Trump expected splashy Wall Street Journal coverage of Hunter Biden’s emails. He was disappointed

Rudy Giuliani’s ridiculous waterlogged laptop story wasn’t supposed to be the way the public learned about an alleged trove of Hunter Biden emails. It was supposed to come from a much more reputable Rupert Murdoch-owned publication. Not even Fox News, which passed. No, some ostensibly more reputable Trumpsters were trying to sell the email story—minus the laptop angle—to The Wall Street Journal. 

Eric Herschmann, the former Trump impeachment lawyer turned White House adviser, former deputy White House counsel Stefan Passantino, and a public relations person who’s buddies with Don Jr. met with WSJ reporter Michael Bender in early October, The New York Times’ Ben Smith reports. At that meeting, they handed over Hunter Biden emails—including some of the same ones Giuliani supposedly got from the laptop—and put his former business partner, Tony Bobulinski, on speaker phone to make allegations that Joe Biden had profited from Hunter’s corrupt use of the family name. That effort to sell the story ran into one big problem: The Wall Street Journal took its time investigating and decided there wasn’t a lot of there there.

While that investigation was ongoing, Giuliani got the New York Post to run his laptop story, which quickly came under question. (Questions like “Are you f’ing kidding me?” and “So Rudy’s basically a Russian asset now, right?)

But Donald Trump knew that The Wall Street Journal was supposedly going to be doing a story on the emails, and he was excited, telling aides that an “important piece” was coming in the paper. While “The editors didn’t like Trump’s insinuation that we were being teed up to do this hit job,” a reporter told Smith, the investigation into the emails continued. But it didn't go on Team Trump’s schedule, which called for a major, splashy article before last week’s debate. Instead, the eventual WSJ article came after Bobulinski went to the press himself, and Trump tried to make him an issue in the debate. The headline of the short article eventually published? “Hunter Biden’s Ex-Business Partner Alleges Father Knew About Venture.”

That’s not exactly what the White House lawyer and former White House lawyer were looking for—they wanted the New York Post insinuations laundered through the respectability of the WSJ. And of course the whole story is further discredited by having multiple overlapping sets of Hunter Biden emails being pushed around by different parts of Team Trump. The laptop story is dubious enough on its own—man from California delivers laptop to Delaware repair shop where blind Trump-supporting owner can’t identify him as Hunter Biden but figures it out from Biden-related sticker on the laptop, etc etc etc, improbability stacking upon improbability—but when you know that that wasn't the only set of supposed Hunter Biden emails, well, it really screams Russian influence campaign. And it screams Trump desperation for any game-changer in the campaign, however illegitimate.

Giuliani’s smear on Hunter Biden is so ridiculous, Fox News passed on it … then covered it 24/7

Once upon a time—also know as 2019—Donald Trump tried to blackmail the president of Ukraine into making false claims about Hunter Biden. Trump got caught, got impeached, and got not even a slap on the wrist from Senate Republicans who were willing to allow Trump to do anything in exchange for a flood of conservative judges. After all, when you’ve already waved off the Hatch Act, ignored federal laws over nepotism, and blown off an endless stream of lies … what’s a little extortion of an ally for political advantage?

When Trump didn’t get what he wanted from from Volodymyr Zelensky, he put both U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr and Rudy Giuliani on the case. Barr grabbed U.S. attorney John Durham and opened up an investigation that saw him flying around the world in an attempt to find someone reputable who would lend the slightest credence to Trump’s incredible claims. Giuliani … just skipped out on the “reputable.” Instead, he grabbed a pair of foot soldiers for a Russian oligarch, latched onto some officials who had been kicked out for corruption, and worked directly with an “active Russian agent” to produce a whole series of false claims and fake evidence. 

That brings us to now. Barr’s efforts have apparently come up dry. One part of his investigation has already shut down, Durham’s top assistant has resigned, and there’s no report worth even a patently false summary before Election Day. The Giuliani side has produced a hard drive. A hard drive supposedly dropped off in Delaware by a man who lived in California, at a shop owned by a vocal Trump supporter, where the security footage was mysteriously wiped, the blind shop owner could not identify the person who dropped it off, there was no name or contact information provided, and no one ever returned for it. 

