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.

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.