The New York Post seems to be the vehicle for President Trump’s long-awaited October Surprise. But its article should only be handled with asbestos gloves and a hazmat suit. We have to keep in mind Russian disinformation efforts, treat the authenticity of any of the documents with extreme skepticism. Twitter has taken the extraordinary step of blocking the distribution of the article on its site and Facebook has tried to limit its distribution. Josh Marshall lays out important caveats here.
So what does the Post have? In the front-page article, the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid claims to have “blockbuster correspondence” that Biden assisted his son Hunter’s work on behalf of a shady Ukrainian natural gas company.
“Ukrainian Exec Thanked Hunter Biden for Opportunity to Meet Veep Dad,” blares the Post headline.
Even if authentic, and they quite possibly are not, the supposedly startling finds were given to the Post by Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, which should trigger wariness. Even if one accepts the Post‘s new Ukraine bits at face value, they are much less intriguing, let alone incriminating than the story implies. The tabloid’s treasure trove turns out to be two alleged emails from a Ukrainian executive, as well as a salacious video purportedly captured from the hard drive of a what seems to be Hunter Biden’s MacBook Pro, a laptop that the Democratic nominee’s scion supposedly left at a Delaware computer repair shop.
To assess the import of the Post’s material, which allegedly and not very convincingly ties the Democratic nominee to the world of Ukrainian corruption, we have to hearken back to Trump’s impeachment woes of 2019 and 2020.
The House’s impeachment inquiry began with that famed whistleblower, Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, alleging that Trump, on a phone call monitored by Vindman and other National Security Council officials, tried to muscle Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden’s work on behalf of the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma. Hunter reportedly received $50,000 a month for his services despite not having experience in the energy sector or Ukraine.
During a January 2018 appearance at the Council of Foreign Relations, the former vice-president boasted that while he was in office, he’d forced out a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, by threatening to withhold approximately $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees. This talk raised the antennae of Trump allies, including Giuliani, who shared the widespread expectation that Biden might well be Trump’s Democratic opponent in 2020 and believed Ukrainian corruption would hinder, if not doom, a Biden presidential bid.
Trump’s gumshoes knew Hunter Biden served on the board of a Burisma, which had been under investigation for money laundering in both Ukraine and the United Kingdom. So Giuliani flew to Ukraine several times. His goal: Prove former Vice President Biden had forced Shokin out to aid his son rather than as part of overwhelming evidence that it was just part of U.S. efforts to fight corruption in the former Soviet Republic. Giuliani never found evidence to support this theory, but he raised legitimate questions about why Hunter was paid handsomely to serve on Burisma’s board.
He wasn’t the only one concerned about Biden. In February 2015, while serving as the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, George Kent raised concern about Hunter’s Burisma role. As Kent explained during his testimony before the Senate Finance and Homeland Security committees in 2020, he found Hunter’s presence on the board made it harder for the Embassy to push an anti-corruption agenda with Ukrainian officials.
[T]he bottom line was, I said I believe that this creates the perception of a potential conflict of interest, given Vice President Biden’s role and his very strong advocacy for anticorruption action, and that I thought that someone needed to talk to Hunter Biden, and he should [step] down from the board of Burisma.
While Kent insisted that Hunter’s presence on the board never influenced the embassy’s efforts to get Kyiv to crackdown on corruption, he was concerned the Ukrainians would detect hypocrisy and use it as an excuse to reject his advice.
Kent raised a legitimate concern, which Hunter all but conceded in an October 2019 interview with ABC News. Taking the appointment to Burisma’s board, Hunter told the network, “was poor judgment on my part.”
Voters can consider Hunter’s service with Burisma, but they should understand the facts. Biden’s son seems guilty of taking advantage of his father’s position to make gobs of money. That may be untoward, but it’s not a crime, and Hunter has never been charged with one. Perhaps the former vice president could have used his fatherly clout to stop his scion, but as the elder Biden has said, Hunter is an adult (now 50) responsible for his own decisions.
Kent would later testify at Trump’s impeachment inquiry that it was unconscionable for the president to demand Zelensky investigate Hunter as a condition of receiving military aid, something the White House denied as it spun the president’s conversation with the Ukrainian president.
Back to the Post story. The hard drive allegedly includes video of a sexual nature and photographic evidence of Hunter using drugs. Even by the Post’s own account, the supposedly tawdry images have nothing to do with Ukraine. And now, lots of questions are being raised about the owner of the repair shop and the weird metadata on the pics, which suggests they might well have been altered.
It’s two emails from an “adviser” to the Burisma board that drives the supposedly revelatory article. Both were purportedly sent from Vadim Pozharskyi. Their authenticity seems dubious, at best. One isn’t even an email but a screenshot of an email.
Here’s what’s in them. The 2014 email allegedly says Burisma is facing extortion from the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs. It asks Hunter if he can use his “inﬂuence to convey a message / signal, etc .to stop what we consider to be politically motivated action.” But there’s no evidence that Biden ever did anything in response or even got the email if it’s authentic.
In the other email, sent in 2015, Pozharskyi thanks Hunter for inviting him to Washington, D.C, and allowing him to meet his father. Yet, there’s no mention of anything discussed in the meeting with the Veep, not even where it took place or how long it lasted. It can even be read as his request for a future meeting with the elder Biden. The Democratic nominee set himself up for scrutiny when he claimed that he has “never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings.” But this letter fragment doesn’t contradict that, and the Biden campaign says the meeting never happened.
Notably, these allegations came to light through Giuliani, although they could have begun in Moscow. According to the Post, the computer repair shop owner told the Department of Justice about the hard drive in September, after which the FBI subpoenaed it. However, before turning it over to the Bureau, he made a copy and delivered it to Giuliani’s attorney, Robert Costello. Not typical behavior when you’re under subpoena.
It’s also worth noting that Steve Bannon, the former adviser to President Trump, told the Post about the existence of the hard drive in late September, and Giuliani provided the Post with a copy of it on Sunday.
Finally, it’s interesting that the New York Post runs this story rather than the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, or Washington Post. Either Giuliani didn’t believe the major newspapers would run it and never shopped it to them, or he did peddle it to them but failed to pique their interest. Either way, the Washington Post and Times have come back with strong stories questioning the whole thing’s authenticity.
There’s a profound irony here. By getting the president obsessed with Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine, Giuliani arguably started a chain of events that began with his bumbling investigation of Hunter Biden, which led to Trump’s pressure on Ukraine, which led to Trump’s impeachment. Now Giuliani surely hopes this last-second effort to stop Biden’s march to victory will help. The Murdoch mouthpiece will milk this for all it’s worth, but it’s not worth much.