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.

Explosive Report On Hunter Biden, Burisma Reveals Questionable Financial Transactions – Including Millions From Ex-Moscow Mayor’s Wife

A bombshell report reveals questionable financial transactions between Hunter Biden and his associates involving his role on the Board of the Ukrainian natural gas firm Burisma Holdings.

Biden, the son of Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden, engaged in “extensive and complex financial transactions” that were thoroughly analyzed by the Senate Homeland Security and Finance Committees.

The report was released on Wednesday by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

It states that Hunter “formed significant and consistent financial relationships” with Mykola Zlochevsky, the founder of Burisma.

Additionally, Biden and his business partner Devon Archer’s firms “made millions of dollars from that association” while his father served as vice president.

The Senate and Finance committees claim that they have obtained records from the US Treasury Department.

Those records reportedly “show potential criminal activity relating to transactions among and between Hunter Biden, his family, and his associates with Ukrainian, Russian, Kazakh and Chinese nationals.”

RELATED: Documentary Claims Hunter Biden’s Business Dealings ‘Served’ China and Their Military

Hunter Biden, Bursima Accused of Questionable Financial Transactions

A documentary earlier this month narrated by Peter Schweizer, claims Hunter Biden’s numerous business deals in China “served” the communist country and their military.

“This isn’t just another story about a politician’s kid getting rich,” Schweizer said.

“Hunter’s new firm started making investment deals that would serve the strategic interests of the Chinese military.”

The Senate Homeland Security and Finance Committees address concerns that Biden had contacts with individuals linked to the Chinese military.

“During the Obama administration, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) approved a transaction that gave control over Henniges, an American maker of antivibration technologies with military applications, to a Chinese government-owned aviation company and a China-based investment firm with established ties to the Chinese government.”

One of the companies involved in the transaction was a private investment fund called Bohai Harvest RST (BHR), where the son of the Democrat nominee for President was a board member.

Schweizer claimed that he had information suggesting the Bidens cooperated with Chinese partners to bypass certain laws.

By extension, this allowed them to acquire companies that helped the Chinese military excel in technology.

RELATED: Report: Bill Clinton Invited Accused Sex-Trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell To An ‘Intimate’ Dinner

Biden and Obama’s Conflict of Interest

The report goes on to suggest that the Obama administration “ignored the glaring warning signs” when Biden’s son joined the board of Burisma.

Officials “knew” that Hunter’s position on the board was “problematic.”

His “position on the board created an immediate potential conflict of interest that would prove to be problematic for both U.S. and Ukrainian officials and would affect the implementation of Ukraine policy,” according to the report.

When asked earlier this year how his role as Vice President and his son’s dealing in Ukraine were not a conflict of interest, Joe Biden became enraged.

“Let’s focus on the problem,” he yelled, avoiding the question. “Focus on this man, what he’s doing, that no president has ever done. No president!”

The media ‘focused’ on any mundane transaction involving Russia rather intently over the last few years.

Why wouldn’t they be just as interested that Biden’s financial transactions, according to this latest news, include a $3.5 million wire transfer from Elena Baturina, the wife of the former mayor of Moscow?

Republican strategist Andrew Surabian openly wondered if the media would be handling this explosive report a little differently if it had involved President Trump’s son.

Joe Biden spokesman Andrew Bates has been trying his best to divert attention from the news about Hunter’s financial transactions.

“Ron Johnson has wasted months diverting the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee away from any oversight of the catastrophically botched federal response to the pandemic,” Bates told the New York Post.

Odd, Democrats weren’t concerned about attention and resources being diverted away from the pandemic when they were conducting their impeachment sham.

The post Explosive Report On Hunter Biden, Burisma Reveals Questionable Financial Transactions – Including Millions From Ex-Moscow Mayor’s Wife appeared first on The Political Insider.

Bolton claims he wanted to release information during impeachment, was blocked by White House

John Bolton wrote a book. That seems kind of hard to remember now, but you may recall it as the one that came out just before the one from Donald Trump’s niece that confirms Trump as “the dumbest student” his school had ever seen, and before the book by Bob Woodward that explains how Trump knew about the deadliness of COVID-19, but decided to ignore it because he thought it would be a political “win.” But it was definitely after the 40-something other books (not kidding) about Trump. Somewhere in there.

