Hunter Biden’s emails: an explainer
Did presidential candidate Joe Biden and son Hunter profit from foreign business deals while the elder Biden served as vice president? Here’s what we know about a laptop and emails purportedly belonging to Hunter Biden
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When the New York Post published an exclusive story on Oct. 14 about a hard drive purportedly belonging to Hunter Biden, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, a political frenzy followed.
Conservatives and supporters of President Donald Trump say the hard drive’s materials prove Hunter and Joe Biden have used the former vice president’s position for personal gain. Biden supporters say the materials are part of an 11th-hour disinformation campaign.
WORLD, like other news outlets covering the claims about the Bidens, can’t independently verify the information contained in the Post’s report. But the claims are in line with an apparent pattern: Hunter Biden seemed to profit from his connection to his father in his dealings with foreign business partners. What the Post’s reports do not provide is conclusive evidence that Joe Biden was directly entangled with his son’s business ventures, either in Ukraine or in China. But most mainstream news outlets have been slow to cover the story, and social media giants actively squelched it on their platforms.
The Post’s first article centers on an April 2015 email to Hunter Biden from Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Hunter Biden served on Burisma’s board from 2014 to 2019.
In a picture of the typo-laden email, Pozharskyi writes, “Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent some time together. It’s realty an honor and pleasure.”
The Post does not show that the email received any response. It is unclear whether a meeting with the former vice president took place.
The Biden campaign said in a statement Joe Biden’s official schedule didn’t show any such meeting. The campaign acknowledged to Politico it was possible Biden had an “informal interaction” with Pozharskyi. Burisma’s website lists meetings between Pozharskyi and some U.S. officials, including a 2017 meeting with then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. It does not include any mention of a meeting with Joe Biden.
The Biden campaign has not claimed the email or material from the hard drive are fake.
Hunter Biden’s attorney, George Mesires, told The Washington Post: “We have no idea where this came from, and certainly cannot credit anything that Rudy Giuliani provided to the NY Post, but what I do know for certain is that this purported meeting never happened.”
The New York Post obtained the emails through Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney. The email came from a hard drive found on one of three water-damaged laptops dropped off at a repair shop in Delaware last April. The shop owner, John Paul Mac Isaac, could not say for certain that the person who brought it in was Hunter Biden, but he said the laptop had a sticker from the Beau Biden Foundation (named after Joe Biden’s late eldest son, a former Delaware attorney general).
Mac Isaac said some of the material on the laptop concerned him. (The Post report described sexual content unrelated to the business email.) Mac Isaac told reporters he tried to contact the person who dropped off the laptop but never heard back. He made a copy of the hard drive, then turned the material over to the FBI. The Post’s report included a picture of a subpoena acknowledging that the FBI took an Apple laptop and an external hard drive. Mac Isaac’s copy eventually made its way to Giuliani. Mac Isaac has acknowledged he is a Trump supporter.
Because Giuliani initially refused to let news organizations access the hard drive, the material’s authenticity remained in doubt.
On Oct. 29, the Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF) reported that Giuliani provided the outlet with a copy of the laptop after initially resisting. Robert Graham, founder of cybersecurity firm Errata Security, reviewed the metadata of the email on behalf of the DCNF and concluded the email is authentic and that the contents are “provably legitimate.”
Several mainstream outlets, including Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, passed on breaking the story when Giuliani first approached them. The Wall Street Journal was still working to verify the allegations when Giuliani gave the materials to the Post.
Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine have long raised eyebrows. He reportedly received up to $50,000 per month to serve on Burisma's board, even though he had no experience in the energy industry. His involvement on Burisma’s board overlapped with his father’s tenure as vice president. As vice president, Joe Biden took the lead on Ukrainian foreign policy and focused on anti-corruption efforts. He participated in a pressure campaign to oust a prosecutor many Western powers said stymied anti-corruption measures. The Obama White House denied any conflict of interest since Hunter Biden’s work was in his private capacity. But by the time Joe Biden began to campaign for president, the former vice president acknowledged “the appearance looked bad.”
Critics of Joe Biden have said Hunter Biden benefitted from the firing of prosecutor Viktor Shokin, whose office had investigated Burisma for corruption. But as WORLD previously reported earlier this year, that investigation was dormant and all but closed during Shokin’s tenure. In an October 2019 interview with ABC News, Hunter Biden admitted accepting a seat on Burisma’s board was “a mistake, in retrospect.”
Questions around Trump's own dealings with Ukraine were at the center of his impeachment earlier this year.
An investigation by Senate Republicans on the Homeland Security and Finance committees found no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden. The committees’ 87-page report, released Sept. 23, concluded that Hunter Biden’s involvement in Ukraine “was problematic and did interfere in the efficient execution of policy with respect to Ukraine.” Some Obama administration officials said the Burisma connection made it “awkward for all U.S. officials pushing an anti-corruption agenda in Ukraine.” But the committees found no evidence the Burisma connection influenced specific U.S. policy.
On Oct. 15, the New York Post published a second story, which detailed Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China. It included an email without names and addresses redacted.
The email appears to describe an agreement splitting a new company’s equity between several people. The agreement indicates 20 will go to “H.” One line also reads, “10 held by H for the big guy?” but has no further explanation.
Former Hunter Biden business partner Tony Bobulinski released a public statement Wednesday vouching for the authenticity of the email, of which he was an original recipient.
According to Bobulinski, Hunter Biden and associate James Gilliar asked Bubolinski to become the CEO of a new group, SinoHawk Holdings, which was to be a partnership between China-based private energy conglomerate CEFC China Energy, Hunter, and Jim Biden (Joe’s brother). CEFC has since gone bankrupt.
