far deeper than Burisma” and that “it goes to everybody.” [iHeartRadio, The Sean Hannity Show, 10/15/20]
Fox's Martha MacCallum hosts Rudy Giuliani to claim “this is a racketeering case that went on for 30 years.” Rudy Giuliani used his appearance on The Story with Martha MacCallum to claim alleged Hunter Biden documents prove the existence of “a racketeering case that went on for 30 years.” [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 10/15/20]
Update (10/15/20): This piece has been updated with additional examples from right-wing media.