Giuliani’s story is so ridiculous that both Fox News and the New York Post reporter who was forced to write it both disowned it. After years of trying to smear Biden, this really is the best they can do.

As Mediaite reports, the New York Post was hardly Giuliani’s first choice in trying to get this contemptible last-ditch effort into the media. It’s unclear how many other places he went first, but it is clear that he came to Fox News with his story of an unclaimed laptop. Fox News looked at the story, got out their 10-foot pole, and carefully pushed the whole pile back to Giuliani.

After all, this is far from the first time that Giuliani has come up with supposedly shocking information that just happens to support Trump’s every delusional claim. In September, it became clear that Giuliani was working closely with U.S. Sec. of State Mike Pompeo. It’s since come out that the packet of information that Pompeo shared with Republican lawmakers, but not with Democrats, did not come from sources within the State Department. He was simply laundering pages for Giuliani. Naturally, Trump’s personal attorney could not stop bragging about this. At the start of October, he told CNN that he was the source for the Biden information in Republican’s hands. 

This information was enough that Louie Gohmert and Paul Gosar, DDS were willing to scrawl their signatures on a letter to the Justice Department, along with nine other Republicans out of 250 in the House and Senate. But the many, many places where the Giuliani’s claims weren’t just wholly unbelievable but clearly connected to a known Republican disinformation campaign against Biden did bother a few other people.  

Not only is there the little problem of there being absolutely no provenance concerning the hard drive itself—everything about the story of where it was found has holes the size of ocean liners. The shop owner has given various accounts about how the laptop (or laptops, since he at one point claimed there were three), entered his shop; he’s been completely contradictory about how it came to the attention of the FBI; and when and how Giuliani became involved in the affair is as clear as mud. Also, there’s a little matter of how dates on the files found on the machine seem to be from months after the machine was supposedly dropped off.

But just because Fox News wouldn’t take it directly, that doesn’t mean that Rupert Murdoch wasn’t willing to step in to help out his pals. After the story was turned away from Fox News, it was shuffled over to the Murdoch-owned paper where New York Times reports reporter Bruce Golding was tasked with taking the documents, and Giuliani’s ravings, and turning them into an article. But once he heard the whole tale, Golding refused to put his name to the piece. So did other journalists in the Post news room … and this is a paper that just last year went with a front page emblazoned “Bezos exposes Pecker.”

Instead, the story eventually ran under the byline of Emma-Jo Morris. Morris is a former booker for Sean Hannity’s show on Fox, who made the trip across to the Post just in time for Giuliani’s Russian fabrication to be her very first article. A second name on the article was Post reporter Gabrielle Fonrouge. Fonrouge’s name ended up there in the most efficient manner. The Post’s editors put it there, and didn’t tell Fonrouge until after it was published.

All of this works perfectly for Fox, for the Post, for Giuliani, for Trump, and most importantly, for Putin. Fox doesn’t have to front the story. With the story in the Post, Fox can report on it. They can ask Republicans to comment on it. They can construct great rambling opinions from Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. The Post can then report on the comments their story is getting on Fox. Trump can retweet it all. Republicans in the House can cite all of the above as justification for demanding William Barr whip up a special investigator. And Vladimir Putin … can laugh. 

The ‘wet laptop’ story absolutely is a scandal, but it has nothing to do with Joe Biden

An official in a foreign country stumbles on a briefcase left behind by his opposing number from another delegation. Sneaking a peak at the information inside, the official discovers that it contains not only the usual stacks of diplomatic reports, but secret information providing insight into an upcoming military operation. Immediately, the official rushes this information to his superiors who … have just fallen into one of the most timeworn traps of intelligence tradecraft. The “accidently” left-behind wallet, briefcase, or letter is an absolute classic of Soviet-era dezinformatsiya schemes.

In the argot of spies, a “cobbler” assembles a dezinformatsiya packet, accompanied by more truthful “litter” and “chicken feed” that makes it appear as if a deceptive document is real. If possible, the information is left where it’s handily accessible to the target of the dezinformatsiya campaign, but a special purpose “floater” may be used to pass the information along—often without that person understanding their role in the scheme. 

