Barr has fallen even in T’s eyes and suggests that Barr would not be a 2nd term AG.
But let’s pray it would never get this far
And this Federal Prosecutor, Philip Halpern is leaving the DOJ because of Barr
Barr has fallen even in T’s eyes and suggests that Barr would not be a 2nd term AG.
But let’s pray it would never get this far
And this Federal Prosecutor, Philip Halpern is leaving the DOJ because of Barr
President Trump has long relied on repetition to spread his falsehoods into the national discourse. As the whistleblower complaint about his dealings with Ukraine has led to a possible impeachment crisis, he has repeated previously fact-checked claims about former vice president Joe Biden while introducing new ones. We’ve been trying to keep up at The Fact Checker, doling out lots of Pinocchios, but our reports have been scattered over several days.
This is one of those complex stories that consume Washington but frequently confuse ordinary Americans. Trump appears to be counting on that confusion to offer a fog of claims and allegations to make it appear as if Biden had done something wrong. So here’s a quick guide to Trump’s statements — and the truth.
False: Biden pushed out a Ukrainian prosecutor investigating his son
Trump has falsely claimed that Biden in 2015 pressured the Ukrainian government to fire Viktor Shokin, the top Ukrainian prosecutor, because he was investigating Ukraine’s largest private gas company, Burisma, which had added Biden’s son, Hunter, to its board in 2014.
There are two big problems with this claim: One, Shokin was not investigating Burisma or Hunter Biden, and two, Shokin’s ouster was considered a diplomatic victory.
Biden was among the many Western officials who pressed for the removal of Shokin because he actually was not investigating the corruption endemic to the country. Indeed, he was not investigating Burisma at the time. In September 2015, then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt publicly criticized Shokin’s office for thwarting a British money-laundering probe into Burisma’s owner, Mykola Zlochevsky.
“Shokin was not investigating. He didn’t want to investigate Burisma,” Daria Kaleniuk, of the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Center, told The Washington Post in July. “And Shokin was fired not because he wanted to do that investigation, but quite to the contrary, because he failed that investigation.”
In a 2018 appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, Biden bragged about his role in Shokin’s removal, saying he had withheld $1 billion in loan guarantees as leverage to force action. But Biden was carrying out a policy developed at the State Department and coordinated with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
The Ukrainian prosecutor was regarded as a failure, and “Joe Biden’s efforts to oust Shokin were universally praised,” said Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist heavily involved in Eastern European market reforms. Getting rid of Shokin was considered the linchpin of reform efforts, but U.S. officials had a list of changes the government needed to make before it could obtain another loan guarantee.
In December 2015, Biden traveled to Kiev and decried the “cancer of corruption” in the country in a speech to the parliament. “The Office of the General Prosecutor desperately needs reform,” he noted. Shokin was removed from office three months later, and Biden announced April 15 that the loan guarantee would go forward; the agreement between the United States and Ukraine was signed June 3.
One can certainly raise questions about Hunter Biden’s judgment in joining Burisma’s board at a time his father had a high-profile role in working with Ukraine’s government. But by continuing to claim that Biden “did” something for his son, Trump persists in spreading a false narrative about a diplomatic maneuver hailed at the time as a step toward reducing corruption in Ukraine.
False: Hunter Biden made a killing on a China deal
At various times Trump has claimed Hunter Biden “made millions of dollars from China” or “walks out of China with $1.5 billion in a fund” after hitching a ride with his father on Air Force Two. But there is no evidence to support those statements.
In December 2013, Hunter Biden and one of his daughters flew from Japan to China with Joe Biden on Air Force Two as the vice president embarked on a diplomatic mission.
Twelve days after he flew to Beijing, Hunter Biden joined an advisory board of a fund called BHR Partners, which had announced it would try to raise $1.5 billion. The New Yorker magazine reported that during the trip Hunter Biden arranged for his father to shake hands with Jonathan Li, who ran a Chinese private-equity fund and was one of the partners who had formed BHR.
But while Joe Biden was vice president, Hunter Biden was only on the board of the advisory firm that did not directly invest, but instead advised those who did. George Mesires, a lawyer for Hunter Biden, said he only took an equity stake in 2017, after Joe Biden was no longer vice president.
Mesires told The Fact Checker that the investment management company “was capitalized from various sources with a total of 30 million RMB [Chinese Renminbi], or about $4.2 million, not $1.5 billion.” Because Biden acquired a 10 percent minority interest, his “capital commitment is approximately $420,000,” Mesires said.
