It’s so bizarre that to comment on it risks amplifying it.
But the New York Post published a story Wednesday morning claiming to have received from Rudy Giuliani a copy of a hard drive from a Hunter Biden laptop.
And yet, for a supposed October surprise, nothing in the story or where it came from is particularly surprising. A right-leaning news outlet known for loose editorial standards peddles emails of unknown provenance from Giuliani, bag man for the President whose antics already got President Trump impeached over the same allegations last year.
What’s even less surprising is how the Trump campaign and the associated Fox News apparatus have latched on to the story.
Later on Wednesday, Twitter banned users from posting the article itself. In a statement emailed to reporters, cited a ban on people using the platform “to directly distribute content obtained through hacking” as among the reasons for the move.
But to look at the article with a journalistic eye, there are so many red flags here – ranging from the lack of any credible premise to the story to Giuliani’s presence in the matter – that it’s difficult to find firm ground on which to understand how this smear campaign is working.
1. There are so many red flags.
The story claims that a Delaware computer repair shop owner received a laptop full of Hunter Biden’s emails last year for data extraction and repair. After the client never paid or came to pick up the laptop, the anonymous store owner supposedly said, the Apple computer repair man went to both the FBI and Rudy Giuliani with the information.
In a sense, it’s incorrect to even say that the story has “red flags” – the premise itself is so bogus that saying there are alarm bells suggests that there is some underlying solid ground to what’s going on here.
But, there isn’t. The article regurgitates – and relies on as a newsworthy premise – long-debunked allegations that Joe Biden fired a Ukrainian prosecutor to protect his son, Hunter, from investigations in the former Soviet republic.
What adds newness to the mess is that the emails uncovered by the New York Post supposedly came from the younger Biden’s laptop itself, theoretically piercing the veil of the Biden family and offering a look within, much in the same way that Wikileaks offered an inside look at the Clinton campaign via the Podesta emails.
The problem is, then as now, is that there’s no way to verify anything that the Post has reported on, and there’s no evidence that the Post did the work to determine whether the emails themselves are real.
2. Even a press duped in 2016 widely mocked the supposed “scoop.”
After years of this, many reporters and political commentators mocked the article.
And though in a few instances it’s caused the predictably bad takes of “why won’t the Biden campaign respond to this,” the article has mostly raised separate questions of why it’s being released now, or why Republicans have not included the hard drive in any of their extensive investigations and reporting around Hunter Biden over the past few years.
Giuliani himself hasn’t helped his own cause.
As if on cue, he’s promised that “there’s more to come” from the laptop, typically without expressing what that may be.
3. The backstory to the “scoop” is preposterous.
The Post reported that a customer brought in a water-damaged MacBook Pro in April 2019, without paying for its repair or coming back to pick it up.
From there, the anonymous store owner apparently held on to the laptop, before contacting the FBI and Giuliani attorney Robert Costello. In December 2019, the store owner gave the laptop to the FBI under subpoena and a copy of the hard drive to Costello.
The only person in the article who has been charged with any crime – former Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon – purportedly told the Post about the hard drive in September, before Giuliani himself supposedly gave the newspaper a copy of the hard drive.
That chain of custody alone – from Giuliani to Bannon to the Post – is almost enough to make a conspiracy in itself, were it not so absurd to begin with.
4. But even on its own terms, the “scoop” collapses.
Let’s pretend we’re living in a universe where the authenticity of these emails had been thoroughly vetted and documented, and that their provenance was clear and known to all.
Even then, the story doesn’t check out.
The article’s central assertion is that Biden lied when he said that his son, Hunter, had never asked him about anything to do with business in Ukraine. Relying on an email from the laptop, the story claims to prove that Hunter set up a meeting between his father and a Ukrainian businessman working for Burisma.
That in itself wouldn’t really prove anything given that the premise is so faulty: the allegation of corruption against Biden Sr. is that he fired a Ukrainian prosecutor to protect his son; even the NY Post article goes nowhere towards proving that.
But the Biden campaign challenged in a Wednesday statement the story’s conclusion, saying that “we have reviewed Joe Biden’s official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.”
5. So if it’s disinformation, then from who?
This is arguably the most interesting question, but also the one with the least clear answer.
Russian hackers reportedly launched an attack against Burisma last year, stoking speculation that the intrusion was related to Biden’s campaign for the presidency. Separately, top counterintelligence official William Evanina has said that the Russians are seeking to damage Biden’s candidacy in the run-up to next month’s election.
Giuliani himself spent a significant portion of the past 12 months speaking with and taking information from Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian parliamentarian who was sanctioned last month by the U.S. government for interfering in the 2020 election. Derkach has been peddling supposed tapes of Biden speaking with Ukrainian officials.
All of this is suggestive, but it doesn’t get anywhere near towards answering the question of how this strange story came to be.