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The Need to Know
Recent news about Hunter Biden’s emails puts our country’s institutions in a harsh spotlight
By Charles Lipson
Hunter Biden’s laptop, abandoned at a Delaware repair shop, is now the centerpiece of what could potentially be a huge pay-to-play controversy that directly affects the presidential election. The incendiary emails and pictures on the computer detail lucrative business dealings by the former vice president’s son. They were first reported on Wednesday, October 14, by the New York Post, which received them from Rudy Giuliani. More emails are sure to be disclosed between now and the November 3 election.
These emails raise two overriding questions:
Are they real? Or are they a dirty trick by Joe Biden’s domestic political opponents or a foreign enemy?
If the “Delaware emails” are real, do they implicate the vice president himself? Or do they simply detail the dealings of a man who profited enormously from his family name but did so without his famous father knowing, helping or profiting?
Americans deserve to know the answers to both questions. And we need to know now, before Election Day.
The term “Delaware emails” is important here because there are others that potentially point to corrupt insider dealings. Specifically, the emails on the laptop are different from another set of 26,000 emails belonging to Hunter Biden’s ex–business partner, Bevan Cooney. Those, too, include troubling details about business arrangements with foreign partners, many closely linked to the Chinese Communist Party. Cooney is now in prison for some of his corrupt deals. A second partner, Devon Archer, is awaiting sentencing. Hunter Biden was never charged. Cooney has now given direct, unfettered access to his email account to Peter Schweizer, a journalist who specializes in official corruption. Schweizer has begun releasing the emails and his findings through Breitbart. So far, no one, including the Biden camp, has raised any questions about the authenticity of the Cooney emails.
Since the New York Post story broke last Wednesday, the Biden campaign has been curiously silent. Reporters expected swift denials that the computer was Hunter’s and that the emails were his. Crickets. Crickets, too, about the Cooney emails.
Instead, the Biden campaign has maintained strict radio silence, like Allied ships traversing the North Atlantic during World War II. Loose lips might sink Biden’s ship of state. So far, the former vice president’s only public comment has been to snarl at a CBS reporter who dared raise the question. It was all a “smear,” Biden said. Other reporters didn’t even bother to ask or questioned the story’s sources and moved on. George Stephanopoulos of ABC News conducted a 90-minute town hall with Biden after the Post story broke and never raised the issue. Nor did Biden himself raise it so he could swat it down as false. The mainstream media has buried the story, as have the country’s two social media giants. Twitter initially blocked links to the New York Post story before eventually changing tack and allowing it to be shared. The company has still blocked the Post’s Twitter account until it withdraws the links to the story, which it has so far refused to do. Meanwhile, Facebook publicly flagged the Post story for review, which normally reduces readership by 80%. Attempts to smother a major political news story like this, published in a major newspaper, are unprecedented.
One major Biden ally has come forward to defend his party’s candidate. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who chairs the House Select Committee on Intelligence, says flatly that the Delaware emails are a Russian disinformation campaign. Other Democrats have backed him up. Prominent mainstream news outlets haven’t gone that far, although they have dropped hints to support Biden and Schiff, saying the “FBI is investigating” whether the emails are Russian disinformation. The implication is, “It’s questionable.”
Is there any basis for these claims of fraud and disinformation? None, so far.
Schiff’s position gives him access to secret intelligence information, so you might expect his comments to carry special weight. He was relying on that weight when he said on Friday not just that he personally believes the emails are frauds, but that the intelligence community does, too. He has made similar claims before, saying he possesses very damaging classified information on his adversaries, only to shrug his shoulders when asked to produce it. He is facing the same challenge now, and his answer is the same: it’s all the Kremlin’s doing.
He’s not winning. On Monday, the head of America’s intelligence community, John Ratcliffe, directly refuted Schiff’s claim. As director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Ratcliffe would know. He told Maria Bartiromo, anchor on Fox Business’s morning show, that the spy agencies have zero information to support Schiff’s assertion.
“Let me be clear,” Ratcliffe said. “The intelligence community doesn’t believe that because there is no intelligence that supports and we shared no intelligence with chairman Schiff or any other member of Congress that Hunter Biden’s laptop is part of some Russian disinformation campaign. It’s simply not true.”