“To date, Mr. Biden has not received any return or compensation on account of this investment or his position on the board of directors,” Mesires added.
False: Biden lied about talking to his son
After the reports on Hunter Biden’s business deals emerged, Joe Biden told reporters: “I have never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings.”
Trump claimed that this was a lie because “he’s already said he spoke to his son.” But Biden had not. Instead, Trump appeared to be referring to a line in the New Yorker profile: “As Hunter recalled, his father discussed Burisma with him just once: ‘Dad said, “I hope you know what you are doing,” and I said, “I do.” ’”
That’s not much of a discussion. In any case, Biden never said he spoke to his son, as Trump claimed he did.
False: Democratic senators also threatened Ukraine’s aid
Trump claimed that three Democratic senators — Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.) — “ implied that their support for U.S. assistance to Ukraine was at stake and that if they didn’t do the right thing they wouldn’t get any assistance.” He later referred to “senators that threatened him with votes and no money coming into Ukraine if they do things.”
Trump suggested this was the “real deal,” unlike allegations that he held up military aid to force the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens.
Trump is referring to a letter written in 2018, and it does not say what he claims.
The letter, written to the special prosecutor at the time, Yuriy Lutsenko, expressed concern about a New York Times report that Ukraine had stopped cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election to avoid upsetting Trump. The letter does not threaten a loss of aid, though it notes that the Times article said that the freezing of cooperation was motivated by a worry that Trump would cut off aid. (The article was titled: “Ukraine, Seeking U.S. Missiles, Halted Cooperation with Mueller Investigation.”)
The letter noted the signers have supported efforts to build Ukraine’s democracy and expressed “disappointment” that some lawmakers in Kiev were trying “to avoid the ire of President Trump.” The senators then ask a series of questions, seeking to clarify whether the Times report was correct and whether the Trump administration had encouraged the government not to cooperate with Mueller.
Lutsenko never responded. Since the letter was sent, the three senators have voted for nearly $870 million in additional aid to Ukraine, with Leahy and Durbin (members of the Senate Appropriations Committee) voting in committee on Sept. 26 for an additional $448 million in fiscal 2020, an increase over 2018 and 2019.
An inbroligio between Steve Scully, Anthony Scaramucci and Steve’s twitter account where Steve suggests he was hacked, and that was a lie. Just a crazy, crazy time…and another one pushed over the edge of insanity? because T messed with him.
I will tend to agree with Rick Wilson’s book title - ‘Everything that Touches Trump Dies’.
NEW YORK (AP) — C-SPAN suspended its political editor Steve Scully indefinitely Thursday after he admitted to lying about his Twitter feed being hacked when he was confronted about a questionable exchange with former Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci.
The news came on the day of what was supposed to be a career highlight for the 30-year C-SPAN veteran. Scully was to moderate the second debate between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, which was canceled after Trump would not agree to a virtual format because of his COVID-19 diagnosis.
A week ago, after Trump had criticized him as a “never Trumper,” Scully tweeted “@Scaramucci should I respond to Trump.” Scaramucci, a former Trump communications director and now a critic of the president, advised Scully to ignore him.
Scully said that when he saw his tweet had created a controversy, “I falsely claimed that my Twitter account had been hacked.”
He had been frustrated by Trump’s comments and several weeks of criticism on social media and conservative news outlets about his role as moderator, including attacks directed at his family, he said.
“These were both errors in judgement for which I am totally responsible for,” Scully said. “I apologize.”
He said he let down his colleagues at C-SPAN, fellow news professionals and the debate commission. “I ask for their forgiveness as I try to move forward in a moment of reflection and disappointment in myself,” he said.
C-SPAN said Scully confessed to lying about the hack on Wednesday.
Trump is denying federal aid to California again.
T reversed his position on helping California fires and giving emergency aid.
The Washington Post: Top Stories | Trump administration rejects, then approves, emergency aid for California fires, including biggest blaze in state history
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Fueled by extreme heat and dry, windy conditions, wildfires ravaged California in September, blazing through almost 1.9 million acres, destroying nearly 1,000 homes and killing at least three people. One wildfire, the Creek Fire, became the largest single inferno in California history and grew so fierce it spun up fire tornadoes with 125 mph winds.
On Friday, the request for federal assistance to help pay for the recovery from a half dozen of those fires spun up a tornado of its own. Like the proverbial tempest, the storm over the money had been contained in a tea pot by the day’s end.
The day began with news that the Trump administration had refused to grant California’s emergency declaration that would make hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding available for areas devastated by the Creek Fire and five others. Federal officials said the most recent application did not meet the criteria for federal relief.
