What’s the story?
- Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on Monday pushed back on congressional Democrats' claims that the recent controversy over Hunter Biden’s alleged emails and a potential meeting between his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, and a Ukrainian businessman is Russian disinformation:
“Let me be clear, the intelligence community doesn’t believe that because there is no intelligence that supports that. And we have shared no intelligence with Chairman Schiff or any other member of Congress that Hunter Biden’s laptop is part of some Russian disinformation campaign. It’s simply not true.”
- Ratcliffe’s statement comes after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) claimed over the weekend that, “We know that this whole smear on Joe Biden comes from the Kremlin. That’s been clear for well over a year now that they’ve been pushing this false narrative about this vice president and his son.” Social media giants Twitter and Facebook suppressed the New York Post's initial coverage of the story out of concern that it was election interference.
- The controversial laptop has reportedly been in the possession of the FBI since December 2019, and the agency told the New York Post that it “can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.” In addition to a potential FBI investigation, the Senate Homeland Security Committee is investigating the emails in an effort to validate their authenticity.
- The Biden campaign and Hunter Biden haven’t challenged the authenticity of the emails but have denied any wrongdoing. The Biden campaign said it has no record of a formal meeting with the Ukrainian businessman on official schedules, but told Politico it hasn’t ruled out that a cursory, informal encounter occurred. Former Vice President Joe Biden was asked by a CBS reporter on Friday night about the Post’s story and replied:
“I know you’d ask it. I have no response. It’s another smear campaign. Right up your alley. Those are the questions you always ask.”
- The Biden campaign said that the former vice president will be focused on debate prep ahead of the final presidential debate on Thursday, and won’t be holding any public events at which he’ll answer questions before then.
What are the reports about Biden’s emails & laptop?
- The New York Post has released a series of reports detailing alleged emails from Hunter Biden involving his business dealings in Ukraine and China and their connection to his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, who has insisted he wasn’t involved in Hunter’s business deals.
- The emails were reportedly recovered from a laptop abandoned by Hunter Biden at a Delaware repair shop, and appear to show that Hunter arranged a meeting between a Ukrainian businessman and his father in 2015, in addition negotiating an equity stake in a Chinese company in 2017.
- An email sent to Hunter Biden and his business partner Devon Archer on May 12, 2014, by Burisma advisor Vadym Pozharskyi asked Biden for advice “on how you could use your influence” to send a message and “stop what we consider to be politically motivated actions”. The exchange occurred shortly after Biden joined the board of Burisma.
- Another email sent by Pozharskyi to Biden on April 17, 2015, read, “Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure.”
- An email sent to Hunter Biden on May 13, 2017, showed he was pursuing a deal with Chinese conglomerate CEFC China Energy Co., as an international business consultant sent an email to several recipients stipulating Hunter’s pay as chair or vice chair of the venture. It also outlined a provisional equity distribution for partners, listing “20 H” in reference to Hunter and “10 held by H for the big guy” without clarity as to who “the big guy” is.
- One of the people on the email chain spoke to Fox News and confirmed the authenticity of the email, and sources told Fox that “the big guy” is in reference to Vice President Joe Biden.
What are the laptop’s alleged origins?
- The Post reported that the water-damaged laptop was one of three dropped off by Hunter Biden at a Delaware computer store in April 2019 with the owner-operator, John Paul Mac Isaac. Isaac is legally blind and can only see a few feet in front of him, so he wasn’t able to identify Hunter Biden, but has an invoice in Biden’s name with a signature.
- The only salvageable laptop bore a “Beau Biden Foundation” sticker (named after Hunter’s late brother, the former Delaware attorney general), and wasn’t picked up by Hunter within 90 days, so it was considered abandoned under the invoice terms and became the store owner’s property.
- Isaac said he first searched the emails during the summer of 2019, then in September contacted an intermediary about them, who then contacted the FBI. The FBI made a forensic copy of the laptop at first, then confiscated the laptop and hard drive in December 2019 pursuant to a subpoena, but Isaac made a copy of the hard drive before turning it over to the FBI.
- Isaac, a Trump supporter who was frustrated by the president’s impeachment, gave Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani a copy of the hard drive, who in turn provided it to the Post. U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly warned the White House that Giuliani could be the target of a Russian influence operation, but there is no evidence to date that Hunter Biden’s emails or laptop were planted by Russia and Giuliani disagreed with those claims.
Burisma, Ukraine, and Impeachment
- Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine, particularly with Burisma, became a national controversy in 2019 during the impeachment of President Donald Trump after the president mentioned Hunter in a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, 2019:
“The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”
- Hunter Biden was reportedly paid $50,000 per month to serve on the board of directors of a Ukrainian natural gas company in Crimea called Burisma Holdings while his father was vice president beginning in 2014. A Ukrainian prosecutor named Victor Shokin was looking into corruption allegations involving Burisma, but was ousted by the government after the Obama administration and other Western European nations threatened to withhold military aid unless Shokin was fired as part of an anti-corruption push. In 2018, former Vice President Joe Biden bragged about the role he played in the prosecutor’s firing when he visited Ukraine in December 2015:
"I said, 'You're not getting the [$1 billion]. I'm leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you're not getting the money.' Well, son of a b****. He got fired."
- Amid the controversy, Hunter Biden said in an interview with ABC that, in retrospect, he probably would not have been asked to be on the board if he wasn’t the vice president’s son. State Dept. officials in Ukraine reported in 2015 that “the presence of Hunter Biden on the Burisma board was very awkward for all U.S. officials pushing an anticorruption in Ukraine.” No wrongdoing has been proven on Hunter Biden’s part and he left Burisma’s board in 2019.
- It’s unclear whether the FBI provided the laptop, which it obtained in December 2019, to the Trump administration during the impeachment process as Hunter Biden’s emails weren’t part of the public record during those proceedings.
- Last week, 19 Republican lawmakers asked the FBI to verify whether it had Hunter Biden’s alleged laptop during the impeachment, arguing it would’ve been a “gross error in judgment and a severe violation of trust” if it withheld the information from President Trump’s legal team. The House ultimately voted to impeach President Trump on December 18, 2019, while the Senate acquitted him on February 5, 2020.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: acaben via Wikimedia / Creative Commons)
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