Michael Carpenter was as clear as he could be last week, the day the New York Post exposed emails allegedly found on Hunter Biden’s laptop tying his father to his Ukrainian business dealings: The story was nothing more than “a Russian disinformation operation.”
“I’m very comfortable saying that,” Carpenter, a senior aide with former vice president Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, told Politico.
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Democratic congressman Adam Schiff said it was clear “the origins of this whole smear are from the Kremlin.”
In the days after the Post’s report, Democratic operatives and many of their allies in the mainstream media arrived at the same conclusion: the Hunter Biden email story was the product of a Russian disinformation campaign aimed at boosting President Donald Trump’s flagging reelection chances. It shouldn’t be believed, and even discussing it was playing into the hands of nefarious foreign actors.
The Post’s story was so toxic that Twitter and Facebook prohibited people from sharing it.
On Monday, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe blew that talking point to shreds, telling Fox News that there is no intelligence supporting the claim that “Hunter Biden’s laptop and emails on it are part of some Russian disinformation campaign.”
But by then, the Russian-disinformation allegation was already well developed. People who wanted to believe it treated it as fact, and reporters who dared to address the story were slammed as being useful tools in a Russian smear campaign.
The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Politico’s Jake Sherman were excoriated on Twitter for even acknowledging the story, even as they questioned the reporting behind it.
Bo Erickson, a reporter with CBS News, was taken to task by partisans — and fellow journalists — for simply asking Joe Biden about the report. Biden called it “another smear campaign” and said it was right up Erickson’s alley.
Ben Rhodes, former deputy national-security adviser under former President Barack Obama, said Erickson “is acting as the far end of a Russian disinformation operation.”
ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd replied to Erickson’s report on Twitter, saying, “Lordy, you ask someone about an article that has already been proven false and having Russia propaganda as its basis? I would suggest taking a look in the mirror.”
When Politico’s Marc Caputo defended Erickson for asking Biden about the report, he was blasted on Twitter by Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress.
“This stance means you are perfectly happy being a tool of a Russian campaign to hurt one candidate and help another,” she wrote. “You’ve learned zero since 2016.”
The Post’s story was based on emails leaked to the paper by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. The emails were allegedly obtained from a laptop computer dropped off and abandoned by Hunter Biden at a Delaware computer repair shop. The FBI has confirmed in a letter to Congress that it is in possession of Hunter Biden’s laptop and said that it “had nothing to add” to Ratcliffe’s assessment about the lack of evidence to support the “disinformation” claim.
In one of the emails from April 2015 obtained by the Post, an advisor to the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings thanked Hunter Biden for inviting him to Washington, D.C., and “giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together.”
Hunter Biden served on Burisma’s board from 2014 to 2019, while his father headed the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy. Joe Biden has said he had no involvement in his son’s overseas business dealings and never even discussed them with him.
Biden’s camp has denied that the meeting discussed in the April 2015 email ever occurred, but has not disputed the authenticity of any of the emails.
The emails also indicated that Hunter Biden was offered $10 million annually by a Chinese energy firm “for introductions alone,” according to one of the leaked emails, the authenticity of which was confirmed to Fox News by another Biden business partner copied on the thread.
The emails turned over to the Post by Giuliani also contained sexually explicit photos and depictions of drug use, according to reports.
And openly partisan operatives weren’t alone in trying to pour cold water on the story, they were helped along by sympathetic journalists who quickly converged around the “disinformation” narrative despite the lack of any supporting evidence and the Biden campaign’s conspicuous reluctance to question the authenticity of the emails.
On the day the Post broke its story, David Corn, the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for Mother Jones, penned a piece with the headline “Giuliani and the New York Post are pushing Russian disinformation. It’s a big test for the media.”
Corn accused the Post of being “a useful idiot for Vladimir Putin.”
In 2016, Corn was one of the first to report on what became known as the “Steele dossier,” an unverified opposition research report by a former British spy that alleged the Russian government had been trying to co-opt and assist Trump. The FBI later revealed that the primary source behind the dossier, Ukrainian national Igor Danchenko, was himself investigated in 2009 on suspicions that he was a Russian spy.
Corn isn’t the only reporter to run with the Russian-disinformation allegation.
John Harwood, CNN’s White House correspondent, tweeted that a recent Fox News phone-in interview with Trump “makes clear disinformation by Russian intelligence on Biden isn’t enough to carry him across the finish line on its own.”
Aaron Rupar, an associate editor at Vox, wrote on Twitter that Trump has “made amplifying a Russian disinformation campaign against the Bidens a centerpiece of his re-election rallies.”
And Seth Abramson, a columnist for Newsweek, tweeted that it “should beggar belief, with all we know about Kremlin attacks on the United States, an American media outlet of any political persuasion would willingly act as a conduit for Russian disinformation.”
The Russian-disinformation allegations aren’t limited to Democrats and partisans on the left.
Bill Kristol, the neoconservative political analyst and founder of the Weekly Standard and the Bulwark, tweeted that Senate Republicans “hustle to defend Russian disinformation.” Kristol is supporting Biden in the presidential election.
David Frum, a senior editor at The Atlantic and a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, joked, “What’s even the point of working with the Russians to fabricate a hoax if Big Tech won’t allow you to propagate it? Takes both the sport and the profit out of the game.”
As so often happens in the Trump era, journalists and commentators also found themselves in league with some 50 former members of the intelligence community, who signed a letter suggesting that the emails might be the product of foreign election interference, while stipulating that they “do not have evidence” to support such a claim.