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US officials are investigating whether recently released emails are related to Russian disinformation effort targeting Biden

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The conservative New York Post claimed in a series of articles this week that it had obtained “steaming” emails about Hunter Biden and his dealings with Ukraine. CNN has not determined the authenticity of the emails.

The investigation is part of a larger investigation into Russian disinformation that dates back to before the impeachment inquiry last fall. The alleged disinformation campaign aims to tie the former vice president to his son’s dealings with Ukrainian energy company Burisma, according to US officials familiar with the matter.

The New York Post claims to have obtained the emails through two Trump confidants: his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Giuliani openly coordinated with a Russian agent known to promote disinformation about the Bidens. The Washington Post reported Thursday that the White House, and Trump personally, were warned in 2019 that Giuliani “was being used to provide Russian disinformation” to the president. Separately, Bannon was recently accused by the Justice Department of orchestrating a million dollar fraud scheme and accused of deceiving thousands of donors to his nonprofit.

In an interview with Fox News on Friday, Giuliani said Trump never mentioned the warning to him and that U.S. intelligence officials had not told him he was selling Russian disinformation.

Several foreign disinformation experts were quick to warn that there were major red flags regarding the articles published by The New York Post, including the involvement of Giuliani, the evolution of stories about how the emails went been obtained and the digital metadata of the images published by the newspaper. The government announced last month that one of Giuliani’s Ukrainian allies is an “active Russian agent” who has targeted Western media with “false and unfounded accounts” of alleged “corruption” of the Bidens.

Facebook and Twitter took unprecedented steps on Wednesday to slow the story’s circulation, sparking outrage from Trump and Republicans.

Denied claims about Ukraine

Senate Republicans have investigated the Bidens’ transactions in Ukraine – an investigation that has received bipartisan criticism as a politically motivated enterprise. The Republican in charge even said he hoped the findings would convince people not to vote for Biden, but the investigation ended in September without finding any evidence Biden abused his powers or changed US policy. because of his son’s business ties.

One of the New York Post reports claims that there is a “steaming email” about an alleged 2015 meeting between Joe Biden and a Burisma executive, where Hunter Biden was a board member. Responding to the articles, Biden’s campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said: “We looked at Joe Biden’s official schedules at the time and no meetings, as the New York Post claims, have never happened. “

The New York Post did not respond to a request for comment.

The opening paragraph of one of the New York Post articles contains blatant misinformation that was debunked last year. He says the alleged 2015 meeting was problematic because Joe Biden “pressured Ukrainian government officials to fire a prosecutor who was investigating” Burisma. Trump defended this false narrative during his impeachment.

In reality, the Burisma investigation was dormant when Biden urged Ukraine to fire its chief prosecutor, Viktor Shokin. Biden’s actions supported American and European policy, which wanted Shokin ousted because he was corrupt. Firing him would have increased – not diminished – Burisma’s scrutiny.

The article also quotes the Ukrainian energy leader, in another alleged email, saying he would share information with Amos Hochstein, who worked closely with Biden when he was vice president as special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs. Hochstein said he had never seen any of this information and had never been in contact with Ukraine’s energy executive.

“The Republican Senate investigation subpoenaed all of my files, including emails and calendars, and found no mention of this man. I led the US energy efforts in Ukraine and never even heard of it. talk about him the day before yesterday. Our anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine have undermined Burisma’s interests, “Hochstein said.

George Mesires, attorney for Hunter Biden, did not respond to a request for comment.

“Joe Biden has conducted official US policy towards Ukraine and has not committed any wrongdoing. Trump administration officials have sworn to these facts,” said Bates, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign, on CNN, referring to the testimony of officials during Trump’s impeachment.

Contradictions and inconsistencies

According to the Post, the emails were allegedly found on a laptop hard drive that was taken to a computer repair shop in Delaware in the spring of 2019. The newspaper wrote that the person handling the Computer repairs “could not positively identify the customer as Hunter Biden,” but claimed the customer had not picked up the laptop for several months after his service.

The Post quotes a tip from Bannon at the end of September about the existence of this hard drive and claims that Giuliani provided the hard drive to the newspaper on October 11. In texts to CNN, Giuliani declined to comment on how he learned of the hard drive’s existence.

“The New York Post has never questioned the Biden campaign on the critical elements of this story,” Bates, the spokesperson for the Biden campaign, said in a statement to CNN. “They certainly never raised the fact that Rudy Giuliani – whose discredited conspiracy theories and alliance with Russian intelligence figures have been widely reported – claimed to have such material.”

Giuliani has spent the past year openly collaborating with controversial Ukrainian officials to disparage Joe Biden and spread disinformation about Hunter Biden. To this end, Giuliani worked with current and former Ukrainian officials, including one who the United States claims is a Russian agent and has been sanctioned by the Treasury Department, and a second who has had his visa revoked by the state department.

Attempts to speak with Bannon about his involvement in the story have failed. Bannon told the Dutch show Nieuwsuur / NOS in an interview on September 28 that he had the “Hunter Biden hard drive” and people should “wait” for it to be released.

Giuliani’s own attorney, Robert Costello, told CNN on Wednesday that he received advice from the person at the Delaware computer store by email at one of Giuliani’s company addresses in late August. Costello said this person gave him a copy of the hard drive in late August or early September, which Costello then began reviewing.

This workshop employee has been identified as John Paul Mac Isaac. He spoke to CNN Thursday in Wilmington. Mac Isaac said that in April 2019, someone claiming to be Hunter Biden brought in a damaged laptop to recover data on it. This required him to manually transfer the data from the computer to a separate hard drive, Mac Isaac said, allowing him to see what some of the files contained.

“Something that has the potential to be damaging,” Mac Isaac said of the files he saw. “That’s what I think someone would come looking for. I needed a level of protection.”

Contrary to what he told reporters the day before, Mac Isaac told CNN that he had not contacted anyone at the FBI about what he saw, but had made “other plans. To get in touch because he “didn’t feel comfortable”. Eventually, he said, the FBI came and seized the laptop with a subpoena on December 9, 2019. He said he had a receipt for the seized goods, but refused to share a copy of the. FBI documents with CNN.

The Delaware prosecutor’s office and the FBI have refused to confirm or deny the involvement of the FBI or the existence of an investigation at CNN’s request.

Unprecedented milestones of technology companies

Trump’s staff have been promoting the stories all week, and his campaign organized a press appeal on Wednesday to attack Hunter Biden’s foreign relations. Trump riffed on the Hunter Biden stories at length at his campaign rallies this week, during an interview on Fox News, and he has tweeted or re-tweeted more than two dozen posts about the situation since the publication of the stories. to “reduce the distribution” of the “pending fact-checking” article as part of its policy against “disinformation”. Twitter subsequently blocked users from tweeting links to the main story as part of its policy against the dissemination of “pirated documents”, although it was not clear whether the underlying emails attributed to Hunter Biden were pirated, copied or fabricated. Trump responded with further attacks on social media companies, saying in a tweet that it was “so terrible that Facebook and Twitter canceled the story” and saying the articles were “just the beginning.” Trump regularly promotes articles and columns from the New York Post that reinforce his political agenda. A photo emerged on social media of Trump holding Wednesday’s edition of the New York Post, with the headline “BIDEN SECRET E-MAILS.” One of the first people to post the image was Andrii Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat who worked with Giuliani to spread conspiracies on the Bidens and whose visa was recently revoked by the US government.

White House spokesman Judd Deere told CNN the image of Trump was genuine. Telizhenko did not respond to questions about how he obtained the photo, which was taken in the Oval Office.

CNN’s Arlette Saenz and Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report.

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