The story isn’t true, but it sounds like it ought to be true, so assume it’s true. Stephen Colbert understood this in 2005 when he invented the word Truthiness – named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society and for 2006 by Merriam-Webster. The word was useful for describing the political advantages fiction has over truth. Some things feel true so they must be true, because your gut tells you so, in spite of all empirical evidence to the contrary. Saddam did have weapons of mass destruction. But we’re well beyond that now. Hillary Clinton and Tom Hanks and Lady Gaga run a child sex-trafficking ring out of a pizza shop not that far from the White House and the three of them are cannibals – they drink the blood of those little babies and stew up their dead bodies for dinner each night – if true. It isn’t, but there are those who say this sounds like it ought to be true and assume it really is true. This has that aura of truthiness, for some, and there are more and more of such people every day.
Those are the Trump people, and most timid Republicans too. Throw in Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and his New York Post too. They know what sounds like it ought to be true. They run with that. They just ran with that. The Hill’s Brett Samuels tells that tale:
President Trump and his campaign on Wednesday revived allegations of wrongdoing against Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, citing a New York Post story that has drawn skepticism over its sourcing and findings.
The Post story, published on Wednesday morning, alleges that Hunter Biden used his influence to connect a Ukrainian businessman, and fellow board member at the gas company Burisma, with his father when he was vice president.
That’s it? That’s enough. It was time to get nasty:
Trump and his allies were quick to promote the story as evidence of corruption by the Bidens, but the allegations prompted questions about why the material was being released just 20 days before an election where Trump is trailing his Democratic rival in the polls.
What’s the issue? That’s precisely why this was released now:
The president on Wednesday decried the Bidens as “grifters and crooks,” calling the Post’s findings a “major scandal” in an interview with Newsmax TV.
“The New York Post, they’ve done great reporting,” Trump said. “It’s serious stuff. They’ve got ‘em cold, and the news protects them because they’re in on the deal, probably.”
The Trump campaign denied that it had any involvement in providing the documents to the Post, but was still eager to try and turn it into a major storyline. The campaign launched a new 30-second ad highlighting Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings and convened a call with reporters to discuss the story just hours after it was published.
“If the New York Post story is true, we now know Joe Biden lied to the American people and he lied repeatedly to all of you. Biden has claimed he has no knowledge of his son’s business schemes,” said Pam Bondi, a former Florida attorney general who was part of the president’s impeachment defense team earlier this year.
But it’s a strange story:
The Post story hinges on an email message from Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to Ukrainian gas company Burisma, thanking his colleague Hunter Biden for “giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent some time together.”
The origins of the material are unclear. The Post reported that the email was obtained from a hard drive after a computer was dropped at a Delaware repair shop in April 2019.
The unnamed store owner could not identify the individual who dropped it off as Hunter Biden, but nonetheless notified federal authorities about the computer, which was reportedly seized by the FBI last December.
The Post said the owner made a copy of the hard drive before turning it over and also provided it to an attorney for Rudy Giuliani, who is Trump’s personal lawyer and was deeply involved with a Ukrainian official later determined to be a Russian agent in digging up dirt on Joe Biden earlier this year.
That might raise some red flags. Rudy does seem to be working for the Russians to get Trump a second term. Joe’s not fine with that:
Joe Biden’s campaign responded on Wednesday by saying numerous investigations have all concluded there was “no wrongdoing” by the former vice president.
“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. Trump Administration officials have attested to these facts under oath,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.
That is a problem:
The president’s allies at times appeared unwilling to fully stand behind the Post story. Bondi repeatedly qualified her statements by citing the Post or noting that the allegations would be damaging “if true.”
Yes, they would be damaging:
In an unusual step, a Facebook spokesman said the platform would limit the distribution of the Post story while it underwent a fact-check. Twitter later blocked users from sharing the link to the Post story, saying it had been identified as “potentially harmful.”
This did seem like something the Russians handed to Rudy to drop just at the right time:
Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma Holdings, a natural gas giant in Ukraine, in 2014. The company’s founder was under investigation by then-prosecutor general Viktor Shokin, who the U.S., United Kingdom and other Western governments argued had failed to rein in corruption in the country.