But President Trump reversed the decision a few hours later after a direct appeal from Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in a midday phone call. The declaration was approved, the hand-wringing over.
“Just got off the phone with President Trump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request,” Newsom wrote in a statement Friday afternoon. “Grateful for his quick response.”
Rudy and Bannon are now up to THREE Hunter Biden laptops they claim to have possession of.
Rudy Giuliani has dismissed concerns that his latest anti-Biden smears are part of a foreign-election interference plot, but a Ukrainian lawmaker recently deemed an “active Russian agent” by the U.S. Treasury is now touting further details to come.
Andrii Derkach, one of the key players in Giuliani’s years-long dirt-digging mission against Joe Biden in Ukraine, piggybacked on the former New York City mayor’s latest Biden smears—supposedly involving a forgotten laptop. Derkach claimed on Facebook that there is a “second laptop” with evidence of corruption involving the Biden family.
The claim appears to muddy the waters around Giuliani’s latest “smoking gun” charge against Hunter Biden. He says they came to light after an obscure Delaware computer repair shop owner found Biden’s laptop in his possession and copied the hard drive before alerting federal authorities and inexplicably Giuliani’s own lawyer. Now, with Derkach jumping in with claims of a “second laptop,” that would mean private computer contents allegedly connected to Hunter Biden have somehow found their way into the hands of three separate parties: A media empire controlled by a Chinese billionaire who’s tight with Steve Bannon; a random Delaware shop owner who is outspoken in his support of Trump; and Derkach, a Ukrainian conspiracy theory peddler who studied at Moscow’s FSB academy.
Derkach wrote on Facebook about the questionable New York Post report that relied on unverified images of emails provided by Trump allies to supposedly prove a corruption scheme by Biden and his son involving Ukrainian gas company Burisma. He then said there was a second laptop, which was used by “two representatives for the interests of [Burisma founder Mykola] Zlochevsky.”
“That laptop was given to Ukrainian law enforcement,” Derkach wrote, adding that the Burisma representatives who used the laptop were now serving as “witnesses in criminal proceedings.” He said the witnesses were ready to testify about an international corruption scheme involving Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of the gas company.
It has already been reported that Russian intelligence agents successfully hacked into Burisma computer networks last year, although it is not clear how much they were able to access and copy.
Despite what Team Trump would have the public believe is a towering mountain of evidence, neither Joe or Hunter Biden have been charged with any wrongdoing, and Ukrainian prosecutors confirmed months ago that they had found no evidence of any crimes.
Derkach is no newbie to the Biden saga. While cozying up to Trump allies like Giuliani during impeachment proceedings, he held repeated press conferences in Kyiv touting purported proof of corruption by the former vice president, and claiming it was not Russia that interfered in the 2016 election, but Ukraine. He also featured prominently in an “exposé” by the Trumpian One America News Network, and met with Giuliani in Kyiv last year as part of their anti-Biden mission. His claims have not held up under scrutiny.
After Derkach was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in September for working as a foreign operative, Giuliani insisted he had not seen “any evidence” to conclusively say whether Derkach was working as a Russian agent or not.
He told The Daily Beast this week that he believed it was a toss up whether his partner in the Biden smearing campaign was an active intelligence operative. “The chance that Derkach is a Russian spy is no better than 50/50,” he said.
But U.S. intelligence officials had begun warning in spring 2019 that Derkach was part of a Russian effort to worm their way into the U.S. presidential election and spread the narrative that Biden and his son were involved in nefarious corruption schemes overseas.
Giuliani’s allegations against Biden have evolved drastically since he first began his attacks on Trump’s then presumed 2020opponent by claiming the former vice president improperly forced out a Ukrainian prosecutor. After numerous “exposés” on Biden’s supposed abuse of power aired on OAN largely failed to gain much traction, Giuliani shifted his focus to Biden’s son, Hunter, who he has now deemed a “national security risk.”
Bizarrely, even Giuliani’s allegations against the younger Biden have pinballed all over the place, from his initial claim that Hunter used access to his father to line his own pockets, to his very personal attacks on his admitted struggles with substance abuse, and, perhaps most desperately, his latest smear that Hunter Biden engaged in “disgusting sexual behavior.”
Seriously, they’re taking propaganda from Paul Blart, Mall Cop.
More on Trump stirring up trouble with domestic terrorists…
President Trump called on the attorney general on Tuesday to take action against his political opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., over his son’s foreign work, an extraordinary push to use the levers of the federal government to sway an election in its final days.
