Antony Blinken represents neither the beginning nor the end of the info ops run to convince voters the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation. Revisiting the contemporaneous coverage of the laptop story in light of last week’s revelations about Blinken reveals the scandal extends far beyond the Biden campaign and involves government agents.
Last week, news broke that a former top CIA official, Michael Morell, testified as part of a House Judiciary Committee investigation that Blinken, now-secretary of state and then-Biden campaign senior adviser, had contacted Morell to discuss the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story.
Blinken and Morell reportedly “discussed possible Russian involvement in the spreading of information related to Hunter Biden.” According to Morell, Blinken’s outreach “set in motion” what led to the public statement signed by 51 former intelligence agents that falsely framed the laptop as Russian disinformation.
This revelation is huge — but it’s only a start to understanding the scope of the plot to interfere in the 2020 election by framing the laptop exposing Biden family corruption as foreign disinformation.
The First Clue
The first hint that Blinken’s outreach to Morell was a single spoke in the wheel of the Biden campaign’s deception came from a follow-up email Blinken sent Morell on Oct. 17, 2020. In it, Blinken shared a USA Today article that reported “the FBI was examining whether the Hunter Biden laptop was part of a ‘disinformation campaign.’” The very bottom of Blinken’s email contained the signature block of Andrew Bates, then a Biden campaign spokesman and the director of his “rapid response” team, suggesting Bates had sent the article to Blinken for him to forward to Morell.
Blinken forwarding an article claiming the FBI was investigating the laptop as a potential “disinformation campaign” is hugely significant because we know the FBI was doing no such thing. The FBI knew both that the laptop was authentic and that John Paul Mac Isaac had possession of the hard drive, just as the New York Post had reported, albeit without identifying the computer-store owner by name.
The USA Today article nonetheless furthered the narrative that Morell and the other former intelligence officials would soon parrot in their “Public Statement on the Hunter Biden Emails” — that the emails have “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”
For those who lived through the Russia-collusion hoax, it was the USA Today article and the presidential campaign’s use of Russia to deflect attention from the Biden scandal that bore the “classic earmarks” of an information operation — one that mimicked Hillary Clinton’s ploy four years prior. Given the similarities between the two Russia hoaxes, it seemed likely the Biden campaign worked with the press to push the Russian-disinformation narrative.
USA Today Didn’t Start the Falsehood
Sure enough, the legacy press began pushing the narrative days before Blinken emailed Morell the article on Oct. 17.
On Oct. 14, 2020, the same day the New York Post broke the first laptop story, Politico ran an article, co-authored by Russia-hoaxer extraordinaire “Fusion Natasha” Bertrand, raising questions about the authenticity of said laptop. “This is a Russian disinformation operation. I’m very comfortable saying that,” Bertrand quoted former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and Biden adviser Michael Carpenter.
At the time, Carpenter also ran the Penn Biden Center — the same place a cache of classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president and senator were discovered in a closet.
Politico also quoted Bates, whose signature block would later appear on Blinken’s email to Morell. Bates spun the scandal as one about Rudy Giuliani, who had provided a copy of the hard drive to the Post, and Giuliani’s supposed connection “to Russian intelligence.”
Intel Community Helped Peddle Russia Hoax 2.0
As was the case with the Russia-collusion hoax, the Biden campaign received an assist from the intelligence community. On Oct. 14, 2020, The New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence analysts “had picked up Russian chatter that stolen Burisma emails” would be released as an “October surprise.”
Burisma, of course, was the Ukrainian energy company that paid Hunter Biden nearly $1 million to sit on its board during his father’s final year as vice president.
The chief concern of the intelligence analysts, the Times reported, “was that the Burisma material would be leaked alongside forged materials in an attempt to hurt Mr. Biden’s candidacy.”
Lying Leakers Advance the Narrative
The next day, another foundational Russia-collusion hoaxer, Ken Dilanian, published an “exclusive” at NBC. Citing “two people familiar with the matter,” Dilanian claimed that “federal investigators are examining whether emails allegedly describing activities by Joe Biden and his son Hunter and found on a laptop at a Delaware repair shop are linked to a foreign intelligence operation.” Dilanian also quoted Bates, who again focused on Giuliani and his alleged connection to Russia.
The Washington Post also embraced the narrative on Oct. 15, reporting, “U.S. intelligence agencies warned the White House last year that President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence.” Based on “four former officials,” The Washington Post reported that Giuliani had interacted with people tied to Russian intel.
More Lies Leaked to USA Today
This brings us to USA Today’s Oct. 16, 2020, article, “FBI Probing Whether Emails in New York Post Story About Hunter Biden Are Tied to Russian Disinformation.”
“Federal authorities are investigating whether a Russian influence operation was behind the disclosure of emails purporting to document the Ukrainian and Chinese business dealings of Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic nominee Joe Biden,” USA Today opened its article, citing “a person briefed on the matter” and immediately bringing up Giuliani.