Now, substitute “hard drive” for “briefcase” and “email” for “document.” Because that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday as the New York Post ran a story about a soggy computer left behind by a mysterious stranger at a Delaware repair shop. That computer was supposed to kick off a scandal about Hunter Biden. But what it really proves is that Rudy Giuliani and Rupert Murdoch are neck-deep in a scheme to spread disinformation to the American public.

That the story of this left behind computer ran in the New York Post on Wednesday isn’t the sign of a successful disinformation campaign—it’s a clear signal of its abject failure.

According to the story, the computer was dropped off at a repair shop in April 2019—as in over a year and a half ago. The computer was left apparently without signing any form or even providing a name. In fact, the shop owner declared that because he is legally blind, he could not identify the person who brought in the supposedly water-damaged computer. However, that shop owner eventually concluded that it was Hunter Biden’s computer because … there was a sticker from the Beau Biden Foundation on the computer.

This shop owner has been identified as 44-year-old John Paul “Mac” Isaac. Isaac is a vocal Trump supporter whose social media profile is full of not just statements about voting for Trump, but also  comments about Joe Biden. That includes mention of a “Biden bubble” that keeps Biden from being affected by bad news. His social media also shows that Isaac likes to wear kilts, but that seems beside the point. 

In any case, Isaac is a Trump supporter who has been open about his disdain for Biden and his belief that the media goes easy with stories about Biden. Then in spring of 2019, a computer lands in his lap with a Biden sticker attached. 

What happens next is massively unclear, because in interviews Wednesday afternoon, Isaac gave completely contradictory statements about his follow-up actions. What seems to be clear is that at some later point, Isaac hooked up the hard drive, read the emails, and watched a video that supposedly shows Hunter Biden having sex with a prostitute while smoking crack. Apparently Isaac could see that much.

At some point between April and December, Isaac contacted the FBI. Or at least, that appears to be the case since the Post included an image of a Dec. 9, 2019 grand jury subpoena—though since that subpoena has the name blacked out and the objects to be provided are obscured, it’s only their word that it is actually connected to this incident. However, before giving the laptop to the FBI, Isaac first made a copy of the hard drive which, like his original perusal through the emails and videos, is very likely to have been a violation of Delaware privacy laws. It’s also worth noting that nothing Isaac did appears to be related to actually fixing the damaged laptop. 

At some point Isaac talks to Giuliani and eventually gives him a copy of the hard drive. But what’s extremely confusing is the order of any of these events. Did Isaac talk to Giuliani before or after he spoke with the FBI? Was it Giuliani who told Isaac to take the computer to the FBI? Taking one step back, why did a Delaware computer repair store owner think to call Giuliani in the first place, and how did he get in touch with Giuliani?

However it happened, Isaac made the copy at some point before December 2019. According to a Daily Beast interview, Isaac “switched back and forth” between saying that he contacted the FBI and saying the FBI contacted him. He also claimed that the FBI asked him for help in accessing the drive, though he didn’t indicate that the drive was encrypted or protected in any way. 

There’s are several huge missing pieces in this story. For example, what did Isaac say to the FBI? “Hello, someone brought in a computer, and I think it belongs to Beau Biden.” If so, why would the FBI say anything other than, “Then give it back?” Why would Beau Biden dropping off a wet laptop cause the FBI to have any interest at all?

This, then, is the “official” story from the Post and Giuliani: A mysterious stranger drops off a laptop at a shop belonging to a legally blind Trump supporter who has said disparaging things about Biden. Nine months later, the FBI asks for that computer. Then 10 months after that, Giuliani hands over to the New York Post what he says is a copy of that computer’s hard drive. In between those dates, we have nothing. Well, nothing except for more Facebook statements from Isaac, who does devote some time to saying that Trump’s impeachment is a sham, but says nothing at all about Hunter Biden’s crack-smoking video that he found on a computer left at his store. And we have a lot of statements from Giuliani during this period, many of them essentially identical to what will eventually appear in the Post story.

So … let’s look at this from a different angle.