Once upon a time—with that time being, unbelievably enough, the first month of this interminable year—what Bolton had to say might have mattered. With multiple witnesses at Trump’s impeachment having parts of the story about the effort to extort lies from the government of Ukraine, Bolton was uniquely positioned to fill in critical gaps. His testimony might have carried weight and had historical significance. Senate Republicans eventually voted that they didn’t want to hear from Bolton, or from anyone else, but well before that the former national security adviser made it clear that he wasn’t interested in talking anyway. He was saving it all for his book, where it wouldn’t do a damn thing for the nation but could earn him a tidy profit. Bolton, through his personal decisions, made himself into a minor footnote. 

Even so, it seems that the effort to suppress his book went deeper than has been known, and included interfering with a routine investigation. Because thanks to men like Bolton, there are no rules.

Bolton’s book was originally slated to appear in March. That was then pushed back to May, and eventually slid into June. The biggest reason for the slide was that even though the manuscript had been sitting with the White House for months, the publisher could not get a signal that the book did not contain classified information. Such investigations are routine, and usually result in either a thumbs-up or a list of information that needs to be removed or edited before publication.

That didn’t happen in this case. As the book rolled on toward its final publication date, Trump accused Bolton of knowingly including classified information. The William Barr Justice Department trotted off to do what they always do: act as Trump’s personal attorneys in court. That attempt to block release of the book eventually failed—not least of all because Barr moved at a point where the book was literally on the shelves of bookstores nationwide. However, the judge did have harsh words for Bolton, suggesting that he could forfeit that much-desired profit and possibly face additional penalties for the release of confidential information.

But now it seems that it wasn’t just Barr who was responsible for putting the book on hold. Because other members of Trump’s team interfered with the routine security clearance review of the book, purposely holding the book up to diminish its impact. Meaning that even as they were taking Bolton to court for moving ahead without getting clearance, they were also making sure that he never got clearance.

Bolton’s attorneys made this claim in a letter to the court on Tuesday. As The New York Times reports, Bolton now claims that he wanted to release one portion of his book—a portion relevant to the impeachment trial—at that time. But White House aides blocked the security review even though Bolton didn’t believe that there was any classified material in the section.

At the heart of this appears to be a lawyer named Michael Ellis who was a former assistant to (of course) Rep. Devin Nunes. Despite no background or training in security reviews, Ellis directed the official in charge of the security review to put a freeze on Bolton’s manuscript while he conducted “his own review of the book.” It was Ellis who then claimed that the book was “replete” with classified information. Ellis’ review then became the basis of the Department of Justice claims against Bolton.

No one is crying for John Bolton. Or his mustache. And at this point, the idea that he might have released some information at the time of the impeachment except for some maneuver by the White House dodges the fact that Bolton could have stepped in front of every news camera in the country and told everyone what he knew. However, the attempt to stifle Bolton is just another example of the lengths that the Trump White House has gone to to silence dissent, and the willingness of every Republican involved to throw “normal process” in the waste bin. 

Senate Republicans authorize subpoenas in bogus probe angling for October surprise to boost Trump

As Republican Sen. Mitt Romney acquiesced to voting to approve some three dozen subpoenas for one of two bogus partisan probes being conducted by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he worried that at least one of the investigations "had the earmarks of a political exercise."

That's the understatement of the century. In fact, the committee chair, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, just came out last month and confirmed in an interview that one of his two ongoing  investigations "would certainly help" Trump.

Johnson, who is desperately trying to deliver an October surprise to boost Trump's reelection bid, currently has two probes going in his committee. He's hell-bent on delivering the Biden probe that Trump had tried to force on Ukraine before he hit that impeachment wall. But just in case that entirely baseless probe fails to curry favor with the public, Johnson's got a second investigation in the works focusing on the work of Obama administration officials during the transition period following the 2016 election.

