The “bombshell” New York Post cover story this week on Joe Biden and alleged secret emails to Ukraine – a tale that has Trumpworld in a tizzy – reads as if it came straight from Russian propaganda playbook 101.
Unsourced, based on unverified emails off a mysterious laptop that was left unclaimed at a Delaware repair shop, the tale repeats a verifiably false charge about Biden’s Ukraine involvement, a charge that has been disproved over and over. This supposed “bombshell’ is so content-free it doesn’t even provide smoke, let alone fire.
What it does do is spread a fake conspiracy theory about Joe and Hunter Biden and Ukraine that has long been promoted by President Trump and his consigliere Rudy Giuliani. It is also promoted by Russian agents and corrupt Ukrainian pols who fed this theory to Giuliani in Kyiv.
U.S. intelligence agencies have said repeatedly in recent months that the Kremlin is directing such influence efforts to aid Trump and hurt Biden.
So this new tale, based on emails of suspicious provenance, could well be another instance of Kremlin election meddling. This is why Twitter’s move to stop the social media spread of these murky emails is entirely understandable. But Trump and Rupert Murdoch have no problem with advancing fake news.
We all recall 2016 when the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee offices and passed the stolen emails to WikiLeaks, which dumped them on the internet. Although these emails contained little of real interest, the Trump team was able to magnify and distort them to smear Hillary Clinton, and they grabbed the attention of the mainstream media. This is exactly what Moscow wanted to happen in 2016, and most probably does now.
No surprise, the current tranche of “secret emails” appears in the tabloid Post, which is owned by Murdoch, whose Fox News acts as a mouthpiece for Trump. Reportedly, the Post learned of the emails’ existence through former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, who obtained them through Giuliani.
Giuliani, you’ll recall, went to Ukraine searching for dirt on Biden and his son Hunter (the same kind of dirt that Trump tried to extract from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the notorious phone shakedown that precipitated impeachment hearings).
Trump’s lawyer cared not who provided the dirt, or whether it was true.
While in Ukraine, Giuliani met with a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor named Viktor Shokin. This prosecutor’s departure was desired by Ukraine’s government, by the U.S. government, by the Europeans, and by international lending agencies, who all wanted him replaced by someone clean.
Joe Biden called openly for Shokin’s ouster – remember, this was U.S. government policy.
But Giuliani, primed by Shokin, claimed that Biden’s demand was made because Shokin was investigating the energy company Burisma, on whose board Hunter Biden sat. This is the total opposite of the truth.
Shokin refused to investigate Burisma, or to turn over potential evidence to a British court that was investigating its co-owner, despite repeated demands from Ukrainian agencies fighting corruption. International lenders – and U.S. government officials – wanted Shokin gone because they were trying to lessen corruption in Kyiv, before lending funds that Ukraine badly needed.
In other words, Giuliani and Trump are pushing a totally false story, portraying Shokin as honest, and ousted by Joe Biden to help Hunter. And the Post story repeats this canard in its lead paragraph.
But Russia, too, was eager to promote the same lie to help Trump.
In a subsequent visit to Kyiv, looking for dirt, Giuliani met with Andriy Derkach, an “active Russian agent,” according to the U.S. Treasury Department. The department sanctioned Derkach last month for waging a “covert influence campaign” to undermine the U.S. presidential election – after Derkach had disseminated false information in an effort to harm Biden.
And what was it that Derkach did? He released heavily edited snippets hacked from recordings of private phone calls between Biden and a former Ukrainian president about firing Shokin. Derkach claimed this illustrated Biden corruption.
You get it. Derkach, a Russian agent, who had attended the KGB’s higher school in Moscow, was pushing Russian disinformation about Biden, based on hacked phone calls. Giuliani, and Trump, gobbled up this disinformation. Trump even retweeted those hacked audiotapes, despite the fact that U.S. intelligence agencies had already labeled them propaganda.
So fast-forward to now, when Murdoch’s New York Post is pushing that same Russian line, drawn from emails that originate who knows where. The emails add nothing to Moscow’s and Trump’s fake claims, but the story repeats the lie that Shokin was fired because he was investigating Burisma.
Twitter, and mainstream media, must indeed handle this story as if it were gelignite, because we have learned from 2016 about the danger of doing the Kremlin’s work for them. This is not a First Amendment question. It is a question of how to handle cyberattacks on our country.
If the New York Post story is a bombshell, that is only because it illustrates that the president and his key backers are willing to help the Kremlin undermine our democracy without qualms.
Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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