Just a day after more than 50 former senior intelligence officials signed on to a letter declaring that the recent disclosure of emails from the Hunter Biden laptop is likely Russian disinformation, the FBI reportedly confirmed that the material does not appear to be Russian disinformation. While former officials like John Brennan insisted that the story “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation,” the FBI appears to have found no such evidence thus far. This followed a similar conclusion from the Director of National Intelligence in response to House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff saying that the story was pure Russian disinformation. The question is whether Twitter and Facebook will now bar access to Schiff’s statements pending further review since the actual intelligence agencies are suggesting that this could be democratic disinformation. After all, a former Twitter executive is calling for President Trump to be barred from all social media until after the election to prevent “misinformation.” The burden of being a free speech advocate is the the answer is clearly no. Those, like Schiff, who have called for censoring material on the Internet still should benefit from the protections of free speech.
From a free speech perspective, it does not matter if the Schiff statement and the letter have “all the classic earmarks of a [Democratic] information operation,” we all benefit from a free and robust discussion of such issues. We do not need these companies to censor or inhibit stories to protect us from misinformation.
The letter itself is striking not only in its sweeping conclusion (without actually reviewing the laptop or the emails), but it signatories. This includes some of those who have been associated with the Russian investigation of the Trump campaign, which was based in part on the Steele dossier. That dossier, funded by the Clinton campaign, was recently found to have been based on information supplied by a known Russian agent.
Throughout the campaign, and for many weeks after, the Clinton campaign denied any involvement in the creation of the dossier that was later used to secure a secret surveillance warrant against Trump associates during the Obama administration. Journalists later discovered that the Clinton campaign hid the payments to Fusion as a “legal fees” among the $5.6 million paid to the law firm. New York Times reporter Ken Vogel at the time said that Clinton lawyer Marc Elias had “vigorously” denied involvement in the anti-Trump dossier. When Vogel tried to report the story, he said, Elias “pushed back vigorously, saying ‘You (or your sources) are wrong.’” Times reporter Maggie Haberman likewise wrote: “Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year.” Even when Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was questioned by Congress on the matter, he denied any contractual agreement with Fusion GPS. Sitting beside him was Elias, who helped devise the contract.
Of course, the contents of the Steele dossier were reported in detail by the media. The reporting covered thousands of articles. It turns out that the FBI warned early in the investigation that Steele may have been used to spread Russian disinformation — a view that was strengthened by the disclosure of Steele’s many source. To this day, the media has largely ignored this story and how it was used to spread possible Russian disinformation.
If this is not disinformation, the emails magnify concerns that Hunter Biden was involved in a pay-to-play scheme. The emails appear to refer to Joe Biden receiving money and certainly refer to influence peddling.
I have previously stated that I remain suspicious of the timing and means of this disclosure. I want to see it investigation including the role of figures like Rudy Giuliani. Conversely, I have also been struck by what the Biden campaign has not said in response to the story. Both sides of the story should be investigated. However, there is a virtual news blackout on the contents of the emails even though (even with hacking) the emails could be legitimate. As discussed earlier, this is what a state media looks like . . . without the state apparatus. Major networks are still reporting that this is clearly Russian disinformation and dismissing the story. There is a clear effort to avoid scrutiny of the emails for just two more weeks. However, the disinformation claim is now being reportedly challenged by intelligence agencies. It does not matter. This is a fact too good to check. We are left with an entire media establishment turning blue holding its collective breath for weeks to see if they can make it across the line. There is an easier approach. It is called journalism. You investigate and report on both sides, including a demand that Hunter and Joe Biden respond to these specific emails as well as conflicting past statements. Sometimes the simplest things are the most difficult.