That's the investigation for which Republican senators, on a party-line vote, approved a raft of subpoenas targeting people like former FBI director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, according to Politico. Both men participated in the transition period and ultimately briefed Trump on the intelligence community's conclusions that Russia attacked the 2016 election to help boost his presidential bid. Another GOP target is former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who temporarily took over for Comey after Trump ousted him. Romney's opposition to the Biden-Ukraine probe, however, forced Sen. Johnson to scrap a subpoena vote related to that pet investigation. In fact, that investigation is such a heap of trash, the U.S. Treasury Department recently declared one of the pro-Russian Ukrainians who helped fuel the probe an "active Russian agent for over a decade."

But the GOP's approval of dozens of new subpoenas prompted Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Homeland Security committee member, to introduce a resolution Wednesday afternoon "opposing efforts to launder Russian disinformation through Congress." 

From the Senate floor, Schumer charged that "While the rest of the country has been focused on fighting a global pandemic, for the last few months the chairman and Republicans of the committee have wasted taxpayer resources to run a hit job on President Trump’s political rival." Schumer said he would have more to say on the matter later, but added, "for one of our most important committees to be echoing a Kremlin-backed conspiracy theory is beyond the pale."

Johnson reportedly plans to release an interim report within the coming days on his Kremlin-driven probe into Biden's diplomatic efforts in Ukraine when he was serving as vice president. In the other investigation, Johnson will maintain the power to deliver headlining-grabbing subpoenas into October, even after Congress has recessed in the run-up to Election Day. How convenient. 

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)

Top GOP senators give Trump the Biden probe he got impeached for trying to force on Ukraine

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is using his investigative powers as chair of a Senate panel to push forward with a thinly veiled attempt to stir up Russian disinformation about presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Johnson, who chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, says he's investigating if the hiring of Biden's son Hunter by a Ukrainian gas company posed a conflict of interest for Biden while he was serving as vice president. Hunter Biden, a trained lawyer, served on the board of Burisma Holdings from 2014 to 2019 as the company sought to repair its image following allegations of corruption in its ranks.

No credible news organization has found any meat to the allegation that Biden's diplomacy in Ukraine was improperly influenced in any way. In fact, Biden's work in 2015 and 2016 to help oust the corrupt Ukrainian top prosecutor had the support of U.S allies across the international spectrum.

But however thoroughly discredited this right-wing conspiracy theory is, The Washington Post reports that Johnson is intent on rehashing it along with the help of GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. And Democrats charge the probe is just a gateway into fanning the flames of a bunch of Russian disinformation about Biden and Ukraine. In other words, Johnson and Grassley are giving Trump the investigation he got impeached over—trying to force Ukraine into doing his dirty work. Ukraine officials ultimately declined to even announce such a probe, let alone conduct one. 

But Johnson and Grassley? Sure, let's give legitimacy to an investigation Ukrainian officials already declared illegitimate. Apparently, there aren't more important things to do right now as Senate Republicans let a relief package flounder that's critical to keeping the country from sliding into an economic depression.

“Senator Johnson is diverting his committee from oversight of the failing response to the pandemic — even though over 4.5 million Americans have been infected — and is instead facilitating a foreign influence operation to undermine our democracy,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said.

But Johnson's no neophyte when it comes to doing Trump's bidding on Ukraine. During the House impeachment probe, Johnson admitted to The Wall Street Journal that he had been alerted early to Trump's quid pro quo pressure campaign in which he withheld $400 million in U.S. aide from Ukraine. But Johnson was content to raise the issue with Trump and take his denial of the allegation at face value—because Trump's nothing if not a man of his word. Just FYI, that’s the type of interview a senator gives to a friendly outlet when they want to frame a story before it’s publicly revealed by someone else. In fact, a House impeachment probe might be just the type of incentive that makes a senator want to come clean.

Ukraine is currently a hotbed of disinformation on the topic. "Johnson’s probe is proceeding as Ukrainians with a variety of competing agendas and links to Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani have been releasing apparently pilfered official conversations that Biden conducted while vice president with Ukraine’s then-President Petro Poroshenko, aiming to tarnish the presumptive Democratic nominee and his longtime interlocutor in Kyiv," writes the Post. So there's lot of dubious fodder for Johnson to blow up.

When the Post asked Johnson if he was getting information from "pro-Russian Ukrainians," he offered only that he was receiving input from "a variety of sources," including the U.S. government. He also said that they would "verify" all information before publicizing it in a report he's promising to deliver in September. 

