It is October in a year that President Donald Trump is running for re-election – and as if on cue, the secretly received private e-mails from someone close to his opponent have leaked.
The tidbit in this case is President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani, who provided the New York Post with a copy of a hard drive containing photos and alleged emails of Joe Biden's son Hunter.
It is not clear whether the alleged emails Hunter and Ukrainian gas company Burisma are involved in are authentic. It is even less clear how they got to Giuliani – and whether it was possibly illegal or foreign interference. During the 2016 campaign, Russian intelligence officers hacked Democrats' emails and made them available to WikiLeaks. The emails of Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta were released in the weeks leading up to election day.
But Hunter Biden has long been a central part of Trump's re-election strategy. In fact, Trump was charged last year for trying to run a scandal related to Bidens and Burisma. Now, less than three weeks before the election and with Trump in the polls, Giuliani appears to be picking up where he left off.
The story of where this hard drive came from is extremely strange
Of course, considering what happened in 2016, a question has arisen here: Was Hunter Biden's information hacked or stolen and then made available to Giuliani?
The New York Post tells a tortuous story to explain how Giuliani got the emails – a story that raises far more questions than answers.
It all started in April 2019, according to the Post, when an unidentified man went to a computer repair shop in Delaware to hand in a water-damaged laptop with a sticker on the "Beau Biden Foundation" (a charitable foundation established in memory of Jäger's late start brother).
The shop owner (interviewed by the Post as an anonymous source) claims the man never returned to recover the laptop. But he says he restored data from it and, lo and behold, discovered that there were emails and photos of Hunter Biden.
The shop owner claims he told the federal government about it and they confiscated the laptop and hard drive in December 2019. However, he claimed that he first copied the hard drive and made it available to Rudy Giuliani's attorney Robert Costello.
Months later, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon (who was charged with fraud in August) found out about the hard drive and told the Post. Finally, Giuliani made the hard drive available to the New York Post last Sunday after apparently keeping it under lock and key for about ten months.
This is a strange story. Even if we take it at face value, it's unclear who dropped the laptop (with the easily identifiable sticker on it) during the month that conservative media covered Burisma. It's also unclear why that person never reclaimed it, why Hunter Biden's information was on why the shopkeeper passed it on to Rudy Giuliani's attorney, and what the federal government's interest was.
Giuliani has also worked for months with Andrii Derkach, a member of the Ukrainian parliament that the US Treasury Department recently sanctioned as a Russian agent who carried out a "covert campaign" to influence the US elections (by providing information about alleged Biden misconduct published). In addition, Burisma was reportedly hacked late last year and a security company attributed the hack to the Russian military. So there are many reasons to question what actually happened here.
It is unclear whether the emails are authentic and what they mean
Apparently there were some photos of Hunter Biden on the hard drive (the New York Post published them), and reporters claim that there is an explicit video of Hunter there too.
However, this does not necessarily mean that the emails on the hard drive are authentic and unchanged. It would certainly be possible for a nefarious actor to fabricate or modify some documents from a set of largely accurate documents. (In fact, there is no mention of any effort to authenticate the emails in the post story.)
Then there is the bigger problem that even if the emails are authentic, portions of them can be selectively picked and taken out of context to make misleading claims.
Trump's team has spread the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that Joe Biden forced Ukrainian Attorney General Viktor Shokin to protect Burisma and his son from an investigation. This theory makes little sense as it was the consensus position of the US government and Western institutions like the International Monetary Fund to oust Shokin because of his corruption and ineffectiveness. But Trump's goal is to brand Biden as corrupt in an iteration of his 2016 strategy against Hillary Clinton.
Swiss Post is now promoting an alleged email from Burisma consultant Vadym Pozharskyi as a scandalous “smoking weapon”. In the alleged email, Pozharskyi thanks Hunter for “inviting me to DC and giving me the opportunity to meet your father and spend some time together,” and suggests meeting that day. However, there is no confirmation that the meeting with then-Vice President Biden took place or that the two men discussed Shokin. (A Biden campaign spokesman said in a statement that the campaign was reviewing the former vice president's official schedules and that "no meeting took place as claimed by the New York Post." A campaign official also told the New York Times, that a letter encounter was "technically possible" but very unlikely.)
Hunter has had drug use problems in the past and has taken lucrative jobs for overseas companies or clients for which he apparently was not qualified. But there was a history of misleading information and outright misinformation spread about him – often with the involvement of Giuliani and Bannon, both of whom were also involved. Presumed bomb discoveries from questionable sources in the days leading up to the elections should therefore be viewed with great skepticism.
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