Giuliani has spent over two years traveling back and forth to Ukraine, making promises that he had found red-hot information supporting Trump’s conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden. In the process, Giuliani has made numerous statements to the media—frequently in The New York Times—claiming that he has the “smoking gun” for Biden’s misdeeds. That included a letter supposedly showing that Biden had worked to protect Burisma holdings from investigation. Except that a few weeks later, a Ukrainian legislator admitted to making up the information to “curry favor with Trump and Giuliani.” The timeline of events showed that the story Giuliani was peddling was not even possible.

But at the same time Giuliani is waving letters in front of the media, someone is dropping off a computer at Isaac’s shop. Then nothing happens in April, or May, or June … nothing happens at all. Until for some reason Isaac decides to take a closer look at that computer. A reason like, perhaps, a phone call from someone who already knew what was on it. That someone might even suggest that Isaac contact the FBI, or they might contact the FBI and tell them to talk to Isaac, because the information now available has it both ways.

Even then, 10 months after the FBI has taken receipt of the laptop, nothing has happened. Christopher Wray is not on TV making an announcement about emails. The DOJ has not announced that it is opening an investigation. No one is talking about Hunter Biden’s laptop, dammit!

So with the clock ticking down to the election, Giuliani takes the hard drive straight to the one person he can trust to make a big deal about it: Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch then points a finger at a booker on Sean Hannity’s show, turning her into an instant editor for the paper he owns, the New York Post, and this brand spanking newly minted “journalist” then publishes Giuliani’s story.

That doesn’t make this an “October surprise.” This makes this an abject failure of a con job. Giuliani and Murdoch are absolutely not in the position they wanted to be at this point. In their ideal world, Emma-Jo Morris would be back in Hannity’s green room, booking Giuliani for his guest appearance to discuss the how The New York Times is running with the astounding breaking news that the FBI is looking into revelations from Hunter Biden’s laptop.

That did not happen. What happened instead was that Giuliani had to hand-carry the dezinformatsiya to Murdoch, and Murdoch had to get his mitts all over this mess to package it up for a multiday run on Fox and the Post. This is what is generally known as very, very, very bad tradecraft. 

This is a busted operation from a man whose whole Ukrainian adventure has been marked by:

What Rudy Giuliani and Rupert Murdoch have on their wrinkly fingers is a big ball of dirty tricks shading toward outright espionage, supported by Vladimir Putin.

Sorry, comrades, you’ve been caught.

The most important accomplishment of impeaching Trump was its impact on Joe Biden

Impeaching The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote was incredibly important, and not only because it was the right thing to do. Yes, he committed crimes and abused the power of his office, and yes he deserved to be impeached and removed from that office—the record of every Republican Senator other than Mitt Romney will be forever stained by their votes to acquit. History will remember their cowardice.

Beyond the morality, impeachment has had a clear, long-lasting political benefit, one that will pay dividends for Vice President Joe Biden this November. Thanks to impeachment, everyone knows that the charges Trump leveled against Joe and Hunter Biden on Ukraine—the ones he tried to blackmail that country’s president into investigating, or least announcing an intention to investigate—are utter malarkey.

Trump always feared running against Biden, and he acted corruptly in a failed bid to get enough dirt to derail the former VP’s quest to win the Democratic nomination. The impeachment process shone a bright light on Trump’s actions, and on his lies about Biden, ensuring that the smear campaign ultimately backfired.

Since the end of the impeachment trial, Trump and his minions have continued to bleat on with their completely invented and thoroughly debunked stories about the Bidens. I won’t dignify them by repeating the specifics here. Recently, Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who heads the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, have been “investigating”—i.e., trying to keep the story in the media—this bullshit.

Never mind that by falsely smearing Biden over Ukraine, Johnson and his fellow Republican senators are all but doing the work of Vladimir Putin for him, as this Associated Press article explained

But the stark warning that Russia is working to denigrate the Democratic presidential candidate adds to questions about the probe by Johnson’s Senate committee and whether it is mimicking, even indirectly, Russian efforts and amplifying its propaganda.

The investigation is unfolding as the country, months removed from an impeachment case that had centered on Ukraine, is dealing with a pandemic and confronting the issue of racial injustice. Yet allegations about Biden and Ukraine remain a popular topic in conservative circles, pushed by Russian media and addressed regularly by President Donald Trump and other Republicans as a potential path toward energizing his supporters.

