WASHINGTON – The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is now investigating reports that Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, introduced his father to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy company.
The investigation comes after a story from the New York Post in which the publication claims to have obtained private emails between Hunter Biden and Vadym Pozharsky, an executive with Burisma Holdings.
An attorney for Rudy Giuliani, an adviser and attorney for President Trump, says a computer repairman from Delaware came forward with a laptop and hard drive he claimed belonged to Hunter Biden.
One of the emails in question came from Vadym Pozharsky, who thanked Hunter Biden for inviting him to Washington and giving him “an opportunity to meet with” his father and “spend time together” while Joe Biden was vice president.
It was unclear if Joe Biden met with the official, although the Biden campaign said in a statement that it had reviewed Biden’s schedule and couldn’t find a meeting matching the one described in the story.
Fox News reported that the hard drive contained 40,000 emails and a thousand text messages. Senate investigators are working to confirm that information.
Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma in 2014, around the same time his father was helping conduct foreign policy for the Obama administration. Senate Republicans have reviewed Hunter Biden’s case and said it may have posed a conflict of interest, given the timing. The report said Hunter Biden had “cashed in” on his father’s position by joining Burisma.
President Trump and his team, meanwhile, have advanced a theory that Joe Biden pushed for the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor to protect his son.
The Washington Post reported that the prosecutor’s firing reflected the official position of not only the Obama administration but many Western countries because the prosecutor was perceived as ineffective and soft on corruption.
The New York Post story has struggled to gain traction as the election approaches. Twitter and Facebook flagged the Post’s article and restricted its ability to spread online, a move that the Trump administration said amounted to censorship.
Republican lawmakers announced plans to subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about the platform’s actions. Twitter had previously indicated that information in the article was in violation of its hacked materials policy, although Dorsey said the company should’ve been more forthcoming and transparent in its actions.
“Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable,” Dorsey tweeted.
Here’s a breakdown of the story from The Associated Press:
HOW DID BIDEN’S SON BECOME A CAMPAIGN ISSUE?
Hunter Biden joined the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma in 2014, around the time his father, then U.S. vice president, was helping conduct the Obama administration’s foreign policy with Ukraine.
Senate Republicans said in a recent report that the appointment may have posed a conflict of interest, but they did not present evidence that the hiring influenced U.S. policies.
Trump and his supporters, meanwhile, have advanced a widely discredited theory that Biden pushed for the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor to protect his son and Burisma from investigation. Biden did indeed press for the prosecutor’s firing, but that’s because he was reflecting the official position of not only the Obama administration but many Western countries and because the prosecutor was perceived as soft on corruption.
WHAT DOES THE NEW YORK POST STORY SAY?
The main email highlighted by the Post is an April 2015 message that it said was sent to Hunter Biden by Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to Burisma’s board. In it, he thanks the younger Biden “for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent (sic) some time together. It’s realty (sic) an honor and pleasure.”
The wording makes it unclear if he actually met Joe Biden. The Biden campaign said in a statement that it had reviewed Biden’s schedules from the time and that no meeting as described by the newspaper took place.
HOW DID THE POST OBTAIN THE EMAILS?
It’s a tangled saga. The Post says it received a copy of a hard drive containing the messages on Sunday from Giuliani, who has pushed the unfounded idea that Ukraine was trying to interfere with the 2016 election and that the younger Biden may have enriched himself by selling his access to his father.
The Post says the emails were part of a trove of data recovered from a laptop that was dropped off at a computer repair shop in Delaware in April 2019. It says the customer, whom the owner could not definitively identify as Hunter Biden, never paid for the service or retrieved it, and says the owner made a copy of the hard drive that he provided to Giuliani’s lawyer.
The owner of the Wilmington shop declined to comment Wednesday to The Associated Press, saying he didn’t feel like talking. The newspaper says the owner alerted the FBI to the computer and hard drive, and that agents took possession of them. That could not immediately be confirmed, and the FBI declined to comment.
Asked via text by an AP reporter how long he had the hard drive, Giuliani replied, in part: “You’re interested in the wrong thing. This time the truth will not be defeated by process. I’ve got a lot more to go.”
ARE THE NEW EMAILS AUTHENTIC?
The actual origins of the emails are unclear. And disinformation experts say there are multiple red flags that raise doubts about their authenticity, including questions about whether the laptop actually belongs to Hunter Biden, said Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the nonpartisan Wilson Center in Washington.
The Biden campaign didn’t address that issue Wednesday, but Hunter Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires, said in a statement to the AP that “we have no idea where this came from, and certainly cannot credit anything that Rudy Giuliani provided to the NY Post.” He added that “what I do know for certain is that this purported meeting never happened.”
Another potential alarm is the involvement of another Trump associate, Steve Bannon, who the Post says first alerted it to the existence of the hard drive and who along with Giuliani has been active in promoting an anti-Biden narrative on Ukraine.
“We should view it as a Trump campaign product,” Jankowicz said.
Thomas Rid, a political scientist and disinformation expert at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said it was not clear to him yet whether the emails were hacked or forged but said they “could be either or both.”
“It’s a common feature in these operations that you combine generic content, accurate content, with forged content,” Rid said.
IF AUTHENTIC, ARE THESE EMAILS DAMAGING TO BIDEN?
The suggestion that Joe Biden might have met with a Burisma representative is consequential, because he has repeatedly insisted that he never discussed his son’s business with him.
But the emails provide no details on whether Pozharskyi and Biden actually met and, if so, what they discussed.
If Biden did meet with Pozharskyi, he was not the only U.S. official who may have done so. Pozharskyi was part of a Burisma delegation that lobbied congressional officials in 2014 in an attempt to show that the firm was not a corruption risk.
HOW DID SOCIAL MEDIA COMPANIES RESPOND TO THE STORY?
Companies like Twitter and Facebook, already under pressure to police their platforms ahead of the election, quickly flagged the article and moved to restrict its accessibility online — an action decried as censorship by Trump and his supporters, including congressional Republicans.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone announced on Twitter that the company was working to reduce the distribution of the article on its platform.
On Wednesday afternoon, Twitter began banning its users from sharing links to the article in tweets and direct messages because it violated the company’s policy that prohibits hacked content.
Republican lawmakers on Thursday announced plans to subpoena Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it was imperative that Dorsey “come before this committee and the American people, and explain why Twitter is abusing their corporate power to silence the press and to cover up allegations of corruption.”
Dorsey acknowledged on Twitter on Wednesday night that the company should have provided more context and information about its actions.
WHAT’S THE POLITICAL IMPACT?
With less than three weeks until Election Day and polls showing him trailing Biden, Trump appears to be returning to the subject of his opponent’s family to energize his base.
But in an election dominated by concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, it’s less certain Trump’s strategy will appeal to the voters he needs to win back, including moderate Republicans and suburban women.
Trump’s called for a full accounting of Biden’s conversations with Hunter and with Pozharskyi. Trump said in an interview with Newsmax that the Post had caught Biden “cold” with “serious” allegations.
At a campaign rally in Iowa on Wednesday night, Trump led with the Post story and called Biden “a corrupt politician who shouldn’t even be allowed to run for the presidency.”
Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, pointed to the recent Republican-led Senate investigation that found no evidence of wrongdoing on Biden’s part with regard to Ukraine. It also pointedly noted the involvement of Giuliani, saying his “discredited conspiracy theories and alliance with figures connected to Russian intelligence have been widely reported.”