Could Russia be tied to information cited in story (Caren Bohan et al., USA Today)

News Journal - A lengthy (nearly 2,400 words) USA Today story urges that a New York Post story re documents on a laptop allegedly belonging to Joe Biden’s son Hunter be disregarded. Here were the primary arguments for this conclusion, with our comments in contrasting font.

1. The story was broken by the New York Post, which is initially identified as “a New York tabloid” and several times thereafter referred to as “the tabloid” or “the newspaper.”

Founded by Alexander Hamilton, the Post is one of the oldest newspapers in the country and a justly respected publication.

2. The provenance of the laptop has not been fully established: Brought to a repair store in Wilmington, Delaware by a man who said he was Hunter Biden – not picked up after it had been repaired – the store owner (John Paul Mac Isaac) examined the files on the laptop and found them suspicious - the laptop was turned over to the FBI some months ago - an associate (Robert Costello) of Rudy Giuliani (acting as President Trump’s personal lawyer) has a copy of the “unverified” documents on the hard drive which has also been provided to the New York Post.

Fair enough. Conservative reviewers should be aiming to fill gaps in this account versus falling back on the line that skeptics can’t prove the documents are bogus. What standard of proof for Hunter Biden laptop story? Byron York, Washington Examiner, 10/21/20.

3. It’s suggested that “federal authorities are investigating” whether this material “is part of a smoke bomb of disinformation pushed by Russia.” The inquiry, “according to a person familiar with the matter, is at least in part aimed at determining whether Russia has set its sights on a familiar target: Biden’s father, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.” And according to a subsequent statement, “the FBI is now examining whether Russia is tied to the information cited by the New York Post.” The source for this claim is unclear, as the FBI “declined to comment when contacted by USA Today.” However, “some experts say the story has many hallmarks of a disinformation campaign.” Also, “Trump’s own intelligence officials have warned Moscow is interfering in the 2020 election.”

There is no intelligence to suggest that the information on the laptop was planted by the Russians, so this supposition can only be judged based on its own inherent plausibility – which doesn’t strike us as high. DNI Ratcliffe: “No intelligence” showing Russia behind Hunter Biden laptop, Jason Devaney, newsmax.com, 10/19/20.

4. Efforts by Trump and Giuliani “to dig up dirt on Biden and Ukraine” were supposedly “at the center of the impeachment inquiry launched against the president last fall by House Democrats.” The central claim was that Joe Biden had sought the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor to thwart an investigation of Burisma (a Ukrainian energy company for which Hunter Biden was then serving as a director). However, said claim has been “debunked” by “independent fact checkers and investigators.” It’s stated that “Biden helped to oust the prosecutor,” who was widely and publicly viewed as corrupt, “because he was not aggressively pursuing corruption cases.”

A videotape of Biden bragging about how he got the prosecutor fired by threatening to leave the Ukraine without releasing $1 billion in US aid is well known, which hardly sounds like a run-of-the-mill transaction, and Hunter Biden had no obvious qualifications for the position with Burisma other than potential access to his father. So while the claim may not have been proven thus far, it certainly wasn’t “debunked” during previous investigations.

5. One of the e-mails on the laptop is from a Burisma adviser, who thanks Hunter for “giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together.” The Biden campaign categorically denied [such] a meeting ever occurred between Biden and Pozharskyi, and Biden has previously claimed that "he never spoke to Hunter about his son’s business dealings in Ukraine.” Last month, two Republican-led Senate committees investigating the claims concluded that Hunter Biden’s role on the Burisma board was “problematic,” but it was “unclear” whether [this association[ "ever affected US foreign policy under the Obama administration.”

The Senate committees report was published before the Hunter Biden laptop story broke, so it hardly refutes this and other documents on the laptop.

6. Twitter and Facebook actions to suppress distribution of the New York Post story were characterized as appropriate to “curb the spread of misinformation.” The idea, apparently, was that this information should not be freely circulated until “independent factcheckers investigated the story’s claims.”

Twitter and Facebook are social media platforms with statutory immunity for the information they publish. Nothing entitles them to restrict circulation of reports by recognized news organizations. And when Big Tech has chosen to intervene in this fashion, it has almost invariably done so to suppress information with a conservative slant.
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