In response to the probe, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have asked the FBI to deliver a “defensive counterintelligence briefing” to all members of the House.

“Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign influence campaign, which seeks to launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity, public debate, and the presidential election in November,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote in a July letter to the FBI.

Of all people, even Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former GOP intelligence chair Richard Burr of North Carolina have raised concerns about Senate staffers potentially using Russian disinformation supplied via Ukraine as the basis for a bogus investigation. 

Johnson declined an interview with the Post but issued a statement saying he refused to be deterred by "despicable tactics designed to discredit a legitimate investigation."

Nothing good will come of this. Not with Johnson behind it. He already discredited himself by admitting how easily he let Trump off the hook for soliciting foreign interference in the upcoming election. But now Johnson is actually doing Trump's dirty work for him. Can't imagine why a sitting U.S. senator would do that.

Republicans are planning a mass attack against Biden using information from pro-Russian agents

In 2016, Donald Trump and his campaign team made more than 100 contacts with Russian agents in what turned out to be a successful effort to plunder information, disseminate propaganda, and ultimately steal an American election. Other Republican officials were certainly involved to some degree—particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who did everything he could to block efforts to make the public aware of Russian interference and damaged election security.

In 2020, Republicans in both House and Senate—having given Trump a free pass to invite foreign interference and approving the whitewashing of Trump’s crimes by Attorney General William Barr—are all on board. That includes Barr, who has all but promised to provide America with a QAnon-sanctioned October surprise. It includes Republican lawmakers like Rep. Devin Nunes, who are sitting on a packet of documents prepared by a pro-Russian official from Ukraine. It includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been using the State Department to pile up a stack of unsubstantiated attacks on Joe Biden. Barr, Nunes, and Pompeo are not just sitting on this information: they’re deliberately hiding it, looking for the moment to strike when no one has a chance to see what a baseless conspiracy they’re really pushing.

Devin Nunes has always represented the ragged edge of support for Donald Trump. From the moment he jumped from an Uber and sneaked into the White House in an attempt to derail the Russia investigation, to his stint in front of the House Ethics Committee, Nunes made it clear that his loyalty to Trump exceeded any other responsibility. And when it came to questions about when Nunes would be truthful with his House colleagues, he could not have been more clear: “Never.”

So it should come as no surprise that as the 2020 election approaches, Devin Nunes has been working directly with a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker who previously passed along information through Rudy Giuliani. That lawmaker has been feeding information to Republicans in both the House and Senate. It comes in the form of a “packet” of supposed evidence that backs up Trump and Giuliani’s long-debunked claims about Joe Biden’s relationship to the Ukrainian government.

As CNN reports, Democrats have been aware that Republicans in the House and Senate—including Nunes—were sent a packet of information from pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach in January, in the midst of Donald Trump’s impeachment. But Republicans have refused to discuss what’s in the packet, or even admit that they have it. In closed-door Intelligence Committee hearings, Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York made multiple attempts to get Nunes to answer a simple question. "Is the ranking member prepared to even respond to the question?,” asked Maloney. ”How about it, Mr. Nunes? Did you receive a package from Andrii Derkach or not? And would you share with the committee or not?” Nunes did not respond. “Well,” said Maloney. “I guess this is a case where silence speaks volumes."

As Politico reported, that silence extends to the FBI. After Democratic staff members became aware of the existence of the document packet, they requested information on the contents from the FBI. Not only has there been no information provided, there hasn’t even been a response.

During his Tuesday hearing with the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr was just as silent in refusing to share any information collected in the investigation he’s conducted with the assistance of U. S. Attorney John “Bull” Durham. That investigation also includes sharing Ukraine with Guiliani, as well as attempts to arm-twist officials in London, Rome, and Australia into giving Barr additional leverage that can be used to support Trump.

On Friday, The Hill reported that Rep. Eliot Engel has issued a subpoena to another Republican known to have been stacking up information provided by Giuliani and his associates: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Secretary Pompeo has turned the State Department into an arm of the Trump campaign and he’s not even trying to disguise it,” said Engel. Pompeo has shared information connected to Joe Biden with Senate Republicans, while hiding it from Democrats. However, it’s hard to call the information Pompeo has shared exclusively with Republicans a “packet” … because it’s over 16,000 pages long.

