The FBI is investigating whether purported Hunter Biden-Burisma emails were part of a foreign intelligence operation
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The FBI is investigating whether alleged emails of communications between Hunter Biden and a senior executive at the Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings were part of a foreign intelligence operation, NBC News reported. The emails first surfaced in a dubious and widely discredited story from the New York Post this week purporting to feature "smoking-gun" emails showing the Burisma executive discussing with Hunter the prospect of meeting his father, Joe Biden, when Biden was vice president in 2015. Though the article offered little new information and contained a multitude of falsehoods, Trumpworld seized on it as incontrovertible proof that Ukrainian officials took advantage of Hunter Biden's position at Burisma to extract special treatment from Joe Biden during the Obama administration. The two Bidens have long been at the center of unfounded conspiracy theories promoted by President Donald Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, alleging that the elder Biden leveraged his role as vice president to shut down a criminal investigation into Burisma while Hunter was serving on its board in 2016. They've also circulated a bogus allegation suggesting that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to help Democrats and hurt Trump. As Business Insider reported, based on media reports, intelligence assessments, witness testimony, and public statements, there is no evidence that these theories hold merit. But they've been amplified by Trump's allies in Congress and conservative media, as well as by Russian government officials and state-run media outlets. News of the FBI investigation into the Hunter Biden emails came shortly after it was reported that US officials warned the White House last year that Russian operatives were using Giuliani to funnel disinformation to Trump. The warning came as Giuliani was in Ukraine on a mission to dig up dirt on the Bidens. While there, he met with a man who was sanctioned by the US Treasury last month for acting as a Russian agent. Giuliani is currently under federal criminal investigation over whether he violated foreign lobbying laws related to his efforts to obtain dirt on Biden. He was also one of the primary sources of the New York Post story. It's unclear when exactly the FBI began investigating if the alleged Hunter Biden emails were part of a foreign intelligence operation. But NBC News' report adds yet another layer to an already convoluted saga about disinformation, kompromat, and foreign intelligence operations on the eve of a US presidential election. Here's a detailed breakdown of key events in the timeline: April 2019: Unidentified person allegedly drops off a damaged laptop containing compromising Hunter Biden material at a computer repair shop in Delaware According to the New York Post story, the emails came from a water-damaged laptop and external hard drive that an unidentified person dropped off at a repair shop in Wilmington, Delaware, in April 2019. The shop's owner, who Business Insider identified as a man named John Paul Mac Isaac, is an avid Trump supporter and told The Washington Post that he is legally blind. Despite that, Mac Isaac said, he was almost sure the person who dropped off the laptop was Hunter Biden. But the laptop was never picked up, he said. July 2019: Trump brings up Biden and Burisma in a 'perfect' phone call; Mac Isaac discovers contents of the laptop and hard drive In July, about three months after the laptop and external hard drive were left at his store, Mac Isaac gained possession of the devices per his contract, and he began sifting through them, he told the Washington Post. When he discovered the material, he said he contacted at least three lawmakers and used an intermediary to contact the FBI. Mac Isaac refused to name any of the people he said he got in touch with. He said that FBI agents said they did not want to take possession of the hard drive and made a copy of it. He also claimed to have reached out to Giuliani in the summer because he was frustrated the Hunter Biden material wasn't yet public, the Washington Post said, but it's unclear if Giuliani got back to him at the time. On July 25, Trump spoke on the phone with the newly inaugurated Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and asked him to work with Giuliani to launch politically motivated investigations targeting the Bidens and Burisma. November 2019: Russian hackers attack Burisma's servers for the first time In November, when the House's impeachment inquiry into Trump's actions surrounding the phone call was well underway — and while Trump and Giuliani were both insisting that the real wrongdoing involved the Bidens and Burisma — hackers associated with Russia's main military intelligence agency tried to breach Burisma's servers for the first time in search of passwords, emails, and other sensitive material. December 2019: Giuliani meets with a Russian agent for Biden dirt and obtains alleged Hunter Biden hard drive; officials warn Trump that Giuliani is a Russian intelligence target December is a critical point in the timeline. Giuliani traveled to Ukraine that month in search of dirt on the Bidens, and he met on December 5 with Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian national who has since been sanctioned by the US for acting as a Russian agent and spreading disinformation related to the 2020 election. Giuliani has said he met with Derkach several times after that. While the former New York mayor was in Ukraine, US intelligence agencies intercepted troubling communications that indicated Russian intelligence operatives were using Giuliani as a conduit to funnel disinformation to Trump, The Washington Post reported. Officials warned the White House of what they had discovered, and national security adviser Robert O'Brien thought it serious enough that he cautioned the president to treat anything Giuliani told him with extreme skepticism. One source told The Post that the message to Trump was, "Do what you want to do, but your friend Rudy has been worked by Russian assets in Ukraine." Also in December, around the time Giuliani was traveling in Ukraine, Mac Isaac contacted Giuliani's lawyer, Robert Costello, and gave him a copy of the hard drive, the New York Post's article said. However, it remains unclear when exactly Giuliani himself obtained the material. Shortly after Mac Isaac said he gave Costello a copy of the hard drive, he turned over the device and laptop to federal authorities pursuant to a court subpoena, The New York