Wednesday morning, the New York Post published what it said was a “smoking gun” email that proved Hunter Biden introduced his dad, Joe Biden, to a Ukrainian energy executive in 2015. The specifics of this story are among the most bizarre that have been reported in an extremely bizarre year, and have already proven to be conspiracy candy to an incredibly Online populace that is increasingly losing its connection to a shared reality.
The apparent provenance of this email and other files was a water-damaged laptop that Hunter or someone else dropped off at a repair shop called The Mac Shop in Wilmington, Delaware, where the Bidens famously live. According to the New York Post, someone at the shop repaired the laptop, rifled through its contents, found some mildly interesting emails and photos of Hunter Biden allegedly doing crack "while engaged in a sex act," and gave the files to the FBI and later Rudy Giuliani's lawyer Robert Costello. Trump's former far-right adviser Steve Bannon told the New York Post about the files, which were then provided to the paper by Giuliani.
This is a possible series of events, but it’s also a series of events that requires a large number of coincidences and questionable behavior by multiple people involved, many of which have been recurring characters in the relentlessly stupid and cruel Trump saga. This is also happening in a news ecosystem and country where there was a documented, coordinated disinformation campaign involving the leaking of emails of a presidential candidate during the last election cycle. Trump has already made this his new, main line of attack and is already teasing further leaks.
Taken in this context, these coincidences and bizarre series of events have led various people to speculate that the release of these emails is a Russian psy-op, a hacking campaign, or some other conspiracy. Twitter banned links to the New York Post article, citing its hacked information policy, but also citing a lack of authoritative reporting as to the origins of the files in the Post story, which has triggered both the Streisand Effect, further conspiracy theories, and allegations of censorship from most every major Republican politician, including Trump.
At the moment, no reporting including our own has turned up evidence to contradict the Post, and The Daily Beast has published an interview with the repair shop owner, which is also bizarre, but lines up with the Post's story.
Here is an attempt to explain what is going on here (along with some stray thoughts), based on what has been publicly reported thus far.
- Hunter Biden (or someone else) drops off a water-damaged MacBook Pro at The Mac Shop in Wilmington, Delaware.
- The owner of the shop, John Paul Mac Isaac (yes there's a "Mac" in his name according to his LinkedIn and Facebook accounts) fixes the laptop. He attempts to contact Biden (his name is listed on a receipt), but Biden apparently doesn’t pay or respond.
- According to the Post, after attempting to contact Biden after he didn't pick up the laptop or pay for service, Isaac searches through the hard drive’s contents, which is taboo in the independent repair industry.
- Isaac contacts the FBI, who, for reasons that are currently unclear, subpoena the hard drive’s contents.
- After being subpoenaed, the employee makes a copy of the hard drive and gives a copy of it to Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.
- Giuliani gives files to the New York Post, which runs a story.
- Twitter bans links to the story, citing its hacked materials policy.
- This starts a new uproar about a social media giant blocking reporting from a conservative outlet for reasons that are not well-articulated.
Why almost none of this actually matters and you should go outside and stare into the sun:
The email published by the New York Post is, according to the article, the “smoking gun” that the newspaper and conservatives say proves that Joe Biden is compromised by his son Hunter, who used access to his father to help the Ukranian energy company Burisma. Hunter served on the board of Burisma from 2014 to 2019. In the 2015 email, an adviser to Burisma thanks Hunter for inviting him to meet Biden, a meeting Biden already said didn't take place.
“Investigations by the press, during impeachment, and even by two Republican-led Senate committees whose work was decried as ‘not legitimate’ and political by a GOP colleague have all reached the same conclusion: that Joe Biden carried out official U.S. policy toward Ukraine and engaged in no wrongdoing,” the Biden campaign told Politico’s Natasha Bertrand.
What exactly the email proves is unclear, unproven, and exhausting to get into because there is contemporaneous evidence disproving said theories. This is a storyline you may remember from late last year and early this year, in which Donald Trump was impeached for imploring the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden in return for aid that had been promised to the country by Congress.
Like many conspiracy theories from conservatives, this is an attempt to take a relatively small bad thing that a Democrat (maybe!) did and blow it out of proportion in order to distract from Trump’s rampant, provable corruption. You may remember this tactic from “But her emails,” the circa 2016 scandal regarding the Hillary Clinton campaign's hacked and leaked emails. In this case we are talking about a single stolen email that references a meeting that may or may not have happened in 2015 between Joe Biden and a Ukrainian businessman that the Biden campaign has adamantly denied, contrasted with a President and administration that has overseen the deaths of more than 210,000 Americans in a pandemic, separated families at the border, has a massive ongoing tax scandal, actively uses the Presidency to make money at his hotels and golf courses, has involved his entire family in the administration, etc. "Burisma" has become a conservative buzzword that signals you know all about the real scandals, kind of like "Benghazi" or "Uranium One."
To be clear, it's not really good that Joe Biden's son has a kind-of-weird relationship with a big energy company in a foreign country, but this election is a choice between two people and this situation is considerably less concerning than Trump's various larks.