In the next 97 days, the attack on Joe Biden is going to come from William Barr, from Mike Pompeo, from Senate Republicans, and from Republican representatives like Nunes, all of them using information that has not been vetted, or even seen, by anyone outside the GOP. They’re not planning an October surprise: They’re planning a bullshit assault from every direction.

And, just like in 2016, they’re expected to get every single column of The New York Times and every single moment of network news airtime to repeat their claims, unchallenged, in the days right before the election.

Barr makes it clear that he intends to deliver an October surprise … that will surprise no one

In his Tuesday hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr made plenty of statements that justifiably raised eyebrows—among them his refusal to acknowledge a direct threat against a federal judge, his lack of concern for Donald Trump’s pardoning people directly involved in his campaign, and his smug willingness to overlook any evidence, no matter how obvious, against Trump or anyone close to Trump. Barr’s entire appearance was simply dripping with disdain for the entire legal process, Congress, and plain old decency.

So it’s not surprising that among the statements made by Barr, one threat got little attention. Not only did Barr make it clear that he intends to lob an “October surprise” into the election works, he added in a signal that he’s going full QAnon by adding not-at-all-disguised reference to Pizzagate in the mix. Sometime in the final weeks of the campaign, Barr fully intends to fulfill every Republican fantasy with a “report” on how Democrats tried to … do something. 

From literally the week he arrived back in Washington, D.C., Barr has been following through on Donald Trump’s wishes to pursue conspiracy theories related to the Russia investigation. Not only did Barr begin his second session as attorney general (AG) by purposely distorting the results of the Mueller investigation and hiding evidence collected by the Department of Justice, he drafted U.S. Attorney John "Bull" Durham to begin an international quest to find anything that could back up Pizzagate-level claims of persecution.

The Where in the World is Hillary’s “Missing Server” world tour has seen Barr and Durham in Australia, trying to get that government to admit that Australian official Andrew Downer was actually an instrument of U.S. intelligence planting false justification to open an investigation. They’ve visited Rome and London in an attempt to get officials there to agree that Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud was another CIA plant put in place to lure George Papadopoulos into spilling the beans on Trump. And they’ve met with an array of Rudy Giuliani approved pro-Russian Ukrainians, looking for that elusive proof that Joe Biden something something Hunter. Also, they’ve seriously spent time pursuing a Democratic National Convention (DNC) email server and Ukrainian hackers, neither of which ever existed. The list of actions that Barr has taken to support Trump’s ludicrous conspiracy theories is lengthy, and still growing. 

From all of this, Barr is preparing a report that will undoubtedly confirm that Trump was “right.” Barr is almost certain to paint already identified infractions by FBI agents and decisions made by Justice Department officials as parts of a deep state conspiracy meant to set up Trump before he was elected—an attempted “coup” only thwarted by Trump’s vigilant eye and firm hand on the rudder.

This isn’t the first time the Barr-Durham report has been expected. During the impeachment hearings there was a widespread belief that Barr was going to bomb the proceedings with a report that included claims against James Comey, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and even President Barack Obama. The report didn’t come when expected … but then, thanks to the Republicans in the Senate who refused to hear a single witness, it wasn’t really needed.

How far down into QAnon white rabbit land is Barr willing to go? As The Washington Post reports, when Republican Rep. Tom McClintock took the opportunity during the hearing to join Barr in moaning about the failings of the Russia investigation, he asked Barr if Durham’s report was going to beat the election deadline. “Are you going to be able to right this wrong before it becomes a precedent for future election interference by corrupt officials in our justice and intelligence agencies?” asked McClintock.

After complaining that the investigation had been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barr went on to say: “Justice is not something you order up on a schedule like you’re ordering a pizza.” That was far from an accidental statement. QAnon conspirators frequently sift through public statements to find some obscure reference that can be construed as having something to do with their impossibly arcane beliefs. Barr didn’t make it that hard. Considering that the entire QAnon conspiracy theory began with claims about Democratic officials hiding an “international pedophile ring” behind pizza orders, Barr was blowing a QAnon bullhorn, underlining his intention of delivering the goods.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell took the oppositite approach, asking Barr if he would “commit to not releasing any report by Mr. Durham before the November election.” Barr’s answer in this case was much more succinct: “No.”

