An explainer: Trump and the Biden-Ukraine tabloid story
WASHINGTON — Looking to undermine rival Joe Biden less than three weeks before the election, President Donald Trump’s campaign has seized on a tabloid story offering bizarre twists to a familiar line of attack: Biden’s relationship with Ukraine. But the story in the New York Post raises more questions than answers, including about the authenticity of an email at the center of the story.
The origins of the story also trace back to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has repeatedly pushed unfounded claims about Biden and his son Hunter.
A look at the development:
How did Biden’s son become a campaign issue?
Hunter Biden joined the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma in 2014, around the time his father, then vice president, was helping conduct t he Obama administration’s f oreign policy with Ukraine.
Senate Republicans said in a recent report that the appointment may have posed a conflict of interest, but they did not present evidence that the hiring influenced U.S. policies.
Trump and his supporters, meanwhile, have advanced a widely discredited theory that Biden pushed for the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor to protect his son and Burisma from investigation.
Biden did press for the prosecutor’s firing, but that’s because he was reflecting the official position of not only the Obama administration but many Western countries and because the prosecutor was perceived as soft on corruption.
What does the New York Post story say?
The main email highlighted by the Post is an April 2015 message it said was sent to Hunter Biden by Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to Burisma’s board. In it, he thanks the younger Biden “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 wording makes it unclear if he actually met Joe Biden. The Biden campaign said in a statement that it had reviewed Biden’s schedules from the time and that no meeting as described by the newspaper took place.
How did the Post obtain the emails?
The Post says it received a copy of a hard drive containing the messages on Sunday from Giuliani, who has pushed the unfounded idea that Ukraine was trying to interfere with the 2016 election and that the younger Biden may have enriched himself by selling his access to his father.
The Post says the emails were part of a trove of data recovered from a laptop that was dropped off at a computer repair shop in Wilmington, Delaware in April 2019. It says the customer, whom t he
owner could not definitively identify as Hunter Biden, never paid for the service or retrieved it, and says the owner made a copy of the hard drive given to Giuliani’s lawyer.
The owner of the shop declined to comment Wednesday to The Associated Press. The newspaper says the owner alerted the FBI to the computer and hard drive, and that agents took possession of them. That could not immediately be confirmed, and the FBI declined to comment.
Are the new emails authentic?
The actual origins of the emails are unclear. And disinformation experts say there are multiple red flags that raise doubts about their authenticity, includi ng questions about whether the laptop actually belongs to Hunter Biden, said Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the nonpartisan Wilson Center in Washington.
Another potential alarm is the involvement of another Trump associate, Steve Bannon, who the Post says first alerted it to the existence of the hard drive and who along with Giuliani has been active in promoting an anti-Biden narrative on Ukraine.
“We should view it as a Trump campaign product,” Jankowicz said.