Clapper claims Politico report that intel agents' letter said Hunter Biden laptop story was 'Russian disinfo' was 'deliberately distorted'

"All we were doing was raising a yellow flag that this could be Russian disinformation. Politico deliberately distorted what we said," Clapper now tells the Washington Post.

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY
After the New York Post broke the Hunter Biden laptop story in the weeks before the 2020 presidential election, complete with allegations of influence peddling and shady business dealings, Politico ran a report sourcing "more than 50 former intelligence officials" who "signed a letter casting doubt on the provenance" of the laptop and the story. Now, it's been revealed by the Washington Post that "Politico deliberately distorted" what the letter said. 

"'There was message distortion,' former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. told The Fact Checker in a telephone interview. '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.' He said he was unaware of how Biden described the letter during the debate," Glenn Kessler reports.

Joe Biden had cited the letter during a debate with Donald Trump, saying "Look, there are 50 former national intelligence folks who said that what he's accusing me of is a Russian plan." Trump was incredulous, and it turns out rightfully so. Later, during a 60 Minutes interview, Biden said that "the intelligence community warned the president that Giuliani was being fed disinformation from the Russians." l

Politico's story about the letter was widely used to discredit the findings reported by the New York Post, which was already the target of a campaign by social media companies to suppress, censor and bury their accurate, factual reporting.

Jen Psaki, who would later become Biden's press secretary, latched onto the Politico story to boost her boss. 

The Twitter Files showed that Twitter execs had already been coached by the FBI as to what to do if a "disinformation" campaign was launched regarding, say, a laptop purpotedly from Hunter Biden so that by the time the Post's story dropped, social media companies were ready to censor it, feeling they were doing work in the public interest. The FBI, for their part, knew of the existence of the laptop since 2019. 

At the time, however, Clapper spoke to CNN, saying that the "source" of the information, Giuliani, Steve Bannon, "matters a lot, and the timing matters a lot." He said further that the laptop was "classic, textbook, Soviet Russian tradecraft at work."

"Russians have analyzed the target. They understand that the President and his enablers crave dirt on Vice President Biden, whether it's real or contrived, it doesn't matter to them. And so all of a sudden, two and a half weeks before the election, this laptop appears somehow, and emails on it without any meta data, it's all very curious." 

"To me that's what's at work here," he said. When asked by CNN if he thought the contents of the laptop "could be completely fake," he said "I do." He said the FBI should be able to sort it out, and he had faith that they would, apparently unaware that they had already been in possession of the laptop, and had coached Twitter on how to respond to a disinformation campaign featuring a found Hunter Biden laptop.

The laptop story broke in the New York Post more than a year after the FBI had been made aware of its existence. The owner of the laptop repair shop that came into possession of the laptop, after Hunter Biden dropped it off for repair and then abandoned it, had first contacted the FBI in 2019 when he realized what he had and the significance of that object and its contents. The FBI essentially did nothing with it, but John Paul Mac Isaac had already made a copy of the hard drive.

Trump's DNI John Ratcliffe made a statement on October 19, 2020, saying "Let me be clear: The intelligence community doesn’t believe that, because there is no intelligence that supports that. And we shared no intelligence with Chairman Schiff or any other member of Congress that Hunter Biden’s laptop is part of some Russian disinformation campaign." The Politico story, Kessler reports, was published that night. 

The letter reads, in part: "We want to emphasize that we do not know if the emails, provided to the New York Post by President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, are genuine or not and that we do not have evidence of Russian involvement -- just that our experience makes us deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case." And then the letter goes on to list "a number of factors that make [the undersigned suspicious of Russian involvement."

But there is no smoking gun, and the agents' letter is clear on that. Politico's headline, however, told a different story, and was incredibly definitive: "Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say." Jim Jordan tried to get to the bottom of it in February 2021, after Biden was intalled in the White House, and did not get much response, Kessler reports.

Another signer of the letter, Thomas Fingar, who had been in intelligence at the State Department, said that "No one who has spent time in Washington should be surprised that journalists and politicians willfully or unintentionally misconstrue oral or written statements."

"The statement we signed was carefully written to minimize the likelihood that what was said would be misconstrued, and to provide a clear written record that could be used to identify and disprove distortions," Fingar said.

Politico, however, continues to support their headline, despite Kessler reaching out. They offered this statement: "The article fairly and accurately reported on — and summarized — the intelligence officials’ letter. More specifically, the headline is a fair summary of their allegations, the subhead offers additional context, and the first paragraph of the article hyperlinks to the letter itself, allowing readers to draw their own conclusion." 

Kessler's analysis of the letter states that "the letter refers to a Russian 'information operation' — not disinformation. Within the national security community, there’s a difference."

Clapper said the letter was intended to highlight the possibility that the laptop was a product of a Russian "information operation," but not to say that it specifically was a result of that. "...we had no evidence, no inside baseball that it was," Clapper told Kessler. "The intent of the letter was that this could be Russian disinformation — emphasis on could. It’s a very important nuance … a distinction that people are always ignoring."

Clapper was asked about the Politico headline in 2021 by Jerry Dunleavy of the Washington Examiner, and reportedly never replied.

"The letter does not clearly say the Hunter Biden laptop was a 'Russian disinformation' program," Kessler writes in conclusion, "notwithstanding the Politico headline. In fact, the letter mainly argues that Russia may have had a role in obtaining and disseminating Hunter Biden’s emails — which could mean as little as Russian bots spreading awareness on social media."

Congressman Darrell Issa questions why Clapper would speak up about the laptop now, as does Charlie Kirk.

In the wake of the revelations from the New York Post, which legally obtained the laptop, which was in turn legally obtained, and reported on its contents, a machine of Democrats, social media execs, and mainstream media outlets publicly colluded to discredit the reporting, to boost Joe Biden, and to influence the 2020 presidential election in Biden's favor. 

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