“We’ve got to get the attorney general to act,” Mr. Trump said on the show “Fox and Friends,” when asked whether he wants to see investigations into unverified information about Mr. Biden and his son Hunter that the president’s personal lawyer claims he recently obtained from Hunter’s laptop.
“He’s got to act. And he’s got to act fast,” Mr. Trump said of Attorney General William P. Barr, calling on him to appoint a special prosecutor or a similar official. “This is major corruption, and this has to be known about before the election. And, by the way, we’re doing very well. We’re going to win the election.”
A spokesman for Mr. Biden declined to comment.
Last week, The New York Post published an unsubstantiated article based on material provided by allies to Mr. Trump claiming that when the elder Biden was vice president in 2015, he met with an adviser to a Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden served. Mr. Biden’s campaign rejected the assertion and said his schedule showed no meeting with the adviser.
A call for authorities to take action against a political opponent is remarkable, especially two weeks before a presidential election. A day earlier, Mr. Trump repeatedly called his opponent “a criminal,” using the same word for a reporter he chided for not focusing on the Post story.
The president has repeatedly called on Mr. Barr to intervene in issues since he was confirmed by the Senate.
Mr. Biden is leading or tied with Mr. Trump in nearly every public poll in the battleground states that handed Mr. Trump his 2016 victory.
Mr. Biden has significantly cut into Mr. Trump’s edge on issues like the economy, and the president’s poor performance in handling the pandemic has brought his poll numbers down.
The president made the comments during an interview in which his answers were studded with lies and falsehoods about a range of issues, and in which he criticized the Bidens, the news media and the infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony S. Fauci.
After spending Monday attacking Dr. Fauci, who remains popular in public opinion polls, Mr. Trump claimed Tuesday he was “not at odds” with him, before renewing the attacks.
The president falsely described Dr. Fauci as a “Democrat,” and claimed he was a “good friend” of the family of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York.
“He’s been there for a long time, I leave him there, and he’s been wrong,” Mr. Trump said of Dr. Fauci.
He then accused reporters of favoring Dr. Fauci “because they think he’s against me.”
There is to be a decision from the courts today declaring whether this was a true order from T to declassify the Mueller Report, but Mark Meadows got to clarify it and say, No, he didn’t mean it.
A lot of hand-holding around here.
Buying time for the START NUCLEAR DEAL.
The U.S. and Russia are on the verge of an arms-control deal that would freeze the number of nuclear warheads on each side and extend the New START agreement for a year, a senior Trump administration official said Tuesday.
“We are very, very close to a deal,” the official said. “Now that the Russians have agreed to a warhead freeze, I do not see why we cannot work out the remaining issues in the coming days.”
The Trump administration has been pressing Russia to conclude the agreement before the Nov. 3 U.S. election, a development that would provide President Trump with a diplomatic achievement in the final days of his campaign.
On Friday, the two sides appeared to be at odds over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal that the 2011 New START treaty—which cuts long-range arms and is due to expire in February—be extended unconditionally for a year.
But on Tuesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that Moscow also would agree to the longstanding U.S. demand for a warhead freeze for the same period if New START is extended.
The remaining issues to be worked out include verification of the warhead freeze and the definition of a warhead, the U.S. official said.
“We appreciate the Russian Federation’s willingness to make progress on the issue of nuclear arms control,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said. “The United States is prepared to meet immediately to finalize a verifiable agreement. We expect Russia to empower its diplomats to do the same.”
The purpose of the deal would be to buy time for a future treaty that would take the place of New START and which the Trump administration says should include China. The politically binding deal currently under negotiation between U.S. and Russian officials, however, wouldn’t specifically mention China, officials on both sides have said.
The deal, proponents of Mr. Trump’s approach say, could also shape expectations for a future treaty under an administration led by Democrat Joe Biden if Mr. Trump loses on Nov. 3.
Marshall Billingslea, the chief U.S. negotiator, was scheduled to brief NATO diplomats Tuesday on prospects for an agreement.
WTF has Betsy DeVos been doing
The hits just keep coming…
Administration officials alarmed by White House push to fast track lucrative 5G spectrum contract, sources say - CNNPolitics
President Trump has spent months insisting Joe Biden is in hoc to China. “China is on a massive disinformation campaign because they are desperate to have Sleepy Joe Biden win the presidential race,” Trump tweeted last spring. “Beijing Biden is so weak on China that the intelligence community recently assessed that the Chinese Communist Party favors Biden,” claimed his son, falsely, this summer. More recently, he has seized upon hacked emails purporting to show financial links between Biden and China.