“The reference to ‘the Big Guy’ in the much publicized May 13, 2017, email is in fact a reference to Joe Biden. The other ‘JB’ referenced in that email is Jim Biden, Joe’s brother,” Bobulinski said in his statement. “Hunter Biden called his dad ‘the Big Guy’ or ‘my Chairman,’ and frequently referenced asking him for his sign-off or advice on various potential deals that we were discussing.”
Bobulinski disputed Joe Biden’s claims that he doesn’t discuss Hunter’s overseas business deals with him: “I’ve seen firsthand that that’s not true, because it wasn’t just Hunter’s business, they said they were putting the Biden family name and its legacy on the line.”
Bobulinski elaborated on his claims in an Oct. 27 interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. He said Hunter Biden arranged two meetings between Joe Biden and Bobulinski. He also provided text messages to Fox to verify the meetings.
Bobulinski told Carlson he did not directly discuss business with the former vice president. But he said there was “no other reason to be in that bar meeting with Joe Biden than to discuss what I was doing with his family’s name and … this Chinese company.”
He said at his other quick meeting with Joe Biden, the former vice president told Bobulinski to “keep an eye on his son and his brother.”
Bobulinski also told Carlson that he once asked Jim Biden whether he was worried about entangling his brother with a Chinese company and damaging his political future. Bobulinski claimed Jim Biden responded: “Plausible deniability.”
The business venture, SinoHawk, was incorporated in Delaware in 2017. But ultimately the deal fell through. According to The Wall Street Journal, corporate paperwork confirms the involvement of Hunter and Jim Biden but doesn’t show Joe Biden’s involvement.
Hunter Biden had been involved in other deals with Chinese companies and introduced his father to one of his foreign business partners. On one of the former vice president’s trips to China, Hunter Biden arranged for Jonathan Li, who ran Chinese private-equity fund Bohai Capital, to shake hands with his father in the lobby of a hotel in Beijing.
Joe Biden’s tax returns do not show any involvement with Chinese companies.
Since the New York Post’s original report on Oct. 14, large news outlets and networks other than Fox News have largely sidelined the story.
Social media giants like Twitter and Facebook also moved to prevent users from sharing the story, stoking outrage from the right.
Facebook spokespeople claimed they didn’t want to amplify unverified information or misinformation. Twitter said the article violated the platform’s policy on sharing hacked materials that included unredacted personal information. Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, cried foul. Cruz called the move an attempt by Silicon Valley to protect Joe Biden by suppressing a story that could hurt his run for president.
Justifications for the press minimizing the story include: Trump allies shopped the material around, Giuliani wouldn’t provide all the hard drive’s contents, the Biden campaign has denied wrongdoing, and there is a lack of clarity around the materials’ authenticity.
Citing two anonymous New York Post employees, The New York Times reported that the hard drive story initially met with skepticism in the Post newsroom. The journalist who largely authored the initial report refused to put his name on it because of doubts about the material’s authenticity.
On Thursday, journalist Glenn Greenwald announced his resignation from the news organization he co-founded, The Intercept. He claimed editors there refused to publish an article he authored about the Biden family unless he removed “all sections critical of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the candidate vehemently supported by all New York–based Intercept editors involved in this effort at suppression.” He added: “The censored article, based on recently revealed emails and witness testimony, raised critical questions about Biden’s conduct.”
Editors at The Intercept responded: “Our goal in editing his work was to ensure that it would be accurate and fair. While he accuses us of political bias, it was he who was attempting to recycle the dubious claims of a political campaign—the Trump campaign—and launder them as journalism.”
Greenwald subsequently self-published the story, in which he recapped the various claims about the Bidens, said Joe Biden should directly address the claims, and accused the mainstream media at large of being “desperate not to know” anything negative about the Democratic front-runner.
“But the real scandal that has been proven is not the former Vice President’s misconduct but that of his supporters and allies in the U.S. media,” Greenwald wrote.
At Biden campaign events, reporters have largely passed on the chance to ask the candidate about the claims. At the last presidential debate, the moderator failed to press Biden about the report. Trump instead asked Biden himself whether he had made money from a business scheme with China.
“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source at any point in my life,” Biden said. He also defended Hunter Biden’s conduct: “Nothing was unethical.”
Continuing to press him, Trump asked: “You mean the laptop is now another Russia … Russia hoax?”
The Biden campaign called the Post’s initial story “Russian disinformation.” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, amplified the claim, saying the emails were an attempt at Russian interference in the presidential election. “We know that this whole smear on Joe Biden comes from the Kremlin,” he told CNN.
But Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe denied the emails were the result of Russian meddling. “We have shared no intelligence with Chairman Adam Schiff or any other member of Congress that Hunter Biden’s laptop is part of some Russian disinformation campaign. It’s simply not true.”
More revelations may come in the coming days. Fox’s Carlson said a mail carrier lost documents a producer mailed that had “damning” information about the Biden family from a confidential source but didn’t elaborate further. The U.S. Postal Service said Thursday it recovered the documents, which are now back en route to Carlson.
The Daily Caller also reported that Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson plans to call Bobulinski to testify before the intelligence committee, though it would not happen before the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Meanwhile, some Trump allies questioned whether accusations that Joe Biden was involved with his son’s deals in a direct or peripheral way will change the presidential race. “I don’t think it moves a single voter,” Sen. Ted Cruz said Tuesday.
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