Post said. According to NBC News, the "subpoena had been issued by a federal prosecutor who already had the serial numbers of the devices when they were ordered to be handed over in early December 2019, indicating federal law enforcement was aware of the specific devices they want to examine." On December 19, Trump was formally impeached. January 2020: Russian hackers successfully breach Burisma In January, according to The New York Times, Russian military intelligence officials successfully hacked Burisma's systems and stole a trove of material. September 2020: US intel officials learn of Russia's plans to dump hacked Burisma emails; and Steve Bannon tells New York Post about Hunter Biden-Burisma emails In September, US intelligence analysts became aware that Russia planned to release hacked and forged emails from Burisma, The Times reported. After US intelligence identified the plans, analysts contacted "several people with knowledge" of the Burisma hack, The Times said, adding that the analysts were concerned "Burisma material would be leaked alongside forged materials in an attempt to hurt" Biden. Later in the month, the former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon contacted New York Post reporters and alerted them to the existence of the Hunter Biden emails, according to the tabloid's article. Bannon was arrested and charged in August with fraud in connection to an online fundraising campaign. October 2020: Giuliani gives the New York Post a copy of the hard drive purportedly belonging to Hunter Biden On Sunday, October 11, the New York Post said that Giuliani gave the paper a copy of the hard drive. The story was published three days later, on October 14. After the story dropped, several reporters tracked down Mac Isaac, who could not get his facts straight about the timeline of events laid out in the Post's story for which he was the source. The Daily Beast reported that "throughout the interview, Mac Isaac switched back and forth from saying he reached out to law enforcement after viewing the files in the laptop to saying that it was actually the Federal Bureau of Investigation that contacted him." "At one point, Mac Isaac claimed that he was emailing someone from the FBI about the laptop," The Daily Beast said. "At another point, he claimed a special agent from the Baltimore office had contacted him after he alerted the FBI to the device's existence. At another point, he said the FBI reached out to him for 'help accessing his drive.'"Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: A cleaning expert reveals her 3-step method for cleaning your entire home quickly
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Congressional Republicans are repeating many baseless conspiracy theories in Trump's impeachment inquiry. Here's why they're all bogus.
The impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump has officially moved into its public phase, and witnesses are beginning to...The impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump has officially moved into its public phase, and witnesses are beginning to testify in open session before the House Intelligence Committee. But the hearings have also provided Republican lawmakers and committee counsel with platforms to repeat many baseless conspiracy theories about Democrats and alleged Ukrainian election interference. The entire impeachment inquiry centers around the false claim that Hunter Biden committed corrupt activity in Ukraine and that Joe Biden, in his capacity as vice president, tried to cover it up. Trump and GOP representatives have also baselessly claimed that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to benefit the Democratic Party, and that Democrats conspired to obtain nude pictures of Trump. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. The impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump has officially moved into its public phase, and witnesses are beginning to testify in open session before the House Intelligence Committee. But the hearings have also provided Republican lawmakers and committee counsel with platforms to repeat many baseless conspiracy theories about their Democratic rivals and alleged election interference with Ukraine. The impeachment inquiry all started with an anonymous whistleblower complaint lodged by a member of the intelligence community said that in a series of events culminating in a July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump used "the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election." The complaint detailed concerns that Trump, days after withholding a nearly $400 million military-aid package, used the call with Zelensky to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian oil-and-gas company, from 2014 to 2019. Trump and his allies have, without evidence, accused Biden of using his power as vice president to urge Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma in order to protect Hunter. Here's a breakdown of the conspiracy theories many Republicans are pushing and why they don't hold up: Hunter Biden committed corrupt activity in Ukraine, and his father tried to cover for him The entire impeachment inquiry centers around Trump and the GOP's discredited claim that in his capacity as vice president, Biden tried to help his son by calling for the firing of Viktor Shokin, a prosecutor they say was investigating Burisma. Hunter, the eldest of Joe Biden's sons, served on Burisma's board providing legal advice and receiving a reported salary of around $50,000 a month. Burisma was the subject of an investigation from the Ukrainian prosecutor general's office into whether its founder Mykola Zlochevsky engaged in tax evasion, money laundering, and corruption. Despite Trump and Giuliani's allegations, both US and Ukrainian government officials have confirmed there's no evidence that the Bidens did anything improper. Former Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko clearly said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden. "I do not want Ukraine to again be the subject of US presidential elections," Lutsenko said. "Hunter Biden did not violate any Ukrainian laws ... at least as of now, we do not see any wrongdoing." Furthermore, Shokin was not even actively investigating Burisma at the time, and was denounced for being ineffective at his job. When he called for Shokin to be fired, Biden represented the US's official position on the matter, one that was shared by many other Western governments and anticorruption activists in Ukraine, according to The Associated Press. The Journal and other outlets have reported that Shokin was widely accused of being soft on corruption and hindering investigations, including the one into Burisma — in essence, Biden, and much of the international community, urged Shokin's ouster because he was ineffective. In fact, Shokin had hampered the investigation into Burisma long before Biden even stepped into the picture, according to the Wall Street Journal. Western diplomats also say he essentially shut down one such investigation into Burisma's founder in the UK by refusing to cooperate with authorities. Bloomberg also reported that the Burisma investigation was largely dormant when Biden called for Shokin to be fired. Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to benefit the Democratic party On the July 25 call, Trump also referenced a discredited conspiracy — also heavily pushed by Giuliani — that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and that Ukraine was somehow in possession of a DNC server. "I would like you to do us a favor though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike ... I guess you have one of your wealthy people ... The server, they say Ukraine has it," Trump said on the call. The US intelligence community has conclusively established that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to undermine Hillary Clinton by hacking the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. In the call, Trump was referencing the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which the DNC retained to help them respond to Russia's breach of its servers during the 2016 election. "The server" refers to an unfounded conspiracy theory that the DNC hid an incriminating server from the FBI while the bureau was investigating Russia's hack, and that the server contains information about who was really responsible for the breach. In reality, there is no single, physical DNC server, and there is no evidence that Ukraine's government "hid" it from investigators or was in any way involved in the 2016 US presidential election. CrowdStrike's CEO George Kurtz told CNBC that Trump's reference to CrowdStrike in the Zelensky call was "unintelligible, to be honest." Both former NSC senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs Fiona Hill and senior State Department official George Kent conclusively refuted the baseless idea that Ukraine, in any way interfered in the 2016 election in their public testimonies before Congress. "The Ukrainian government did not interfere in the U.S. election. The Ukrainian government did not do that," the transcript of Hill's closed-door testimony showed. In his public hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on November 13, Kent further said there was "no factual basis" to support allegations that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. A DNC operative named Alexandra Chalupa conspired with Ukraine to spread dirt on Trump As part of the conspiracy that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, some have also claimed that a DNC operative named Alexandra Chalupa coordinated with the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on Trump. In reality, Chalupa, a Ukrainian-American Democratic political consultant and operative, ran a minority engagement program for the DNC in 2016 and communicated with Ukrainian officials about Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who served as an advisor and lobbyist on behalf of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. There is no evidence Chalupa conspired with Ukraine to conduct any kind of opposition research with regard to Trump. Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign in August of 2016, and is currently serving a seven-and-a-half year federal prison sentence for financial fraud, failing to register as a foreign agent, and witness tampering. "During the 2016 US election, I was a part-time consultant for the DNC running an ethnic engagement program," Chalupa emphasized in a statement to CNN in 2017. "I was not an opposition researcher for the DNC, and the DNC never asked me to go to the Ukrainian Embassy to collect information." Chalupa has told Politico that she is more than willing to appear publicly to testify in the inquiry, as the GOP has suggested, and indicated her testimony would be far more incriminating for the Republicans than for the Democrats. "It's clear Republicans are gaslighting the public by putting me on their list of witnesses," Chalupa told the outlet. "It's a bluff meant to smear and distract from Donald Trump's impeachable offenses. I'm the last person Republicans want to testify publicly. My testimony would be especially damaging to Donald Trump, Paul Manafort and Vladimir Putin. The GOP knows this." Democrats tried to collaborate with Ukraine to obtain nude pictures of Trump The Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, twice claimed that Democrats collaborated with "people they thought were Ukrainians" to get nude photos of Trump. Nunes made these statements in the September 26 public testimony of the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and in the November 15 testimony of Marie Yovanovitch, former US ambassador to Ukraine. "And of course, Democrats on this very committee negotiated with people who they thought were Ukrainians in order to obtain nude pictures of Trump," Nunes said in the Maguire hearing, a claim he repeated in his opening statement during the Yovanovitch hearing. In 2018, The Atlantic reported that two Russian pranksters posing as members of Ukraine's parliament prank-called House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff claiming to have "pictures of naked Trump" from a purported encounter Trump had with a famous Russian woman. While Schiff said on the call that the information was "helpful," his staff told The Atlantic in a statement that they had alerted law enforcement before and after the call that it was "probably bogus." Other than the Schiff prank call, there is no evidence that Democrats proactively tried to obtain nude pictures of Trump. Sonam Sheth contributed to this report. Read more: LIVE: Marie Yovanovitch took aim at Trump in bombshell testimony and the president responded by attacking her on Twitter Trump's obsession with conspiracy theories is helping trap him in the impeachment investigation Trump mentioned a wild conspiracy theory about the DNC and the Russia probe in his phone call with Ukraine's president There's a glaring loophole in Trump and Giuliani's allegations of corruption against Joe BidenSEE ALSO: Everything you need to know about Trump's impeachment process: What's happened, who the players are, and what comes next Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Extremists turned a frog meme into a hate symbol, but Hong Kong protesters revived it as an emblem of hope