In an interview with The Washington Post’s “fact checker,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper contends that Politico misled the public about a letter he and 50 other former intel officials signed during the 2020 presidential campaign warning that the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story could be Russian deception. “There was message distortion,” Clapper tells The Washington Post. “All we were doing was raising a yellow flag that this could be Russian disinformation. Politico deliberately distorted what we said. It was clear in paragraph five.”
It was not clear, at all. The purpose of the letter, apparent then as it is now, was to discredit the Post’s scoop and provide Democrats and the media with ammunition to reject it. Of course intel officials couldn’t definitively say that Hunter’s emails, which implicated Joe Biden as a business partner, were concocted by Putin’s spooks. They had no access to the laptop. The purpose was to enlist former intel chiefs to cast doubt on the story. A perfunctory CYA paragraph doesn’t change anything.
The laptop lie began, as is often the case, with Adam Schiff, the California congressman who used the intelligence committee as a partisan disinfo clearinghouse. As soon as the story broke, Schiff claimed that “we know” — a phrase he used numerous times — that the emails had been planted by the Kremlin. By then, though, everyone understood the congressman was an irredeemable liar. The director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, issued a statement stressing that, actually, there was no evidence to back Schiff’s claims.
That’s when Natasha Bertrand, the dependable Dem dupe who had passed along so many other fake stories for the intel establishment, “reported” in Politico that more than 50 former senior intelligence officials had signed a letter asserting that the laptop “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” The most notable signees were Clapper, a man who ran a domestic surveillance program and then lied about it to Congress, and former CIA director John Brennan, a man who once oversaw an operation of illegal spying on a Senate staffer, and then also lied about it to the American people.
The letter worked exactly as intended. “Look,” Biden said during the last 2020 presidential debate when asked about the laptop, “there are 50 former national intelligence folks who said that what he’s accusing me of is a Russian plan.” On “60 Minutes,” Biden called the story “disinformation from the Russians.” Clapper tells the Washington Post that he had absolutely no idea how the former vice president had framed the contents of the letter — which is, to be generous, implausible nonsense.
If Clapper’s letter was merely a good-faith warning, then why didn’t any of the other signees push back against Biden’s contention during their numerous television appearances? Did none of them watch the presidential debates? Why didn’t Clapper send a follow-up statement clarifying his position after the Politico headline purportedly “distorted” the letter? Did he not see the piece until now — just as Republicans are about to investigate? Why did Clapper never raise any other yellow flags regarding the dozens of fantastical scoops about Russian collusion that dominated the news during the Trump years? (To be fair, it’s probably difficult to warn people about disinformation when you’re also spreading it.)
All the Post’s pedantic “fact check” does is offer the signees, and itself, cover. The Washington Post excuses the media’s (ongoing) suppression of the Hunter Biden story by arguing that the “leak of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta,” which “may have contributed to Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in 2016,” made journalists extra cautious about relaying uncorroborated information. That contention is gravely undercut by the hundreds of pieces and columns the Post ran based on the Democratic oppo research that contained what was almost surely Russian disinformation. Any skeptical journalist would have also immediately identified the letter, and the Bertrand piece, as a nakedly partisan attempt to undermine the legitimacy of a story.
Indeed, the New York Post’s Hunter story had far more substantiation than any of the histrionic Russia-collusion pieces that the public was subjected to during the Trump years. The Post detailed how it came into possession of its evidence. It interviewed the owner of the Delaware computer shop where Hunter had abandoned his laptop. It provided Hunter’s signature on a receipt. The Post had on-the-record sources with intimate knowledge of Hunter’s business dealings. They had on-the-record interviews with people who claimed to have interactions with the presidential candidate — incidents we now know Biden had lied about for years. And later, the emails were authenticated by forensic specialists at other outlets, as well.
Hunter never denied it was his laptop, by the way. Yet virtually the entire censorious journalistic establishment, including The Washington Post, with the help of tech giants and former spooks, limited the story’s exposure by either banning it outright as disinformation, creating the impression that it didn’t meet proper journalistic standards, or implying that it had been planted by Russians. The media wasn’t going to allow another Hillary Clinton-like scandal to sink the prospects of a Democrat. And Clapper played a big part in that deception.