But Biden does not have financial ties to China. We know this because he released his tax returns. Trump has not released his tax returns. But the New York Times has obtained at least some of them. And they found that Trump has a Chinese bank account, and suggest he has collected earnings from that country while serving as president .
The Chinese bank account belongs to Trump’s subsidiary firm, Trump International Hotels Management. While in previous years the firm has reported small sums, in 2017 — Trump’s first year in office — it reported $17.5 million in revenue, a large spike.
The returns obtained by the Times do not show how much of that money came from China. The Trump Organization refuses to say. But the dealings it found suggest a massive conflict of interest between his foreign policy and his wallet. And while Trump postures angrily against Beijing, threatening to “make them pay” for allowing the coronavirus to infect their country and then the world, somehow, nobody believes he has any way to do this.
The objective of Trump’s stream of charges is meant to muddy the waters and confuse the public with a flurry of identical charges and counter-charges. He called his last opponent corrupt, and he calls his current opponent corrupt. The charge that Biden has secret ties to China, and that China is helping him win, is intended to offset the no-longer-secret relationship between Trump and Russia, which is exerting itself on its behalf with the open cooperation of his lawyer. But now we see the accusation serves a second purpose: it obscures Trump’s own undisclosed financial relationship with China.
It’s quite an accomplishment, but in only five months, the director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, has already put himself in the running to be considered among the most destructive intelligence officials in U.S. history.
During his confirmation hearing in May, Mr. Ratcliffe testified that he would not allow outside influence to affect his work, claiming that he would be “entirely apolitical” in the position.
Instead, he seems to have jumped into the partisan fray. On Monday, Mr. Ratcliffe seemed to bolster an unconfirmed news report by The New York Post related to the business dealings of Joe Biden’s son in the Ukraine. Mr. Ratcliffe suggested on Fox Business that the Obama-Biden administration had committed (unnamed) criminal abuses of power and that voters should take these supposed actions into account in the upcoming election.
Such personal political commentary for a sitting intelligence leader is virtually unprecedented. Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, tweeted that Mr. Ratcliffe’s actions were “reprehensible” and worthy of a “tin-pot dictatorship.”
Mr. Ratcliffe had already broken norms by mining and declassifying material that might help President Trump get re-elected. He has controlled how information is shared with congressional Democrats, while supplying select, out-of-context material to those Republicans trying to grasp any shred of evidence that might fit their theory of a deep-state conspiracy to investigate President Trump’s connections to the Kremlin.
While a traitor or mole inside our spy agencies can do tremendous damage, only a deeply partisan intelligence leader can undermine the very system of trust that underpins our intelligence establishment.
During World War II and the Korean War, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Charles Willoughby, falsified reports; limited and controlled sources; dismissed reporting by allies, the O.S.S., the C.I.A. and U.S. code breakers; and actively tried to suppress anything that challenged MacArthur’s preconceived views.
As David Halberstam wrote in “The Coldest Winter,” his history of the Korean War, General MacArthur believed it was crucial that “his intelligence reports blend seamlessly with what he had intended to do in the first place. What that meant was that the intelligence that Willoughby was turning over to MacArthur was deliberately prefabricated.”
General MacArthur’s unwillingness to listen to others left the United States and its allies blindsided when the North Korean Army invaded South Korea in June 1950, and again when the Chinese stormed into Korea later that year, leading to one of the worst military defeats of U.S. forces and the longest retreat in U.S. history. General MacArthur even advocated using nuclear weapons to stem the retreat. It wasn’t the failure to collect or analyze intelligence that led to the catastrophe, but the failure of leadership. Maj. Gen. Willoughby shaped intelligence to fit what his master wanted to hear.
Mr. Ratcliffe, like Maj. Gen. Willoughby before him, seems to think his job is to serve only his boss, who requires that everyone agree with him at all times. As General MacArthur is often quoted: if you control intelligence, you control decision-making. Intelligence professionals call this politicization and see it as a poison that can harm national-security decision-making.
We can see today, through Mr. Ratcliffe, just what can happen when the office is politicized.
Rather than operating as an honest steward of the large and important intelligence community, Mr. Ratcliffe appears to regard the nation’s secrets as a place to hunt for nuggets that can be used as political weapons — sources and methods be damned. Even if the particular material he declassifies is not especially sensitive, the failure to provide proper context, sourcing or background only serves to confuse the public and distract voters.
