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A Bigger Story Than You Can Possibly Imagine

 Member Newsletter
February 21, 2024 12:38 p.m.

I know that’s a big headline that promises a lot. But I think it’s true. David has a good rundown of the events in the Morning Memo. But I want to do my best to set them out on a larger canvas that goes back to the “Hunter Biden laptop” and really all the way back to 2015, a continuing Russian information operation that has been ongoing for almost a decade.

Let’s review recent events. First came the news that prosecutors in special counsel David Weiss’s office had decided that the confidential FBI informant who had been one of Biden’s top accusers had been lying and that they were charging him for lying to the FBI. That next step is critical. Informants lie to prosecutors all the time. They seldom get charged. It’s one standard to decide your informant isn’t telling the truth and/or won’t hold up at trial. It’s an entirely different one to think that you can prove they knowingly lied beyond a reasonable doubt. Clearly investigators felt they had caught Alexander Smirnov dead to rights. Yesterday came news that Smirnov has admitted that he got his false stories from Russian intelligence officers. Smirnov isn’t just at the center of the DOJ investigation, he’s at the center of what we have to generously call James Comer’s House inquiry, the premise for Joe Biden’s increasingly wobbly impeachment.

And on top of that, Hunter Biden’s lawyers are now claiming, as part of their effort to force new disclosures by Weiss’s office, that it was new or newly specific accusations from Smirnov which scuttled the plea deal which blew up as it was being agreed to in a federal court room. That point about the plea deal remains an accusation and obviously an interested one from Biden’s attorneys. But given what we’ve learned over the last week from the prosecution side — the folks who were repeatedly duped and took actions on the basis of disinformation directly from Russian intelligence — it seems to me highly likely that it’s true.

A semi-side note here is that I can’t see how Weiss’s office can manage its two cases at once. It’s prosecuting Smirnov for knowingly injecting Russian disinformation into U.S. law enforcement. He’s also prosecuting Hunter Biden for charges that appear to stem from the dissolution of the plea deal, which was itself quite likely tainted by Smirnov’s manipulation. How can you possibly do those two things credibly at once? Is Weiss going to take the stand at Smirnov’s trial as one of Smirnov’s marks and explain how he tricked him into blowing up Biden’s plea deal? While he’s also prosecuting the cases that stem from blowing up that plea deal? That seems absurd.

But let’s go back to the main line of significance.

We were told that Russia’s effort to meddle in the 2016 election was obviously bad. And Rudy Giuliani’s dumpster diving in Ukraine and other parts of the former USSR in 2018 and 2019, which led to Donald Trump’s first impeachment, was probably hoovering up Russian disinformation too. But that was then. Now we’re on to Hunter Biden, obviously the troubled son of a powerful politician whose life skidded into a longterm fugue of drugs and alcohol. That wasn’t real. This is. That was then. This is now. Stop bringing up Russia every time you don’t like a story! This Hunter Biden story is real. But really what we see now, which many of us long suspected, is that this is one ongoing influence operation now going back almost a decade.

For years I’ve continued saying, against what seems like the unified thinking of every reporter, editorialist and credentialed smart person, that the fabled “Hunter Biden Laptop” was obviously the product of a Russian influence operation. The story was absurd on its face. Somehow Hunter Biden decided in a drugged-up fugue that he needed to take his laptop to a computer repair shop. He then forgot about it. The legally blind owner of the repair shop decided to crack it open and look at the files (as one does, of course) and then somehow managed to get the contents to Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon.

Sounds totally legit, as they say!

The standard response has always been: but the emails are real! Hunter’s attorneys don’t deny it. But this is silly. The DNC emails were real too. That’s always how these things work. I don’t know whether some bogus documents were added into the trove that eventually made it to news organizations and the FBI. But very clearly some party either hacked into Biden’s computers or physically stole the laptop and then devised this cover story to launder it into the public realm.

And yet basically everybody and I mean everybody ended up falling for this. Indeed, the very brief efforts to remain wary of the laptop story in the final days of the 2020 election have evolved into an object case of the dangers of censorship and even liberal media election meddling. It’s a decision — albeit one lasting only a few days — that everyone now agrees “we got wrong.” It was the centerpiece of Elon Musk’s “Twitter Files” nonsense. But Elon Musk going in for it isn’t the point. He’s a clown. All the serious people ended up doing exactly the same. This has always been bullshit. Media organizations at first wouldn’t touch the story because they’d spent the previous four years kicking themselves for allowing themselves to become the promoters of a Russian election interference and disinformation campaign with the purloined DNC emails back in 2016. Since the Hunter Biden laptop stories had all the hallmarks of exactly the same thing somehow happening to pop up in the final days of the 2020, of course they were suspicious.

At worst, that initial resistance was very reasonable, given the record for 2016, even if it had been the case that the story was entirely legitimate. But it wasn’t. Even though the Smirnov revelations themselves don’t speak directly to the laptop story, they tell us very clearly that Russian intelligence operations have continued to drive stories at the center of the American political debate right up until today. Their work likely engineered the collapse of Hunter Biden’s plea deal which was one of the biggest bad news stories for the President last year.

Are we really supposed to believe that these Russian operations, which kicked off in 2015 and continued into 2017, were going full force through 2018 and 2019 with Rudy Giuliani and continue right up until today somehow played no role in the unbelievable story of Hunter Biden’s laptop? Of course they did.

In talking with David Kurtz before I started writing this David noted that we can’t really say Republicans and MAGA Republicans were duped. And that’s 100% right. The evolution of U.S. politics, egged along, skid-greased by helpful Russians, created a context in U.S. politics where these folks didn’t really have to be duped. The Russians under Putin are the good guys. If they’re making sure we have the most current information where’s the harm in that?

The real issue, as I note above, is the reporters, editorialists and commentators, who vouched for and credited this whole edifice of lies and bullshit. Yes, they guffawed when James Comer came forward yet again with more revelations that never quite panned out. But they didn’t give up hope. They were always waiting for the next revelation. Comer and his Republican colleagues hadn’t provided “hard evidence” yet but there sure was a lot of smoke.

This entire thing has been based on Russian plants and intelligence operations from the start. Every bit of it. It’s been obvious. And yet, well … they’re all dupes. Somehow almost a decade after this whole thing started we’re shocked to see, wow, Weiss’s office was being led around by another cat’s paw of the Russian intelligence services. We’re shocked. But why are we shocked? Every last person among the serious people of the nation’s capital and the sprawling thing called elite received opinion has egg on their face. And it’s not even clear they fully realize it yet.

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