The U.S. threatened to withhold roughly $1 billion in loan guarantees if Shokin was not replaced as prosecutor general, a message Joe Biden delivered to officials in Kyiv while serving as vice president and recounted during a 2018 Council on Foreign Relations conference.
While many of Trump’s allies and some former government officials have argued that there was minimally a conflict of interest in the case, the former vice president has denied acting with his son’s business interests in mind. There is no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing by either of the Bidens and no evidence that Hunter Biden’s work influenced U.S. policy.
Something’s hinky here. Business Insider’s Sonam Sheth notes this:
The Post’s story had several red flags and holes that raise questions about its authenticity. The most glaring questions are whether the emails described in the story are legitimate, how they were uncovered, and how the Post obtained them.
The Post’s report said that an unidentified computer-repair-shop owner discovered the emails and other compromising material about Hunter Biden after an unidentified person dropped off a water-damaged laptop last year to be repaired but never picked it up.
The repair shop owner was later identified as John Paul Mac Isaac, an avid Trump supporter who told several reporters who tracked him down that Trump’s impeachment was a “sham.” Isaac also did not have a clear grasp on the timeline of events that he initially described to the Post.
The Post said it learned of the emails’ existence last month through Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, and obtained them through Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer.
Both men have routinely pushed conspiracy theories about the Biden campaign’s ties to Ukraine, and Giuliani met last year with a Ukrainian official who was sanctioned in September and accused of acting as a Russian agent.
In all, one expert said, the way the story was published appears to showcase “a standard tactic in disinformation operations.”
Rudy Giuliani has spent at least two years attempting to find some kind of Ukrainian dirt that can be used to discredit Joe Biden. Now he has unveiled his October surprise: emails, or images of what purport to be emails, between Hunter Biden and Burisma officials.
The conservative New York Post has a credulous account of how Rudy came across these emails. The Post claims somebody brought the computer to a repair shop in Delaware, but then never bothered to pay for the repair. The shop owner saw that the computer had a sticker for the Beau Biden Foundation. But instead of returning the computer to the Biden family, he made a copy of the hard drive and gave it to Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer, before turning it over to the FBI.
That’s odd, but the premise here seems to be this:
The emails, if they are legitimate, show once again that Hunter Biden was trying to gain influence for Burisma, the Ukrainian energy firm that hired him, in an obvious ploy to gain an entry into Joe Biden’s inner circle.
But that’s absurd:
The primary lie in the Post’s account is the claim that Burisma was being investigated by the Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who Biden demanded be fired. If that were true, it would suggest a quid pro quo: Burisma hires Biden’s son Hunter, Biden demands firing of prosecutor investigating Burisma. The Post, echoing the Trump campaign’s disinformation, claims “Biden later bragged about forcing Ukrainian officials to fire a state prosecutor who was investigating Burisma.”
In fact, though, Shokin was not investigating Burisma. Shokin was considered corrupt and ineffectual, and Biden and the entire democratic world wanted him gone precisely because he was not probing corruption. “Shokin was not investigating. He didn’t want to investigate Burisma,” Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Center, told the Washington Post in July.
In fact, everything is backwards here:
Was Burisma paying Hunter Biden in an attempt to influence his father? Yes. Did Hunter deliver that influence? No. Biden did the opposite of what Burisma wanted.
And then there’s the Delaware computer shop:
The best thing you can say is that this account is not physically impossible, in that it does not violate any laws of nature or require any discontinuity in the space-time continuum. It is not, however, a very plausible account.
To begin with, if you were a computer-repair shop in Delaware, and you had a Biden-owned computer that you repaired but weren’t paid for, why would your first step be to reach out to Rudy Giuliani’s attorney? Why wouldn’t you go to the Bidens – who are fairly well known and easy to find in Delaware – to get paid? And why would the FBI even be allowed to investigate this computer without a search warrant?