That may be the point. Creating a fictional narrative for political purposes requires corrupting a system that relies on in-depth, contextual and all-source analysis. However, if you are sending damaging signals to allies, potential sources or even your own officers, it is child’s play to concoct any story you wish by plucking selective details from the millions and millions of pages held by the intelligence agencies.
But exploiting the intelligence community in this manner fundamentally debases it — in ways the American public cannot always see. Hastily considered declassification of selective secret material runs the risk of exposing sources and methods, assisting foreign adversaries and undercutting the trust of our allies. And why would allies or potential sources be willing to share their secrets with intelligence officials who won’t hesitate to publicize their information if they see short-term political benefit? In the end, our defenses are weakened.
In the world of intelligence, credibility is paramount. Our allies and sources must trust us. And policymakers need to trust that intelligence professionals are providing the very best, unbiased analysis. If that bond of trust is breached, and motives and honesty are questioned, the intelligence is worthless. Mr. Ratcliffe and his enablers need to understand that once the credibility of our intelligence community is surrendered, it will be extremely hard to recapture.
John Sipher is a former chief of station for the C.I.A. and a co-founder of Spycraft Entertainment.
Looks like Sen Mitch McConnell took a header…he’s bruised up. Sort of like his shoulder fracture ‘accident’ from 2019.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not answer questions about his health Thursday, only saying there were “no concerns” after reporters asked him about what appeared to be bruises and bandages on his hands in recent days.
“Of course not,” McConnell told reporters in the Capitol when asked if he had any health issues people should know about.
McConnell, who is up for reelection, later said there were “no concerns” when asked directly by CNN about the apparent bruises or if he had any other problems.
The 78-year-old did not respond when asked if he was being treated by a doctor. An aide to McConnell also declined to provide any additional details when asked multiple times about the majority leader’s health.
Sen Collines (R-ME) and Sen Murkowski (R-AK) will vote NO on ACB’s nomination moving ahead.
Collins needs to save her seat, so is voting this way for sure.
Block the rest from Sen McConnell (R-KY)
Some of the same people who pushed a false conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton that first emerged in 2016 are now targeting Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, with similar falsehoods. Their online posts are garnering astronomical numbers of shares on social media.
The fantastical rumors, which NBC News is declining to repeat verbatim, echo specific plot points central to “pizzagate,” a viral disinformation campaign that predates QAnon but also falsely alleges a vast conspiracy of child abuse.
There is an important difference, however. The pizzagate-style rumors in 2016 were largely confined to far-right message boards like 4chan and parts of Reddit. But the Hunter Biden iteration of the same conspiracy theory took off last weekend with the help of speculation from conservative TV hosts and members of Congress. Their theorizing can be traced back to a new website that has been promoted by President Donald Trump and his surrogates.
The path of the conspiracy theory highlights how once-obscure and fringe claims are now able to reach mainstream conservative media and even elected officials in the run-up to the 2020 election.
The disinformation campaign appears to have been successful in its goal of generating a smear against the former vice president’s son. According to Google Trends, “human trafficking” is now the third-most common related search term for “Hunter Biden” in the last year, after “laptop” and “New York Post,” which point to search interest around the unconfirmed allegations that a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden contained evidence of crimes.
The New York Post published an article on Oct. 14 that it said was based on leaked private photos from Hunter Biden’s personal hard drive, including photos that appeared to show the younger Biden sleeping and screenshots of unverified emails claiming that he had used his position on the board of an energy company to set up a meeting with his father, then the vice president. Both Bidens have denied any wrongdoing, with Joe Biden recently calling the allegations a “last-ditch effort in this desperate campaign to smear me and my family.”
NBC News requested a copy of the hard drive, but Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, who had possession of the hard drive, has yet to respond. The New York Post article did not include any of the child abuse rumors.
But the child abuse conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden that emerged from the fringes of the internet began swirling before the New York Post article and can be traced to associates of former White House aide Steve Bannon. They are now reaching a fever pitch less than two weeks before the election, in which Trump trails Biden in most national and many battleground state polls.
Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor of communications and rhetoric at Syracuse University, said that pro-Trump trolls are “playing the hits from 2016” and hoping they stick with voters who didn’t hear the first iteration of the rumor four years ago.
She noted that pushing child abuse conspiracy theories echoes what Bannon has publicly advocated in an effort to alter how voters feel.
“This is gaslighting of the highest order,” Phillips said. “This has been the Steve Bannon playbook this entire time. He has celebrated the strategy of ‘flooding the zone with s—’ — when you confuse people, when you make them angry, when you just sort of throw too many things at them for them to process.”