According to USA Today, that person “confirmed the FBI’s involvement but did not elaborate on the scope of the bureau’s review.”
The next day, Oct. 17, USA Today followed up with the article, “A Tabloid Got a Trove of Data on Hunter Biden from Rudy Giuliani. Now, the FBI is Probing a Possible Disinformation Campaign.”
It began by saying the New York Post portrayed the laptop contents as a “smoking gun.” “Enter the FBI,” USA Today interjected, reporting that “federal authorities” are investigating whether the laptop is “disinformation pushed by Russia” and claiming there are many questions about the laptop data’s authenticity.
“Experts say the story has many hallmarks of a disinformation campaign,” it continued, using language strikingly similar to what the former intel officials would use days later.
Blinken Uses Reporting to Prod Morell
It is unclear which of the two USA Today pieces Blinken forwarded to Morell because both articles included the FBI investigation claims. It seems likely, however, that Blinken sent Morrel the second article because USA Today’s Oct. 17 coverage included a quote from supposed “experts” who said the New York Post “story has many hallmarks of a disinformation campaign.”
That language tracked near-perfectly the wording used by the 51 former intelligence officials in their infamous Oct. 19 statement, which claimed the laptop “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”
That’s Not All
Morell’s contact with Blinken reportedly went beyond the phone call and email. According to CNN, following his conversation with Blinken, “Morell had conversations with other former intelligence community officials, which is what led to the letter,” and then Morell “circled back to the Biden campaign to let them know that the letter efforts were underway.”
In testimony to House oversight investigators, Morell told how Biden’s campaign helped strategize releasing the statement, according to a letter Reps. Jim Jordan and Michael Turner sent to Blinken last week. Specifically, “Morell testified that he sent an email telling Nick Shapiro, former Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the Director of the CIA John Brennan, that the Biden campaign wanted the statement to go to a particular reporter at the Washington Post first and that he should send the statement to the campaign when he sent the letter to the reporter.” Shapiro was another signatory of the statement.
Politico, however, eventually first broke the story and published the statement, under the headline “Hunter Biden Story is Russian Disinfo, Dozens of Former Intel Officials Say.”
In his testimony to House investigators, Morell “explained that one of his two goals in releasing the statement was to help then-Vice President Biden in the debate and to assist him in winning the election,” Jordan and Turner wrote. In fact, according to attorney Mark Zaid, who represents several of the signatories, “when the draft [statement] was sent out to people to sign, the cover email made clear that it was an effort to help the Biden campaign.”
Both parts of the ploy worked. When the final presidential debate arrived on Oct. 22, 2020, and then-President Trump confronted Biden with the details revealed in Hunter’s “laptop from hell,” Biden responded by telling the American public:
There are 50 former national intelligence folks who said that what he’s accusing me of is a Russian plant. They have said that this has all the … five former heads of the CIA, both parties, say what he’s saying is a bunch of garbage. Nobody believes it except him and his good friend, Rudy Giuliani.
Biden Campaign Thanks Morell for the Assist
Morell testified that after the debate he received a call from Jeremy Bash, who was one of the 51 signatories of the statement. Bash asked Morell if he had a minute to talk to Steve Ricchetti, head of the Biden campaign. Bash testified that he said “yes,” Bash got Ricchetti on the line, and the Biden campaign representative thanked Morell “for putting the statement out.”
More Than Dirty Politics
Morell’s testimony revealed Blinken and the Biden campaign’s role in prompting the bunk statement from the former intel officials. But the contemporaneous media reporting exposes a larger scandal: Representatives of our government helped promote that narrative by falsely telling media outlets the FBI was investigating whether the Hunter Biden laptop was part of a Russian-disinformation campaign.
The FBI’s role in assisting the Biden campaign’s plot transforms this case from one about dirty politics to a scandal involving government interference in the 2020 election. Accordingly, the House oversight committees need to determine which members of the FBI or intelligence agencies were responsible for the false media leak and whether anyone working on behalf of the Biden campaign collaborated with those government actors.
The committees thus need to gather evidence and question not merely Blinken, but every signatory of the statement, especially Bash; members of the Biden campaign, such as Bates and Ricchetti; and Biden advisers, including Carpenter.
While Blinken provides an entry point to unraveling the Russian-disinformation hoax, there is much more to learn.
Margot Cleveland is The Federalist’s senior legal correspondent. She is also a contributor to National Review Online, the Washington Examiner, Aleteia, and Townhall.com, and has been published in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Cleveland is a lawyer and a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School, where she earned the Hoynes Prize—the law school’s highest honor. She later served for nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk for a federal appellate judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Cleveland is a former full-time university faculty member and now teaches as an adjunct from time to time. As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom of a young son with cystic fibrosis, Cleveland frequently writes on cultural issues related to parenting and special-needs children. Cleveland is on Twitter at @ProfMJCleveland. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.
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