Still, we need to be very careful here. Reputations are at stake—and possibly the presidential election itself. Saying that there is no evidence of a foreign disinformation campaign is not the same as saying the Delaware emails have been verified. Even then, we should be skeptical since the FBI repeatedly told a federal court that its warrant applications (four of them, to spy on Carter Page) had been verified when they were actually based on Christopher Steele’s now discredited “dossier” of opposition research conducted on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
What we need here is independent authentication from third-party cybersecurity experts. Are the Delaware emails what they appear to be? Experts can check the metadata on the documents to see if they actually transited backbone web servers when they were said to have done so. The FBI’s verification is important, too, but we have now reached the sad moment when its word alone is not good enough. It smashed its own reputation, and we must all live with the consequences.
Where do we currently stand on the authenticity of the Delaware emails? Some people who received the recovered emails have said that, yes, they did receive them at the time. That’s important, but it still does not confirm the entire batch. We know the computer belonged to Hunter Biden because he signed the document giving it to the repair shop and because his lawyer asked for its return after its contents became a news story. That’s important evidence, but it doesn’t answer all the questions.
The FBI has apparently had custody of the Delaware computer since December 2019. They won’t make any public statements about it or even confirm that they have it (though we have seen their warrant to obtain it, signed by an FBI agent). Faced with the FBI’s stonewalling, the chairmen of two Senate committees, Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), have written Director Christopher Wray and demanded swift answers. So far, he has remained mute.
Wray and the FBI will face growing pressure, not just because the information matters to the November election, but because they allegedly hid the information during the president’s impeachment. Remember, the impeachment focused on whether Trump abused his office by seeking a Ukrainian investigation of Biden corruption. The Delaware computer seems to have information on that. If so, then President Trump and his supporters had every right to know about it as part of their defense. Republicans want to know why that vital information was never disclosed.
Bernie Sanders might be interested, too. Since this information about the Biden family could have hurt the former vice president’s campaign, Democratic primary voters might have made Sanders their nominee. The thought of a Sanders candidacy terrified party insiders, who believed a socialist at the top of the ticket would not only cost them the White House, but sink Democratic candidates down ballot, jeopardizing their battles to retain control of the House and win the Senate. So the FBI’s nondisclosure has had huge implications for both the primaries and the general election.
Perhaps the FBI’s silence here is linked to its legal obligations, even if the Senate demands that material. If so, that determination should be made only by senior officials at the Department of Justice, including the Office of Legal Counsel. Few trust the FBI to do anything other than protect itself. The Bureau has earned that mistrust.
The “Delaware hard drive” is now private property, technically owned by the repair shop. Hunter Biden gave up ownership because he signed the shop’s standard contract, giving the shop ownership if the customer didn’t return to pay for the item and pick it up within 90 days. Hunter didn’t. There are no limitations on the shop owner copying it or giving it to third parties, including independent cybersecurity experts. Rudy Giuliani and the New York Post could—and should—give it to such experts, if they have not already done so. We need that verification immediately so that the next stage of public discussion can have solid grounding.
What is the next stage? It is a discussion of just how damning Hunter Biden’s dealings are for his father, who made them possible.
Voters do not have to reach the legal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” to judge whether Joe Biden knew about Hunter’s business dealings, aided them in material ways (either as vice president or in the subsequent four years) or profited from them.
This public debate is not a criminal trial. Voters can set their own standards. Assuming the evidence proves embarrassing or worse for Biden, they could say, “All politicians do this sort of thing,” or “Yes, it’s not good, but Joe would still be a better president than Trump.” Or they could say, “Something stinks here, and Joe Biden must have known.” Those decisions belong to the voters, and to the voters alone.
Before they cast those ballots, Americans deserve to know the following information:
Whether the information on Hunter Biden’s Delaware computer is authentic.
Whether these emails implicate Joe Biden.
Whether Bevan Cooney’s cache of emails damages Joe Biden. (No one has challenged the authenticity of these emails.)
Whether there is a disinformation campaign here, and, if so, who is behind it and for whose benefit.
Why the FBI did not turn over this critical information to Congress and the White House during a presidential impeachment, one of our country’s gravest constitutional moments.
Why, given the overriding importance of these issues today, the FBI is still so reluctant to cooperate promptly with Congress. Put simply, is the FBI covering up its incompetence (or worse), or is it simply obeying the law and proper procedures?
Right now, the public trust the FBI about as much as they trust Cardinal Bernard Law to investigate sex abuse in Boston. They are just as skeptical about the truthfulness of the president, the House, the Senate, and the two political parties.
This pervasive mistrust is deeply damaging to a democracy. We need sunlight. As we debate the issue of corruption swirling around a presidential candidate, we need to know that we are debating real documents, not disinformation, and we need the freedom to do that openly, without permission from Twitter and Facebook. Our democracy cannot be run by Big Tech hall monitors.
We need verification, transparency, and free speech. Right now, we don’t have any of them.