The re-run of an identical conspiracy theory from 2016, this time with Hunter Biden as the new target, gathered momentum in part because of a new disinformation pipeline promoted by high-profile conservative figures — including the president.
Before the Post
The earliest mentions of Hunter Biden’s laptop surfaced in late September, weeks before the New York Post article was published, according to Zignal Labs, a media intelligence platform that analyzed the social media conversation around recent Hunter Biden rumors for NBC News.
First Draft, a nonprofit that tracks misinformation and provides research and training for journalists, said the child abuse rumors originated from a nexus of pro-Trump figures. The organization is also a training partner of NBC News.
Keenan Chen, a First Draft researcher who has been monitoring the spread of the Hunter Biden rumors, said that they appeared to have originated from Dinggang Wang, an anti-Chinese government YouTube personality known for spreading misinformation about Covid-19.
Wang is connected to Bannon, the 2016 Trump campaign CEO, and Giuliani through Guo Wengui, a billionaire who fled China amid accusations of bribery and other crimes. The three men are board members of the Rule of Law Society, a nonprofit with a mission to “expose corruption, obstruction, illegality, brutality, false imprisonment, excessive sentencing, harassment and inhumanity” in China.
Wang did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Guo, who is a member of Trump’s country club Mar-A-Lago and was once the world’s 67th-wealthiest individual, befriended Bannon, a former Trump campaign and White House aide, in 2017, according to The Washington Post. Bannon was arrested by federal agents on Guo’s yacht in September and charged with fraud, tied to an alleged scheme to defraud donors to a social media campaign called We Build the Wall. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to face trial next May.
The most prominent spread of the child abuse rumors involving Hunter Biden before the New York Post article came from Wang, whose Twitter thread of videos has been retweeted 20,000 times.
Wang’s videos picked up more momentum a month later, as conspiracy theorists speculated about what else could be on the hard drives after the New York Post article.
While Delaware authorities have said the hard drive is now in the hands of the FBI, its emergence triggered a wave of conspiratorial thinking that has reached mainstream conservative outlets. But vague rumors about Hunter Biden’s hard drive had already been spreading for a full month.
“Shortly after the New York Post story went online, some members of the QAnon conspiracy theory noticed Wang and his YouTube show, and started amplifying the unfounded pizzagate narrative and making it more visible in English on social media,” Chen said.
According to analysis by the nonpartisan nonprofit Advance Democracy, more than 1 in 10 shares of a tweet from Giuliani about the New York Post article came from accounts that identify with the QAnon conspiracy theory in their Twitter bio.
Just one day after the New York Post article, allegations of wrongdoing against the Bidens involving Ukraine were seemingly abandoned by many Trump allies and conservative media, which turned the focus to claims of China-related corruption, according to Zignal’s analysis. These conversations were dominated by Donald Trump Jr., the president and the actor James Woods.
But the most significant boost for the child abuse conspiracy theories would come from a website founded in May that has been embraced by Trump surrogates: Revolver News.
The new Drudge
Since the site’s inception in May, Trump and some of his supporters have pointed to Revolver News as an alternative to The Drudge Report, the conservative news aggregation giant whose tone toward the president has shifted to negative and antagonistic since 2019.
Revolver articles flattering to Trump have been shared directly by allies of the White House, and even the president, for months. In September, Trump tweeted an endorsement of Revolver.
“Our people have all left Drudge. He is a confused MESS, has no clue what happened,” Trump tweeted on Sept. 14. “They like REVOLVER and others!”
Revolver News does not disclose on its website who is behind its operations or any corporate affiliations, but Darren Beattie, a former speechwriter for Trump who was fired in 2018 for speaking at an event alongside white nationalists, has claimed authorship of some of the posts on the website. Most articles do not have bylines, and the few names that are on articles appear to be aliases of people that do not appear elsewhere on the internet and could not be identified with public records searches.
In 2019, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a loyal Trump ally, hired Beattie as a speechwriter. Gaetz’s chief of staff, Jillian Lane Wyant, told NBC News on Wednesday that Beattie was no longer with Gaetz’s office. Campaign finance reports show Beattie was on the payroll of Gaetz’s re-election campaign and was paid $10,000 in June.
Beattie declined to comment on his role at Revolver News or the site’s ownership.
