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.

Trump and Barr ramp up their abuses of power—and Senate Republicans are responsible for all of it

This is what a liberated post-acquittal Donald Trump looks like: not chastened, as some of the more dishonest Senate Republicans said they hoped he would be, but ever more brazen in his corruption and his destruction of democratic institutions. Tuesday was a nightmare for justice in the United States of America, with three top prosecutors either stepping down from the case or resigning entirely as Attorney General William Barr obeyed a Trump tweet and intervened in the sentencing recommendations for Trump buddy Roger Stone.

That came after the news that Barr is working with Rudy Giuliani to dig up and launder dirt on Trump’s political opponents, and after the firing of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother from their White House jobs because he testified at the impeachment inquiry. Trump and Barr are committing the abuses, but every single Republican senator other than Mitt Romney gave them permission. Said “Go right ahead, we won’t do a thing about it.”

Every day that goes by and every new abuse that Trump commits shows why it's so important to retake the Senate. Please dig deep to defeat vulnerable Republicans in 2020.

I’m talking about Susan Collins, up for reelection in Maine. Cory Gardner, up for reelection in Colorado. Joni Ernst, in Iowa. Thom Tillis, in North Carolina. Kelly Loeffler, who will be facing Georgia voters for the first time after being appointed to replace former Sen. Johnny Isakson. David Perdue, also in Georgia, meaning there are two Senate seats at stake in one state. Martha McSally, who lost a Senate election in Arizona in 2018 and was appointed to a Senate seat anyway—she needs to lose for a second time in a row. 

Every single one of these people voted to let Trump continue his lawlessness. They voted that way when any halfway sensible person knew that he would take the vote as permission to do more and worse. These senators intended to give him that permission—and do more and worse he has. He has been publicly vindictive against Vindman for daring to testify to what Trump did on Ukraine. His attorney general is systematically perverting the administration of justice to cater to Trump’s personal desires, to protect his friends and persecute his opponents, making a mockery of the Justice Department's mission statement to “ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.” 

Every Republican senator but Mitt Romney voted to tell Trump that he is above the law. In 2020, voters can make some of them pay for that. Give now to send the opposite message—that no one is above the law—by defeating these Republicans in 2020.

Giuliani and Barr are smoothing out their partnership on Trump’s extortion and slander pipeline

During the impeachment hearings before House committees, Attorney General William Barr repeatedly stated that he knew nothing about Donald Trump’s Ukraine plot. Barr said that, despite Trump informing Ukrainian officials that Barr would be in touch with them, he had not been. Of course, Barr had been in Rome, trying to promote some of the same conspiracy theories, but that was different.

That was also then. Now that the Republican Senate has given Trump a free pass on using his office for extortion and slander, Barr is no longer pretending that he’s not part of the propaganda machine. On Monday he wasn’t quite confirming reports that he and Rudy Giuliani were coordinating on a defamation pipeline. But as of Tuesday, that’s exactly what’s happening.

As The New York Times reports, Barr says that he isn’t treating Giuliani any differently than he treats anyone else, except for when it comes to … pretty much everything. According to Barr, the Justice Department is obligated to “have an open door to anybody who wishes to provide us information.” That’s nice. That apparently includes information from people under federal investigation, whose associates are already under indictment, and who are passing along information generated by foreign officials noted for their corruption, at least one of whom has already admitted that he simply made this stuff up to please Giuliani and Trump.

But then, why shouldn’t Donald Trump’s personal attorney have a personal pipeline to the attorney general? After all, Trump has already made it clear that he can overrule the federal justice system, and even a unanimous vote of the Supreme Court, whenever he feels like it. That Article II, it’s one bad article.

As an example of just how like everyone else Giuliani is being treated, The Washington Post reports that a special “intake process in the field” has been set up to review information provided by Giuliani. Giuliani will be spared the trouble of actually bringing his claims to the Department of Justice. Instead, intelligence agencies and the department will “scrutinize” Giuliani’s claims about Trump’s political opponents.

