Experts dismiss "garbage fire" Hunter Biden exposé in NY Post: "Seems like a complete fabrication"

"It's a garbage fire story with obscene numbers of legal holes and flaws," one expert tells Salon

Published October 14, 2020 8:35PM (EDT)

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (Brooks Kraft/Getty Images)
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (Brooks Kraft/Getty Images)

The Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post published a series of stories on Tuesday surrounding alleged emails between Hunter Biden and officials connected with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, which the outlet obtained from a source who met multiple times over the last year with an individual whom the U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned as an active agent of Russia.

The Post, which published the unverified emails on Wednesday, reported that the information came from Rudy Giuliani. The former LifeLock spokesperson attempted to distance himself from Andrii Derkach last month after the Treasury Department accused the Ukrainian lawmaker of being a Russian agent and running a "covert influence campaign" directed at the 2020 U.S. presidential election since late 2019.

Giuliani met with Derkach in late 2019. He interviewed the Ukrainian parliamentarian, in his role as President Donald Trump's personal attorney, on a trip aimed at digging up dirt on Joe Biden. The former vice president was then viewed as the Democratic frontrunner for the presidential nomination; he is now the party's official nominee.

On that trip, Derkach and Giuliani discussed the much-debunked allegations about Biden in a segment which later aired on One America News Network (OAN). Giuliani also broadcast an interview with Derkach on his personal podcast a few months later.

Derkach worked in the interests of the Russian government to inject "false and unsubstantiated narratives concerning U.S. officials in the upcoming 2020 presidential election" into the U.S. media through interviews, press conferences and other statements, according to the Treasury Department. 

His efforts include releasing edited audiotapes purporting to document improprieties by Joe Biden in his dealings as vice president with the Ukrainian government. Derkach's disinformation also played a key role in a roundly discredited report recently released by the Republican-led Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

The authenticity of the alleged emails published by The Post has not been independently verified. Accusations of corruption against the Bidens have been repeatedly debunked by journalists.

Twitter later blocked sharing of the story after a number of journalists pointed out key falsehoods and holes in the narrative about the information's authenticity and provenance. That afternoon, the computer repair store owner who claimed to have first come across the alleged emails offered a number of contradictory versions of his own narrative in what journalists described as a "bizarre" and meandering interview.

"At least in 2016, Trump's allies pushed powerful disinformation," national security attorney Bradley Moss told Salon. "These last-ditch efforts barely qualify as trying anymore."

Moss added that several serious questions surround the chain of custody of the emails. 

"It's a garbage fire story with obscene numbers of legal holes and flaws," he said.

The emails came to The Post's attention through Steve Bannon, the former Trump campaign strategist now indicted on federal money laundering and obstruction charges, who told the outlet that they had been in Giuliani's possession.

Bannon recently appeared in the background of a photograph of Giuliani.

Giuliani told The Post that the emails came from a copy of a hard drive passed to him through his lawyer, Robert Costello, from John Paul Mac Isaac, the owner of a computer repair store in Wilmington, Del., who had notified Giuliani at an unspecified date — allegedly out of fear for his safety, Isaac later told reporters. (Costello has been representing Giuliani in a federal investigation into the former mayor's business dealings abroad, which reportedly includes his work in Ukraine.)

Isaac, who according to a social media post apparently voted for Trump in 2016, allegedly copied the hard drive from a MacBook laptop, which he claims was dropped off at his shop for repair in April 2019 by someone who called himself Hunter Biden.

In his Wednesday interview with reporters, Isaac claimed that a medical condition had prevented him from actually seeing the person who dropped off the laptop, adding that he believed the computer was Biden's because it bore a sticker related to the Beau Biden Foundation. The Biden family named the charity group, which focuses on child abuse, after Joe Biden's son who died of a brain tumor in 2015. The person calling himself Hunter Biden handed over three laptops for repair, Isaac alleged.

The hard drive also contained alleged photos of Hunter Biden, including with drug paraphernalia.

"The computer repair shop giving the hard drive to Giuliani likely exposed that individual to civil and criminal liability under state and federal computer privacy laws," Moss told Salon. "However, Rudy's legal situation for receiving stolen property is less clear. And if he isn't criminally liable for receipt, his dissemination of the material doesn't change the equation. That would be like charging Glenn Greenwald for publishing Edward Snowden's documents."

One of the multiple stories on the subject published Wednesday by The Post included a photo of what the shop owner claimed was a repair ticket. That invoice — which The Post printed without blurring contact information that a search by Salon subsequently linked to Hunter Biden — was dated April 19, 2019.

If Hunter Biden had indeed dropped off the computer, it would have been in the same month in which he stepped down from his position on Burisma's board of directors and his father announced his candidacy for president. It would have also been the same month in which some outlets in the U.S. press began publishing Giuliani's allegations of corruption.

The store owner claims that Hunter Biden had never again inquired about the computer containing his alleged emails.

"It seems like a complete fabrication," former U.S. Attorney and national security law expert Barb McQuade told Salon. "What are the chances that an anonymous person abandons a laptop that contains evidence about the very same conspiracy theory that Trump and Giuliani have been pursuing for more than a year? The subpoena is meaningless, because it has no tie whatsoever to Hunter Biden on its face. This seems like a desperate effort to get this talking point back in the news."

At the time of the alleged laptop dropoff, Giuliani and his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman had significantly ramped up their their months-long cooperative effort to dig up dirt regarding the Bidens and Ukraine.

Parnas and Fruman were later arrested at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington as they waited to board an overseas flight. Those arrests were on unrelated campaign finance charges, but they came only one day after the duo met Giuliani for drinks as impeachment hearings were heating up in Congress.

The investigation into Parnas and Fruman soon expanded to Giuliani, who was later reportedly the subject of subpoenas from federal investigators in the Southern District of New York. A lawyer for Parnas told Salon that he would be making arguments in federal court later this month. It is unclear what became of Giuliani's role in the case.

Neither Parnas' lawyer, Giuilani nor Isaac responded to Salon's requests for comment.

The story, which comes as an "October surprise" while voting is underway nationwide in the weeks before Election Day, recalls memories of the bombshell news from the end of the 2016 election cycle: Emails pulled from a laptop confiscated by the FBI upended former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign in the final days leading up to the election.

At the time, Giuliani — a former assistant U.S. attorney who maintains ties to federal law enforcement  — told Fox News that he knew about a major revelation a few days in advance of former FBI director James Comey's stunning announcement that the FBI would investigate the emails.

"I do think that all of these revelations about Hillary Clinton finally are beginning to have an impact," Giuliani said. "He's got a surprise or two that you're going to hear about in the next two days." 

On another program later, he repeated the suggestion: "I mean, I'm talking about some pretty big surprises."

After Comey's announcement, Giuliani again took to Fox News, this time to boast.

"I had expected this for the last — honestly, tell you the truth, I thought it was going to be about three, four weeks ago," he said. "Because back — way back in July this started. So, this has been boiling up."

"I did nothing to get it out. I had no role in it," he added. "Did I hear about it? You're darn right I heard about it, and I can't even repeat the language that I heard."

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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