Ratcliffe, Schiff battle over Biden emails, politicized intelligence
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) are publicly battling over the emails allegedly recovered from a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, accusing one another of politicizing intelligence.
The two are battling over a controversial report published by the New York Post last week concerning a laptop and emails allegedly sent by Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
The story alleged that then-Vice President Biden participated in a meeting with a top adviser to Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, where his son sat on the board at the time, prompting immediate attacks from President Trump and his allies that Biden is corrupt.
Schiff in a Friday interview with CNN said the “smear” campaign against Biden and his ties to Ukraine originated as part of a Russian disinformation plot more than a year ago, but he did not explicitly link the Kremlin efforts to the Post story.
Ratcliffe, however, sought to claim that Schiff was remarking that the Post story was a result of Russian disinformation, which he says is not supported by intelligence.
“It’s funny that some of the people that complained the most about intelligence being politicized are the ones politicizing intelligence and unfortunately in this case, it is Adam Schiff,” Ratcliffe told Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo, adding that Schiff claimed “Hunter Biden’s laptop and e-mails on it are part of some Russian disinformation campaign.”
“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,” Ratcliffe added.
In response to Ratcliffe’s remarks, Patrick Boland, a spokesman for Schiff, argued that the DNI is “purposefully misrepresenting” the chairman’s words to help Trump. Boland said Schiff stands behind his remarks to CNN.
“We know that this whole smear on Joe Biden comes from the Kremlin. That’s been clear for well over a year now that they’ve been pushing this false narrative about the vice president and his son,” Schiff told anchor Wolf Blitzer.
“Clearly, the origins of this whole smear are from the Kremlin, and the president is only too happy to have Kremlin help and try to amplify it.”
The Post story’s allegations have not been confirmed by other news organizations. Its sources were two allies to the president: Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, and former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon.
The New York Times reported Sunday that the story in the Post was published despite doubts in the newsroom about the article’s credibility and whether they had done enough to verify whether the hard drive’s contents were authentic. The New York Post has stood by its story.
The Biden campaign has denied the report, stating that the vice president’s official schedules from the time show no meeting with the Burisma official.
The FBI reportedly seized Hunter Biden’s laptop and a hard drive last week through a grand jury subpoena. When contacted by The Hill, the FBI declined to comment on the reported investigation, citing its media policy around confirming or denying investigations.
NBC News reported last week that the FBI is investigating whether the alleged emails are linked to a foreign intelligence operation.
Additionally, The Washington Post reported last week that intelligence officials have previously warned that Russian intelligence has made Giuliani a target of an influence campaign, in which he might be used to pass along Kremlin misinformation to Trump.
Part of the sourcing of the story came from Giuliani, who has acknowledged that he has helped bring the details about the laptop emails to light.
The Post report claims the emails were discovered on a laptop left in a Delaware repair shop last April that was never claimed, and that the owner of the shop, who has been identified as Mac Isaac, then decided to access the private material. According to the report, Isaac shared the contents with both the FBI and an associate of Giuliani.
This wouldn’t be the first time Giuliani has been behind pushing allegations about Biden’s ties to Ukraine. Last year, his efforts to dig up damaging information on Biden and his ties to Ukraine helped spark the House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s contacts with Kyiv.
Ratcliffe and Schiff’s back-and-forth comes amid warnings from intelligence officials that Russia is again seeking to interfere in the 2020 election by seeking to “denigrate” Biden.
The IC overwhelmingly concluded that Russia, through sophisticated disinformation campaigns on social media and cyberattacks, sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in an attempt to help Trump and hurt his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“The new wave of attacks we are seeing on Vice President Biden are consistent with the false and unsubstantiated narratives that the President, his personal lawyer, and a sanctioned Russian agent have been pushing for well over a year,” Boland, the Schiff spokesman, said in a statement Monday.
“They appear intended to distract from recent reports that the White House, as early as December 2019, was made aware that Rudy Giuliani was being leveraged by Russian proxies as part of Kremlin efforts to interfere in our election,” he added.
Clinton Watts, a disinformation expert and research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said in an interview with The Hill last week that there is a “high” likelihood that the information is part of a disinformation operation.
“I think we won’t know before the election and that’s my worry,” Watts said. “I don’t know that you could ever know where this came from, potentially.”
Thomas Rid, an information security expert and professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, also told The Hill that there is a “significant likelihood” — more than 50 percent — that the laptop is part of an information operation from Russia or another foreign nation.
Rid also said it was possible the emails allegedly on the laptop were forgeries, but said the formatting in the Post article makes it impossible to know for sure. He said the source of the information appeared to be deliberately trying to obscure the original file format and the metadata, which makes it more difficult to investigate the email. He said it was impossible to know the real time stamps for the email, for instance.
“The way these emails are released into the public makes it hard to do follow-on investigations, and that is just adding to the suspicion,” Rid added.
Morgan Chalfant contributed to this story.