In recent weeks, Donald Trump was made aware of an alleged secret trove of material about Hunter Biden’s foreign dealings and private life, and was keen on getting it out into the public domain as soon as possible, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
“Have you heard about this [hard drive]?” one of the people recalled the president asking recently. The president made clear this latest salvo against the Bidens had his approval, as Trump has been consistently supportive of his lawyer Giuliani's efforts on the Joe and Hunter Biden—before, during, and well after the impeachment proceedings.
On Wednesday morning, the New York Post began printing a series of stories, supposedly based on the contents of a hard drive from a laptop computer that Hunter Biden allegedly left at a Wilmington, DE repair shop.
“The president knew [in recent weeks] that Rudy had something big coming on the Biden family,” one of these knowledgeable sources said. “I remember hearing…something about files, and corruption, and something about sex and drugs…It was evident that the president was interested and wanted it done before the election.”
Multiple senior-level officials in Trumpworld, including some on the reelection effort, were aware of a secret dossier or a hard drive regarding salacious and potentially damaging information on Hunter several weeks before the story broke in the Post, two other individuals with direct knowledge tell The Daily Beast. Some officials were eager to keep hitting the Biden family on corruption allegations before Election Day. It is unclear if any of these officials had direct contact with Giuliani about the exact contents of the hard drive.
Giuliani did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story by press time. White House and Trump 2020 spokespeople did not respond, either.
The ongoing efforts by Giuliani, Trump, and other prominent Republicans to push unverified dirt on the Biden family not only illustrates the degree to which nefariously obtained documents and rumor and disinformation have become a form of modern campaign currency; but also, just how comfortable the president and his team are peddling it. The latest round of Hunter Biden attacks come approximately one year after President Trump found himself embroiled in impeachment investigations for using the levers of government to try and help Giuliani dig up dirt in Ukraine on the Bidens. Both then and now, serious questions remain about the validity of the documents they’ve pointed to and the ethics and accuracy of the charges they pushed.
For example, metadata on the PDF files purporting to show Hunter Biden’s emails published by the Post suggest they were created on a Mac laptop on September 29 and October 10, 2019—around the same time Giuliani’s Ukrainian associates who helped him dig up dirt on the Bidens, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were arrested and charged with breaking campaign finance laws. The timing of the creation of those PDF files—several months after Biden allegedly dropped off his laptop at the PC repair store in April 2019—raises questions about how and when Giuliani came into possession of the purported emails.
And then there are questions around how the laptop allegedly found its way to the FBI. On Wednesday, a reporter with The Daily Beast tracked down John Paul Mac Isaac, a worker at a computer repair shop in Wilmington, after reports surfaced that his store at one point possessed Hunter Biden’s computer. Mac Isaac was nervous and quiet throughout a one-hour interview, and his account kept shifting. He wavered back and forth between saying he had gone to the Federal Bureau of Investigation with the materials and the FBI had approached him. He would not comment on whether he had been in touch with Giuliani, one of President Trump’s personal attorneys and confidants. And he said several times that he was worried about his life and the lives of those close to him—a fear that he said compelled him to make a copy of the computer’s hard drive as a quasi insurance policy on his life.
For Democrats and the Biden campaign, the New York Post’s story sparked immediate flashbacks to the close of the 2016 campaign, when Wikileaks published daily releases of emails from Clinton campaign aides that intel officials would later say came about from a Russia election meddling operation. The former Vice President’s office not only cast doubt on the main thrust of the article—that Biden, contrary to earlier claims, met with an official at a Ukraine energy company at his son’s behest—but also framed the entire charge as a product of “Russian disinformation.”
Unlike four years ago, the social media giants appeared more sympathetic to their charges. Both Twitter and Facebook, took the aggressive step of blocking users from sharing the New York Post’s story. In a statement, Twitter said that "Given the lack of authoritative reporting on the origins of the materials included in the article,” the company had blocked links to the story based on its hacked material policy, which prohibits material that "directly distribute content obtained through hacking."
Facebook said it would temporarily limit distribution of the Post story pending a review by its independent fact-checkers. In a tweet early Wednesday, Andy Stone, Facebook’s policy communications chief, cited the company’s policy on fact-checking announced in 2019 and said that the move is a standard part of the company’s approach to limiting potential misinformation on its platform.
But while the social media giants stayed away, Republican lawmakers have not.
According to sources familiar with the matter, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and his staff told other lawmakers on Wednesday that they had received materials related to the contents of the Post story on September 25, the day after the publishing of his team’s Hunter Biden report. They said they obtained them through a whistleblower email account. Johnson told others that his staff is in touch with Mac Isaac and spoke with him earlier this month. It’s unclear if the senator and his team are still scrutinizing the materials. Johnson for months worked on compiling a report on Hunter, interviewing dozen of witnesses about his father’s time in office and their dealings in Ukraine. Johnson and others hyped the investigation as crucial, claiming it would provide vital information to the American electorate before November 3. In the end the report did not move the needle.
The Trump campaign, West Wing, and Republican National Committee, meanwhile, quickly jumped on the Post item, with various senior staffers, including the president’s campaign manager Bill Stepien, gleefully promoting the article. Team Trump organized a conference call with reporters on Wednesday morning, during which Trump surrogate and former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi went after Hunter Biden and referenced the Post story. Giuliani himself teased that he had more dirt to trickle out between now and the November election. In a YouTube video Wednesday evening, he purported to have a nefarious text message between Hunter and his family, holding up a sheet of paper with a blue iPhone text message bubble and calling it a summary of a text conversation he’d obtained.
Not long before his campaign rally on Wednesday evening, Trump posted to Twitter that “It is only the beginning for them.” And minutes into his Iowa rally that night, the president told his audience that the Post reporting “is a big smoking gun.”
Even if the Hunter Biden attacks don’t manage to make a dent on his father’s presidential campaign, Republicans on Wednesday were already hinting that they would continue hammering away at it after the election. Three Trump advisers told The Daily Beast that it was their hope that Hunter-related materials continued to haunt Biden post November 3rd so as to create nuisances or further investigations during his presidency.
And yet, the sentiment is not universally shared. Some in Trumpworld said they wished that the president, his campaign, and the White House would simply move on from Hunter-based messaging, arguing that it won’t drag Trump over the finish line to a second term in office, especially in the midst of a torpedoed U.S. economy and a global pandemic.
“Whatever Hunter Biden did in 2014 is not going to put enough lead on the target. Team Trump needs Joe Biden’s fingerprints on a weapon or they need to move on,” Dan Eberhart, a Trump donor and chief executive at Canary, said on Wednesday afternoon. “I would rather see Trump’s team focused on what [Joe] Biden didn’t accomplish while in government or his failure to answer his views on court packing. Hunter Biden seems like he was more than willing to trade on his dad’s office, but I am not sure there is enough there to get us a first down.”