[...] “Particularly as a public official and somebody who’s responsible for keeping the country safe, you should always be suspicious of narratives that are trying to sort of damage or target the electoral process in your country,” said former CIA officer Cindy Otis, a foreign disinformation expert and vice president of analysis at Alethea Group. “You should always be suspicious of narratives that foreign countries are pumping out.”

As Daily Kos’ Kerry Eleveld pointed out, Johnson even admitted that his so-called probe would “would certainly help Donald Trump win reelection and certainly be pretty good, I would say, evidence about not voting for Vice President Biden.” It amazing; these Republicans always manage to say the quiet part out loud, which I guess is helpful. Nevertheless, to paraphrase what Otter said to his nemesis (and professional Republican, according to the character futures provided) Gregg Marmalard in Animal House, “Gee, you’re dumb.”

Then the Orange Julius Caesar himself got into the act. On August 16 he retweeted material that our own intelligence agencies had previously identified as Russian disinformation—part of its effort to directly influence the presidential election by “denigrating” Biden. As CNN put it: “By retweeting material that the US government has already labeled as propaganda -- and doing so with the 2020 Democratic National Convention kicking off on Monday -- Trump demonstrated once again that he is willing to capitalize on foreign election meddling for his own political gain.” Here’s Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner:

The President of the United States should never be a willing mouthpiece for Russian propaganda. https://t.co/9y6L6uMKbM

— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) August 17, 2020

Then came the four-day marathon of lies known as the Republican National Convention. Former Florida (where else?) Attorney General Pam Bondi went before a national audience and, once again, did Putin’s bidding by lying about the Bidens and Ukraine. The truth? When Joe Biden sought the removal of Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shukin he did so, as Greg Sargent of the Washington Post noted, “because the prosecutor was corrupt.” Sargent added some more important facts: “This was U.S. policy, backed by international institutions. GOP senators had no problem with it in real time. As The Post’s fact-checking team puts it, Bondi’s story is ‘fiction,’ and in reality, Joe Biden ‘was thwarting corruption, not abetting it.’” Bondi told some other lies about Hunter Biden, which the WaPo fact-checking team also debunked

When these latter day Marmalards now issue their breathtaking press releases or repeat Russian disinformation about the Bidens and Ukraine, the media—thus far at least—has been taking them for what they are: Utter horseshit. I won’t say the media has learned their lesson, but unlike 2016, when “but her emails” was literally the most reported story of the campaign, this year everyone who isn’t directly sucking at the Trump teat is treating these debunked charges with the (lack of) seriousness they deserve. 

For that, we can thank the impeachment of Donald Trump, which exposed the lies against the Bidens for what they are. The impeachment process inoculated the media and the American public by preparing them for what Trump is now trying to pull on this matter. So thank you Nancy Pelosi, thank you Adam Schiff, thank you Val Demings, thank you Jerry Nadler, and thanks to the rest of the Democratic impeachment team. I’m sure Joe Biden is thanking you as well.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

Lindsey Graham’s next big round of sucking up to Trump is coming in new Russia probe

Lindsey Graham, one of Donald Trump’s chief lapdogs in the Senate, will have sweeping subpoena power to try to belatedly exonerate Trump and incriminate the Obama administration in the investigation into Russian election interference in 2016. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along partisan lines to give Graham, who is the committee chair, that subpoena power while rejecting—also along partisan lines—Democrats’ efforts to get subpoena power as well.

Graham plans to subpoena Obama administration officials including former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former FBI Director James Comey. All part of the plan to delegitimize the investigation into what Russia did to help Trump win rather than investigating … what Russia did to help Trump win.

“I am very intent in making sure this never happens again,” Graham said. “This” is the investigation into Russian election interference, not the Russian election interference itself.

It’s not just Graham and the Judiciary Committee, either. The Senate Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Ron Johnson, will also be investigating the Russia investigation, and, as an extra-partisan bonus, he’s investigating Hunter Biden, too. Because nothing says “this investigation is aimed at uncovering the truth about a very important issue, not attacking my political opponents” like waiting until years after the fact during an election year and following the lead of a president who was impeached for abusing power to create a scandal around the same figure you’re now “investigating.”