And then there’s Rudy:
While Giuliani has not previously demonstrated any deep network of contacts in the Delaware computer-repair world, he has a long-standing string of contacts in the Russian intelligence world. He has met publicly with Andriy Derkach, who has been officially designated as a Russian intelligence agent by the U.S. Treasury Department. Derkach and Giuliani have spent months plotting to obtain and publicize Russian-sponsored information or pseudo-information discrediting Biden. Also, this past January, Russian hackers reportedly obtained emails from Burisma.
But according to the Post, the stolen Burisma emails Giuliani found have nothing to do with either the Russian agents who hacked Burisma emails or the Russian intelligence official whom he has been working with in broad daylight.
Hardly anyone believes that, so Trump has a problem here:
If that story is not true, then Trump’s lawyer is cooperating with Russian intelligence operatives on a hack-and-leak operation to influence the presidential campaign.
But that would never happen, would it?
Of course, now, it would happen. But this may be a one-day story. Rudy works with the Russians to blow away Biden! But it quickly falls apart. And none of it matters very much. It’s a nothingburger. Trump and Fox News may get three or four days out of it. But that’ll be it.
These things happen. Kevin Drum notes this:
In the pantheon of Republican pseudo-scandals, “unmasking” has always been one of the dumbest. National security officials routinely ask the intelligence community to “unmask” names that have been redacted in raw reports so they can get a better idea of who’s doing what to whom, and the Obama administration did this just like every other administration. Republicans, however, have insisted for years that Susan Rice and others used unmasking requests as cover for a campaign against Michael Flynn, and naturally they demanded an investigation. Just as naturally, Bill Barr gave them what they wanted.
And then this happened:
The federal prosecutor appointed by Attorney General William P. Barr to review whether Obama-era officials improperly requested the identities of individuals whose names were redacted in intelligence documents has completed his work without finding any substantive wrongdoing, according to people familiar with the matter.
The revelation that U.S. Attorney John Bash, who left the department last week, had concluded his review without criminal charges or any public report will rankle President Trump at a moment when he is particularly upset at the Justice Department…
Bash’s team was focused not just on unmasking, but also on whether Obama-era officials provided information to reporters, according to people familiar with the probe, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive investigation. But the findings ultimately turned over to Barr fell short of what Trump and others might have hoped, and the attorney general’s office elected not to release them publicly, the people familiar with the matter said. The Washington Post was unable to review the full results of what Bash found.
Drum adds this:
The investigation basically exonerated the Obama team and probably would have hurt Donald Trump’s reelection, so Barr decided to keep it under wraps. This is how the Justice Department works these days: it’s a PR shop for Donald Trump, not an independent agency serving the best interests of the American public.
Max Boot adds this:
Trump thundered that this was “the greatest political scam, hoax in the history of our country.” He demanded that “people should go to jail for this” – “I’m talking with 50-year sentences.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) called Flynn’s unmasking a bigger scandal than Watergate. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) claimed this was an event “unprecedented in the 243 years of our nation’s history.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tweeted that “the Obama/Biden administration unmasking” was far worse than Trump walking into the White House without a mask while still contagious with COVID-19. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, National Review, the Federalist, Fox “News” – all the usual super-spreaders of right-wing conspiracy theories – took up the hue and cry…
If Trump, Cornyn, Cruz, Paul, Nunes, Grenell and all the others who shamelessly flogged this faux scandal had a modicum of honesty or decency they would publicly recant and apologize to all of the Obama officials they reviled with no evidence.
And then there’s this:
The former Navy SEAL known for his role in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden is pushing back after President Donald Trump amplified conspiracy theories that the terrorist leader’s death was a hoax.
Robert O’Neill, who says he killed bin Laden in the 2011 raid, has rebuffed Trump and others in several tweets for promoting the conspiracy theory that bin Laden’s body double was instead killed.
“Very brave men said goodbye to their kids to go kill Osama bin Laden. We were given the order by President Obama. It was not a body double,” O’Neill tweeted on Tuesday.
He may be a Trump guy but he has his limits:
The response from the former Navy SEAL came after the president on Tuesday retweeted a QAnon-linked account that promoted a conspiracy theory alleging that bin Laden is still alive and his body double was instead killed. The account has since been suspended. Trump retweeted another video on Wednesday promoting conspiracy theories about bin Laden’s death.