If that sounds a lot like Barr saying that he will use the FBI and other resources to conduct the investigations Trump wants and hone the power of the Justice Department for political persecution, it’s because it’s exactly like that. In fact, the DOJ is already on the case, checking out information Giuliani handed to U.S. attorneys in Pittsburgh.

According to Barr, the Giuliani Pipeline was created so “any information coming in about Ukraine could be carefully scrutinized by the department and its intelligence community partners,” which, again, is indistinguishable in any practical sense from William Barr simply announcing that the Department of Justice is now investigating Joe Biden, with Rudy Giuliani acting as a special agent in the field. 

Just wait for Wednesday. We’ll probably get there.

Fox News warns Fox News that Fox News experts are liars, as it continues to help them lie

Contrary to popular belief, Fox News is more than just an echo chamber for Donald Trump. Because sometimes Donald Trump is an echo chamber for Fox News. But what’s absolutely certain is that Fox News is not an outlet that anyone should trust when looking for a source of factual, reliable news or analysis. That’s not just the opinion of everyone who has ever bothered to look away from the & Friends couch; it’s also the opinion of the people inside Fox News. As revealed by a series of internal memos, even Fox News has made it clear that it should not be trusted—especially when it comes to the matters at the heart of Trump’s impeachment.

As The Daily Beast reports, an internal Fox briefing book explicitly calls out frequent Fox contributor John Solomon. Solomon used his position at The Hill to publish a series of articles spreading propaganda about Joe Biden’s supposed crimes in Ukraine. Solomon has made multiple appearances on Fox to discuss impeachment and make claims that Biden used his position to protect his son. Sean Hannity put Solomon forward as a “crusading investigative reporter,” and Republicans on Capitol Hill, including Trump’s defense team, regularly cited claims lifted from Solomon’s articles in attacking Biden. 

But inside Fox, the truth was that they knew Solomon was lying—and then some. The report notes that Solomon was not disclosing conflicts and was using unreliable sources, misrepresenting sources, and “publishing false and misleading stories.” Overall, the internal report called out Solomon for being an “indispensable” part of a “disinformation campaign” orchestrated by Rudy Giuliani. 

Giuliani is singled out as another broadly unreliable character who used his Fox appearances to regularly hide, distort, and deny the truth. That includes lies Trump’s personal attorney spread on Fox about former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. The briefing book also notes that Giuliani has a “high susceptibility to disinformation,” and draws connections from his actions back to exiled Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash.

Also on the list of liars are Fox “legal experts” Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova, both of whom have been supporters of and attorneys for Trump, and both of whom are also employed by Firtash.

Overall, the briefing book shows that Fox News was aware that it was putting out information that was unreliable, suspect, and often downright lies. What it doesn’t show is that it made any effort to stop doing it. And all of the noted liars continued to be given a platform as guests on Fox programs.

Schiff: Trump team’s claim Giuliani wasn’t conducting policy a ‘breathtaking’ admission

In response to a question from Democrat Joe Manchin and Kristin Sinema, and Republicans Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins about whether the White House would assure the Senate that it would not allow private citizens to conduct foreign policy, White House lawyer Patrick Philbin stepped in it, and Rep. Adam Schiff pounced. Philbin answered "I just want to make clear that there was no conduct of foreign policy being carried on here by a private person."

That was all the opening Schiff needed. "We have just heard a breathtaking admission by the President's lawyer," he said. "What the President's counsel said was that no foreign policy was being conducted by a private person here. That is Rudy Giuliani was not conducting U.S. foreign policy. Rudy Giuliani was not conducting policy. That is a remarkable admission," Schiff continued. They have suggested, he said, that "this is a policy issue," about burden-sharing or corruption, but "they have no acknowledged that this was not about policy. […] This was not policy conducted by Mr. Giuliani."

"They have just undermined their entire argument," he added. "If Giuliani wasn't there conducting foreign policy, it must have been a "personal political errand."

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