Fucked up and/or weird shit about this story (negligence-related):
The New York Post failed to keep the apparent source of its documents anonymous, so we know the repair shop in question is The Mac Shop in Wilmington, Delaware. The source of the documents took iPhone photos of a subpoena they say they got from the FBI, and both the source and the Post failed to delete metadata that indicated the photos were taken with an iPhone at GPS coordinates that correspond with The Mac Shop. The Post also failed to redact all mentions of the Mac Shop in a receipt it posted along with the story.
The Post also left Hunter Biden's phone number and email address exposed.
Fucked up and/or weird shit about this story (creepy-related):
Reporters showed up at The Mac Shop Wednesday, and owner John Paul Isaac gave a bizarre interview in which he contradicted himself several times, according to audio of the interview published by the Daily Beast. Isaac couldn’t explain the timeline of what happened with the device and computer, and also explained that he thought he would be murdered. He referenced the Seth Rich murder conspiracy, in which a fringe of the right believes that Hillary Clinton ordered a DNC staffer killed for various incoherent reasons. "I think there's a history in this country of people with political motives doing horrible things, and I don't want to be on the receiving end of that," Isaac says in a recording of the interview published by the Daily Beast.
When reached for comment by Motherboard, The Mac Shop repeatedly declined to comment.
What is very bad and also strange is that an employee for the shop rifled extensively through a customer’s files, which allegedly included a video of him having sex with a woman. This is at worst a crime (depending on the protections on the computer and how they were circumvented, whether Biden had actually ghosted, the types of files shared, etc), and at best a massive invasion of privacy that is not tolerated in the repair industry.
“You go through and look at the data if you are doing data recovery, but only enough to know that you did a successful data recovery,” Louis Rossmann, owner of Rossmann Repair Group in New York City and a well-known YouTuber who partially specializes in data recovery, told Motherboard. “Usually when a data recovery is done, opening 1 or 2 or 5 files on different parts of the drive to see that your recovery worked, so you don't make an ass of yourself when you do your initial presentation to the customer, is customary. Usually for data recovery, 1 or 2 files are opened just to make sure we got something usable, then we contact the customer for a remote session where they may view the data themselves and determine if it's a successful recovery. At that point, they come to pick up. You are looking just quickly enough to see that the data has a chance of being a successful recovery and is not a botchery - looking for longer than a second, you might see things you just… can't unsee.”
“I am not reading details, or focusing on pictures, or looking at parts of the PDF. I am just looking to see that what loads on the screen is not a totally corrupt mess,” he added. “For myself - I would demand complete sanctity of data privacy. I do not want people looking through my data, under any circumstances, besides the basic cursory glance to see that a file opens so they know they did a successful recovery. I offer this same courtesy to all of my customers, and intend to into the future.”
The vast majority of independent repair professionals, including Rossmann, say they take data privacy extremely seriously. Rossmann said the moment privacy is violated, “my business reputation goes down the toilet and no one will trust ever bringing a device here again.”
Fucked up and/or weird shit about this story (FBI-related):
It is not at all clear why the FBI apparently subpoenaed this hard drive, which belonged to a private citizen and the son of the sitting President’s political rival. The FBI declined to comment for this story.
Fucked up and/or weird shit about this story (alleged FBI incompetence that does not pass the smell test-related):
Isaac claims that the FBI contacted him twice to ask for "tech support" with the laptop, one time to ask what kind of cable to buy for powering the laptop.
Another curio that's pretty weird!:
One of the authors of the New York Post article, Emma-Jo Morris, has an Instagram page full of photos of herself with various Trumpworld characters, including Steve Bannon, Sean Hannity, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The New York Post is a notably conservative-leaning paper, but Morris is openly championing the Trump administration in her posts, which has led some to wonder whether this story was planted by the Trump administration.
Twitter does what it's best at—making it worse:
Twitter decided to ban anyone from linking to the New York Post article, citing its hacked data policy. It is not clear that this data was specifically hacked, though it was certainly stolen and meets the spirit of the rule, which is not very uniformly enforced and which basically says that you cannot link to hacked or stolen information. This is an evolution from 2016, when many people were linking to and writing about hacked DNC and Hillary Clinton aide John Podesta’s emails. There is no carve-out in Twitter’s policy for articles from news organizations.
Twitter, unable to understand how its actions often make somewhat unpleasant situations much worse, banned the article and played into an additional conspiracy theory that it is biased against conservatives and has thus made the NY Post article an ARTICLE THE LIBERAL MEDIA AND SILICON VALLEY IS CENSORING AND SUPPRESSING.
And so now Twitter’s censorship of this link has turned into its OWN shitshow, which has gotten Senate attention from various cynical lawmakers. Sen. Josh Hawley has already issued four statements about the incident. One that demands that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explain himself, another which asks Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg what the deal is with this article being shared on Facebook, and a third in which he demands the Federal Election Commission investigate Twitter and Facebook for “in-kind contributions” to the Joe Biden campaign. Late Wednesday night, he and Senate Republicans demanded that Dorsey and Zuckerberg testify "regarding censorship of NY Post story."
Trump has also been tweeting about this censorship relentlessly and will surely continue to do so.
Will we ever stop hearing about this story?
Probably not until the election! And given how we've seen other exhausting "scandals" live on in the hearts and minds of conservative media and conspiracy theorists, probably not after that, either. Another great time to have a great time on the internet.