Trump had Park Police and National Guard troops violently clear a peaceful protest so he could get a photo op. His attorney general has lied about it and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has apologized for being party to it. But Senate Republicans—the same Senate Republicans who protected him during the impeachment trial—couldn’t care less. Neither do they care that a foreign nation attacked U.S. democracy four years ago. They just want to keep the truth from getting out and do whatever it takes to protect Trump from ever facing a consequence for anything. 

There’s a nationwide movement against police brutality and a global pandemic that’s killed more than 100,000 Americans, in large part because of Donald Trump’s refusal to admit it might be a problem. And Senate Republicans don’t care about anything but keeping Trump in power.

Not defending Hunter Biden, but Republicans are lying about him (of course)

Now that Joe Biden is headed toward the Democratic nomination for president, Republicans are reviving their efforts to smear him via his son, Hunter, and Hunter’s service on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Nothing untoward has ever been proved against Hunter, not even alleged (beyond generic) “corruption,” and the search for something untoward is all an effort to create this cycle’s version of “but her emails.” 

Key to the Republican argument is the notion that the younger Biden had no qualifications for the job. “When speaking with ABC News about his qualifications to be on Burisma's board, Hunter Biden didn't point to any of the usual qualifications of a board member," Donald Trump lawyer Pam Bondi said at his impeachment trial. "Hunter Biden had no experience in natural gas, no experience in the energy sector, no experience with Ukrainian regulatory affairs. As far as we know, he doesn't speak Ukrainian."

Trump being Trump, he’s whittled all that down to the claim that Hunter Biden was appointed to the board because he “didn’t have a job.” 

Since we’re going to be hearing about this nonstop for the next eight months (ugh), here’s the reality.

Hunter Biden is a graduate of Yale Law School, by far the best and most prestigious law school in the country (sorry, Harvard). Notes Trump fact-checker extraordinaire Daniel Dale, at the time that “Hunter Biden was appointed to the board of Burisma in 2014, he was a lawyer at the firm Boies Schiller Flexner, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's foreign service program, chairman of the board of World Food Program USA, and chief executive officer and chairman of Rosemont Seneca Advisors, an investment advisory firm. He also served on other boards.”

Boies Schiller Flexner was founded by David Boies, the same Boies who defeated Microsoft in an antitrust case, who represented Al Gore in the 2000 election recount, and who successfully challenged California’s ban on gay marriage. (Also, the firm represents Harvey Weinstein, and Boies himself represented fraudulent firm Theranos, so … I’m not saying it’s all happy unicorns—I’m just reinforcing that it’s not some backwater ambulance-chasing firm. These are powerful heavy hitters.)

His teaching gig in Georgetown’s foreign service program, which is focused on international development, shows that Hunter did have expertise and an active interest in international relations and development. That makes sense, because World Food Program USA is focused on ending global hunger (and is currently raising money for relief efforts among Syrian refugees).

Rosemont Seneca was co-founded by Christopher Heinz, son of Teresa Heinz (of ketchup fame) and stepson of John Kerry. There’s little information about the firm online, but it looks like a garden-variety hedge fund. No one has alleged anything shady about it yet. But what it does show is that Biden had connections to the world of high finance that would be of interest to any conglomerate looking to raise capital and expand into new markets. 

And by all indications, Hunter was an active member of the board of Rosemont Seneca, investigating possible expansion opportunities and connecting the company to legal and financial resources in the United States. 

Was he on the board, likely, because of his last name? Probably. Was it a stupid idea to join such a board while his father was vice president? Of course. But no less stupid than pretty much everything the Trump children have done since their father entered the White House. Still, ugh. It sure would’ve been nice to head into the general election with a candidate unencumbered by such baggage. 

We now get to spend the rest of the year playing the “both sides are corrupt” game, muddying the waters on an issue (corruption) we should own easily. But pretending that Hunter had zero qualifications for the job, or worse, had no job? It’s utter horseshit, and we should be very clear to call it out as such. 