Attempts to identify Revolver’s ownership were unsuccessful, but the website shares an internet protocol address (a numerical label given to any computer connected to the internet) with only nine other websites, according to website details that are publicly available. Those websites make up “The Mix,” which describes itself as a “unified publishing network” mostly covering pro wrestling and mixed martial arts.
The Mix is owned by Intermarkets, a digital media and advertising company. Until 2019, Intermarkets was the exclusive advertising representative for The Drudge Report, one of the most visited news sites on the internet.
Revolver, created in May, is now the only politics aggregator hosted on The Mix’s IP address.
Revolver and The Mix sites share a Texas-based web service provider, Precision Creations. Joshua Wychopen, president of Precision Creations, declined to comment on the site’s owner, citing client privacy concerns. Intermarkets denied any relationship with Revolver. Shauna Schatz, Intermarkets’ vice president of media, said that she was unaware of who owned Revolver.
The online news watchdog Newsguard said in a report that Revolver “severely violates basic journalistic standards” and publishes conspiracy theories and misinformation about Covid-19.
On Oct. 15, Revolver published an article that suggested some of the unfounded allegations about Hunter Biden under the byline of Moxie Russo, a name that did not appear elsewhere on the internet based on various web searches and could not be identified in public records. While Beattie declined to comment on whether he had written the Oct. 15 article or subsequent ones from Revolver News detailing the baseless child abuse accusations, but he has promoted the articles from his personal Twitter account.
Into the mainstream
Shortly thereafter, some conservative media figures and politicians seized on the baseless claims.
Chanel Rion, a correspondent for the conservative cable media outlet One America News Network, claimed in a tweet that she had seen content from the hard drive. In the days following, Lauren Witzke, a QAnon-supporting Senate candidate in Delaware, tweeted the child abuse allegations. InfoWars host Alex Jones amplified similar unfounded claims about Hunter Biden, one version of which has been viewed over 3 million times on InfoWars’ video hosting site.
By the weekend, more mainstream conservative media personalities had seized on the child abuse rumors. On Saturday, Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo suggested in an interview with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., that the FBI may be investigating the claims. Bartiromo did not directly refer to Revolver News but discussed details unique to the Revolver News article. Johnson also echoed the suggestion. On Sunday, Wayne Allen Root, a national radio host, echoed some of the claims, receiving more than 25,000 retweets in two hours.
On Thursday, Donald Trump Jr. repeated the accusations during a Fox News appearance.
The claims have also spread far and wide on Facebook, especially on public pages and groups dedicated to the QAnon-linked SaveTheChildren conspiracy theory movement, according to posts viewed by NBC News, using a list maintained by Junkipedia, an organization that monitors misinformation.
Giuliani, who said he has been in possession of the laptop for months, made no similar claims until last week. On Oct. 14, Giuliani said he would start revealing evidence of child abuse over “the next five days” related to the claims but he has yet to do so.
Subsequent appearances by Giuliani on the conservative cable channel Newsmax, including one on Tuesday in which he claimed to have handed over Hunter Biden’s hard drive to the Delaware State Police, have garnered millions of views across online platforms.
Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the absence of evidence, lurid descriptions of Hunter Biden’s allegedly criminal activity were pushed without proof by anonymous users on Twitter, Reddit and 4chan.
While the claims have not been repeated by any mainstream media outlets, that does not mean that they have not had their intended effect. Phillips, the Syracuse assistant professor, said the goal of the rumors isn’t necessarily to make people believe the claims, but to confuse and disillusion voters into distrusting any piece of information and, in turn, keep them from wanting to vote at all.
“All ‘flooding the zone with s–t’ does is just make reasonable people not want to engage,” said Phillips. “So then the screamers and the people on the far, far, far-right take over the discourse, and then that means no one can have a discourse.”
The latest Q-Anon conspiracy is mainstream: the “Pizzagating” of Hunter Biden by the coalition of Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon, right-wing propagandists, Russian disinformation agents, and Chinese dissidents:
So there’s that.
For now, Operation Warp Speed, created by the Trump administration to spearhead development of coronavirus vaccines and treatments, is focused on getting vaccines through clinical trials in record time and manufacturing them quickly.
The next job will be to monitor the safety of vaccines once they’re in widespread use. But the administration last year quietly disbanded the office with the expertise for exactly this job, merging it into an office focused on infectious diseases. Its elimination has left that long-term safety effort for coronavirus vaccines fragmented among federal agencies, with no central leadership, experts say.
“We’re behind the eight ball,” said Daniel Salmon, who served as the director of vaccine safety in that office from 2007 to 2012, overseeing coordination during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009. ”We don’t even know who’s in charge.”