O’Neill, a Trump supporter who was banned from all Delta flights in August after he published a photo of himself not wearing a mask in the cabin, pushed back against the conspiracy theory in several tweets.
“Shit. I just found out that I killed Osama bin Johnson. Drinks are on me, I guess…” O’Neill added Tuesday evening.
Wait, Trump retweeted another video? Politifact discusses that:
President Donald Trump retweeted a baseless claim that former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden killed a team of Navy SEALs and covered it up. The allegation has roots in a QAnon-supported conspiracy theory about the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.
The post Trump shared was an Oct. 12 tweet from a now-suspended Twitter account. The tweet shared a link to a story that claims a CIA whistleblower had exposed “Biden’s alleged role” in the deaths of a Navy SEAL team.
“Hidin’ Biden and Obama may have had Seal Team 6 killed!” wrote the Twitter account, which was created in July.
Trump amplified the claim in a retweet of the post Oct. 13. Some took that as confirmation.
It sounds like it ought to be true, so assume it’s true:
Trump’s retweet gave airtime to a new conspiracy theory about the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, the death of Osama bin Laden and a 2011 helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Its source is the unsubstantiated claims of a falconer.
The article shared in the post that Trump retweeted was published by a conservative political website called DJHJ Media. The site is owned by David James Harris Jr., a Texas entrepreneur and Trump supporter.
DJHJ Media’s article is based on an interview with Allan Harrow Parrot, whom the website says is a “CIA whistleblower.”
That’s the video:
Parrot claims that the Obama administration made a deal with Iran to stage the death of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, in Pakistan. But Iran double-crossed the United States and swapped bin Laden for a body double, and Iran extorted billions from the Obama administration in exchange for keeping quiet. To cover its tracks about the raid, the administration ordered a Navy SEAL helicopter to be shot down. That’s a reference to a real event from 2011, when 15 members of SEAL Team Six died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
“Vice President Biden paid with the blood of Seal Team 6,” Parrot said in the video. “He spent their blood like currency.”
Oh yeah, Benghazi was attacked to cover up the American origin of the missile used in the helicopter attack, if true. None of it is.
Donald Trump has a problem. Toluse Olorunnipa and Josh Dawsey explain the problem now:
Less than three weeks before Election Day, President Trump’s lack of a consistent and coherent closing argument is alarming some Republicans, raising fears among his allies that his undisciplined approach to campaigning could render him a one-term president.
With more than 10 million Americans already casting their ballots and millions more beginning to tune in to the race, Trump is engaged in a frenetic attempt to define his Democratic rival Joe Biden, win over skeptical voters and delegitimize the election results if he is unsuccessful.
In the final stretch of the race, a trio of long-standing challenges have converged to create a daunting barrier to Trump’s reelection: the inability to drag down Biden’s favorability ratings, the lack of a clearly articulated second-term agenda, and a pandemic that continues to upend American life.
And he’s getting weird now:
“Suburban women, will you please like me?” Trump pleaded Tuesday during a rally in Johnstown, Pa., in an explicit appeal to a group polls show him losing badly. “Please, please. I saved your damned neighborhood, okay? The other thing, I don’t have much time to be that nice. You know, I can do it but I got to go quickly.”
And there was this:
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted a doctored image of Biden in a wheelchair at a nursing home. The tweet – and the Trump campaign’s move earlier in the day to have a former White House doctor declare Biden mentally unfit – came as polls show the president trailing among senior citizens, a group he carried in 2016. One senior administration official said there have been meetings with campaign officials, White House officials and Trump outside advisers on how to fix the president’s problem with senior citizens, but the president keeps making that job harder with his comments and tweets.
This is not good:
Increasingly, elected Republicans are publicly calling on Trump to put together a clearer and more concise reelection message and second-term agenda…
Some Republicans have complained that the president seems more focused on attacking Hillary Clinton or getting the Justice Department to prosecute Obama administration officials than prosecuting the case against a potential Biden presidency.
But if true, if all that stuff is true, then he wins!
That’s a conditional sentence. The conditions are not what he imagines. They never were.