Republicans are going to believe whatever they want to believe. That’s the power of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. If Trump says it’s okay to go to work even when infected with COVID-19? Okay then! Mission accomplished. All is well.

But we should fight and make sure the traditional media doesn’t repeat those claims as fact. Because, like pretty much everything else that comes out of Trump’s mouth, it’s utter horseshit. 

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden tries to expand Ukraine investigation into an actual Ukraine investigation

In 2016, Sen. Ron Johnson was one of a number of Republicans who signed a letter encouraging the president of Ukraine to fire the country’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin. Naturally, that fact has not even been a speed bump in Johnson joining with his colleagues Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley to accuse former Vice President Joe Biden of a nefarious act when he … encouraged the president of Ukraine to fire the country’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin.

Back in November, in the midst of the House impeachment hearings into Donald Trump’s extortion and slander plot, the trio of Johnson , Grassley, and Graham began a distraction campaign by demanding documents both from and about Ukraine. This has continued post-impeachment, with the three lickspittles rummaging through Secret Service records to see if they can catch Joe Biden in the act of associating with his own son. 

And now Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden has decided to join them—to dig up documents that Republicans would rather stay buried.

As The Washington Post reported last week, Republican senators were eager to demonstrate that their toadying for Trump didn’t end with their cover-up vote on his removal from office. Johnson, Grassley, and Graham are all well aware that in asking for the dismissal of Shokin, Biden was actually:

Following the instructions of Barack Obama and others at the White House who had repeatedly noted the Ukrainian prosecutor’s obstruction and corruption. Supporting a request from officials of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund who saw Shokin’s corruption as a fundamental roadblock to investment in Ukraine. Acting on the request of U.K. prosecutors upset that Shokin would not pursue an investigation into Burisma and other companies at the heart of a possible money laundering scheme.

But just because they know upfront that not only did Biden not take steps to illegally protect his son’s position, but that in helping to sack Shokin, he was also actually putting his son at risk, they are still more than willing to demonstrate that their loyalty to Trump is more important than facts. Or honesty. Or much less any concept of honor.

With that in mind, Buzzfeed News reports that Sen. Wyden has decided it would be a good thing to just open up this investigation and request a few more documents that don’t involve Hunter Biden’s airline records or what Joe Biden ate for lunch. Instead, Wyden sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directing him to turn over everything that the State Department has on Ukraine policy, both under President Obama and under Trump. That includes records of the department’s interactions on Ukraine with individuals such as Rudy Giuliani and his friends Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

Wyman’s letter makes it clear that he understands the purpose behind the much more limited requests made by Johnson, Grassley, and Graham. By restricting their search to a handful of Biden-related documents, the Republicans can continue to string together apparent connections by looking at overlapping dates or locations—connections that may, once again, show Joe Biden talking to, or even meeting with, his only surviving son. Which, as far as Republicans are concerned, is somehow much worse than bludgeoning an allied nation into providing political slander through an existential threat.

Or, as Wyden writes in his letter, “I am concerned that, in the absence of additional information … the Department's production of information requested by the Senate Committees could create an incomplete and biased record of the State Department's activities related to Ukraine.”

It can. And it still will. Because there’s almost no doubt that Pompeo, along with Attorney General William Barr, will find that the requests from the Republican senators are urgent and proper, completely worthy of their time, and deserving of a response. Wyden, on the other hand, probably forgot a comma in the fourth line, or didn’t use the right form, or … is a Democrat. If Pompeo needs another reason to ignore a document demand from the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, he can always ask the White House counsel. As these people demonstrated during Trump’s impeachment trial, they’re full of excuses. Or at least full of something.

Republican senators dig through Secret Service records to investigate Joe Biden for … who cares?

As Donald Trump uses the National Prayer Breakfast for its traditional role—declaring vengeance on enemies—Republicans in Congress want to make sure they remain on the good side of the pharaoh. Two Republican senators have now announced that they will be laying their offerings on the altar in the form of a completely pointless investigation of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

Apparently cranking up the Senate impeachment trial into an assault on Trump’s perceived enemies was insufficient. The not-a-trial offered up posters featuring the name of the intelligence community whistleblower, repeated claims about everyone who so much as read the Mueller report, and continued smears of dedicated members of the State Department for expressing concern about actions that were both illegal and threatening to national security. 

