The FBI is investigating the purloined laptop materials from Joe Biden’s son as part of a possible foreign disinformation operation, a congressional source told The Daily Beast—an investigation at odds with a statement from President Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence.
John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, told Fox Business on Monday that the dissemination of materials from Hunter Biden’s alleged laptop was not part of a Russian disinformation campaign.
“The intelligence community doesn't believe that because there is no intelligence that supports that,” Ratcliffe said.
But that assessment gets out in front of the FBI, which took custody of the laptop and an external hard drive as early as in December, according to the New York Post. The bureau, according to the congressional source, is looking into the provenance of the material. And among the questions they're seeking to answer is whether the laptop dump is part of what the intelligence community’s counterintelligence chief has already described as a Russian disinformation effort targeting the 2020 election.
The FBI declined to comment, “in keeping with our standard practice of neither confirming nor denying the existence of our investigations,” said spokesperson Kelsey Pietranton. But the bureau’s investigation into the Hunter Biden laptop material has previously been reported by NBC, the AP, and USA Today.
A spokesperson for the office of the director of national intelligence said they had nothing to add to Ratcliffe's comments.
One senior intelligence official told The Daily Beast that the community is still working to determine if the Hunter Biden materials—which were leaked to the press by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani—stem from a specific Russian intelligence operation. Giuliani has for years worked with Ukrainian parliamentarians with links to Russia, including one “Russian agent,” to propagate disinformation about the Obama administration and the Biden family, including Hunter Biden. While Giuliani and his confidants have previously spoken publicly about Hunter Biden’s drug use, intelligence officials are investigating whether this last-minute push to release material through Trump-friendly media outlets stems from some particular directive from Moscow or whether it is an extension of Giuliani’s years-long effort to use Ukrainian intermediaries to dig up dirt on the Bidens.
Whatever the case may be, intelligence officials say the recent packaging of the Hunter Biden material looks similar to something the Russians would do to sow chaos in U.S. domestic politics. But, officials say, Moscow wouldn’t necessarily need to muddy the waters by being directly involved in the latest dissemination of materials because Giuliani has already taken the lead.
“The Intelligence Community has stated publicly that Russia is once again seeking to benefit Donald Trump’s election campaign by denigrating Joe Biden,” said Patrick Boland, spokesman for Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee. “The new wave of attacks we are seeing… are consistent with the false and unsubstantiated narratives that the president, his personal lawyer, and a sanctioned Russian agent have been pushing for well over a year. They appear intended to distract from recent reports that the White House, as early as December 2019, was made aware that Rudy Giuliani was being leveraged by Russian proxies as part of Kremlin efforts to interfere in our election.”
During his Fox Business interview on Monday, Ratcliffe took a shot at Schiff, saying “apparently Chairman Schiff wants anything against his preferred political candidate to be deemed as not real.” Boland replied that Ratcliffe is “purposefully misrepresenting Chairman Schiff’s words in an effort to mislead the public and validate the latest attacks by President Trump and his allies on Vice President Biden.”
Ratcliffe, a Trump loyalist in Congress before his appointment as director, has come under withering criticism from intelligence veterans for manipulating intelligence to aid his boss’ reelection.
“Everyone knows the deal here,” Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA officer, told The Daily Beast recently. “They know Ratcliffe is irresponsible.”
But with the FBI custody of the laptop comes increased pressure from the right on FBI Director Christopher Wray. Wray has recently experienced the ire of the president and his allies after contradicting Trump on white supremacist violence, the nature of antifa, and the primary foreign interference threat to the election coming from Russia. Trump has told associates he plans on pushing Wray out if reelected.
Trump allies seized on one detail in the Post story—a subpoena that purported to show that the FBI had seized the laptop—to claim that Wray was somehow covering up the laptop’s contents to hurt Trump.
“He must be fired NOW!” Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett tweeted on Sunday.
Trump’s congressional supporters have ramped up the pressure on Wray as well, with Senate Homeland Security chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) sending out a list of questions about the laptop.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), a staunch Trump ally and Senate candidate, appeared on Fox Business on Friday to call for Wray’s resignation.
“Chris Wray needs to resign,” Collins said. “The FBI had these emails last December. When I was fighting the sham impeachment they had these emails.”
-with reporting by Erin Banco