Barr is making it clear that sometime in the remaining 98 days before the election, he intends to drop a sheaf of documents that builds every molehill of wild speculation into a mountain of even wilder accusations. At this point, more pretense around Ukraine or servers or commas in the warrant for Carter Page may seem picayune, especially as the tide of coronavirus deaths rolls on toward 200,000. On the other hand, Barr could even include manufactured indictments against Clinton, or Obama, or even Biden. That would get attention. After all, Barr has made it absolutely clear that there are no lines

And both Barr and Trump are counting on the media to be every bit as cooperative in trumpeting whatever is in this report as they were in making Clinton’s emails the number one story in 2016.

Democrats ask for FBI briefing on foreign disinformation efforts around Sen. Ron Johnson

Monday, top Democratic lawmakers asked FBI director Christopher Wray to provide classified briefings to Congress on an unspecified but "ongoing" "concerted foreign information campaign" targeting Congress with the aim of disrupting the 2020 presidential elections.

Reporters have now been able to get a bit more information on what those lawmakers have been getting at: Both Politico and The New York Times are reporting that the classified addendum to the letter touches on Sen. Ron Johnson's would-be investigation of Hunter Biden, which has been the pipeline through which Trump "personal lawyer" Rudy Giuliani has been funneling known-false information from his network of Ukrainian criminals and disinformation brokers. Specifically, notes the Times, Sen. Ron Johnson has been relying heavily on a Ukrainian figure thought by the FBI to be a "conduit" for Russian disinformation.

None of this information is new. Johnson's eagerness to solicit testimony from ex-Ukrainian official Andrii Telizhenko was the subject of public alarm and a previous intelligence community warning. Johnson has been dismissive of complaints about his reliance on known dodgy sources, though he was pressured into giving up on the idea of taking Telizhenko's testimony directly.

Reading between the lines here, then, at least one part of Democratic lawmakers’ concerns appear to be that Sen. Johnson is using his committee and "Biden" investigations to legitimize foreign disinformation operations targeting Biden in the 2020 election—or, rather, that at least one foreign disinformation campaign is targeting Johnson, using his eagerness to boost Trump's election chances to dispense election disinformation directly from the mouths of Republican senators.

There are a few things to know here. Most importantly, Johnson cannot claim gullibility in stovepiping foreign disinformation here. After a specific intelligence community warning and after mountains of public reports on the sketchiness of Giuliani's Ukrainian associates, many of whom are pro-Russian Ukrainians forced from their positions by the public and new government, and their debunked claims against their enemies. Johnson has continued to "investigate" information that has already been discredited, and it is clearly intended, like "Benghazi," as means of influencing upcoming elections. Ron Johnson knows precisely what he is doing and who he is dealing with.

So the question is not whether Russian and other foreign disinformation campaigns are targeting Johnson, but the extent to which Johnson is co-conspiring with those brokers to craft and release election-bending smears cooperatively. In his defense, Sen. Ron Johnson is widely regarded as one of the dullest senators in the institution, if not the most dull, and so there is the slightest possibility he does not see himself as coordinating with the disinformation campaign—or, more accurately, does not connect the dots as to what that coordination means, when tied to foreign disinformation sources.

Johnson has long been a puzzle, and that is putting it mildly. He was one of a collection of hard-right Republican lawmakers who inexplicably traveled to Moscow for the Fourth of July, in 2018, and who came back claiming that the Russian hacking and disinformation campaigns in the 2016 presidential elections were being blown "way out of proportion."

There's no particular reason to believe Johnson is not stovepiping foreign disinformation willingly. That was the very premise of Rudy Giuliani's "legal" help to Trump's electoral needs. Johnson was also vociferous in defending Trump when Trump extorted the Ukrainian government by withholding military aid until that government agreed to give a public announcement supporting that disinformation, leading to Trump's impeachment.

What Democrats are not publicly saying, but should, is that Johnson is not acting as target of a foreign disinformation effort, but a co-conspirator. He is a full ally of the Trump-Giuliani-Ukraine-Russia disinformation campaign.