But Republicans know that if they want to save their own necks, they need to put some heads on those pikes.

The Washington Post reports that Republicans Charles Grassley and Ron Johnson have already begun digging through documents from the Secret Service to find some hint that Joe Biden’s trips to Ukraine might have overlapped with his son’s visits to the country. Or that the two of them might have met elsewhere … because what could be more suspicious than a father willingly spending time with his son for non-business purposes? It’s certainly not a problem that afflicts Trump. This report follows a letter issued last week in which Grassley and Johnson called on William Barr to get right onto investigating Joe Biden for carrying out the orders of the U.S. government.

Grassley, who voted to remove Bill Clinton after giving a lengthy speech about the importance of protecting the government from any whiff of wrongdoing, didn’t even consider asking for so much as a witness against Trump. But Johnson’s level of hypocrisy in this event may be record breaking.

Not only has Johnson been deeply involved in the Ukraine plot from the beginning, including spreading rumors against Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and urging that she be dismissed, but he was one of those who signed a bipartisan letter in 2016 calling for the removal of the same corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor who Republicans are now treating as champion unfairly removed.

Not only was the removal of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin a bipartisan request for senators looking at corruption in Ukraine, it was a request made by both the International Monetary Fund and prosecutors in the U.K. specifically because Shokin refused to go after companies whose actions appeared to be violating international law—including Burisma. Shokin was not investigating Burisma, the company where Hunter Biden worked. That fact has been confirmed both by Ukrainian records and statements from Shokin himself. By removing Shokin, Biden was actually raising the possibility that a new, less-corrupt prosecutor might actually follow through and do an investigation. Far from protecting his son’s job, Biden’s actions put that job at risk.

None of that matters. Because Grassley and Johnson aren’t interested in finding the truth. They’re not even interested in finding useful slander—Republicans just make that stuff up themselves these days. The “investigation” into Joe Biden exists only to show that Grassley and Johnson are good followers of Trump, with not a hint of dignity or character. In other words, perfect senators.

Some Democrats reportedly open to boosting Republican talking points with impeachment witness trade

Behind the scenes of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, some Democrats are reportedly pondering a deal that could go wrong in about a dozen ways. With Republicans blocking witnesses while yelling about Hunter Biden, these Democrats are considering a trade in which they’d get to call White House officials like former national security adviser John Bolton, an actual witness to Trump’s actions that prompted impeachment, and Republicans would get to call Hunter Biden, a Republican talking point with no actual connection to impeachment.

While Democrats have repeatedly said that calling either Hunter or former Vice President Joe Biden would be irrelevant and a distraction, “behind closed doors, a small group of Democratic senators and aides has begun to question that logic, sounding out colleagues on whether to back a witness deal that could lead to testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton or other administration officials with possible firsthand knowledge of the Ukraine controversy,” The Washington Post reports, citing “multiple Democratic officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private discussions.”

Some Democrats have sent mixed messages. Sen. Chris Coons said that “If you want to give Joe Biden an opportunity to sit in the well of the Senate and answer the question, ‘Do you think the president acted appropriately?’ go right ahead”—but he also tweeted that “Trials have witnesses, and the witnesses have to be relevant to the case. It isn’t complicated. The President is on trial here, not anyone with the last name Biden. VP Biden and Hunter Biden are not relevant witnesses.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown told CNN’s State of the Union that he was “fine” with a Biden testifying in exchange for administration officials, but on Tuesday he called the idea “a typical Donald Trump-Mitch McConnell distraction that the national media continues to play with and continues to assist them.”

The big question at this point is not what Democrats are saying publicly, though. It’s what they’re talking about behind the scenes.

It is tempting to think that having Bolton or other current or former Trump officials testify could blow this thing wide open, but there are so many risks it’s hard to count them. Like, Hunter or Joe Biden testifies, giving Republicans the distraction they crave, and then Bolton refuses, or Trump manages to block Bolton. Just for starters. The Biden campaign is calling it right, saying that this is a “sad and obvious attempt at diversion” by Republicans. 

This impeachment trial is about Donald Trump and what Donald Trump did.