Hunter Biden sues laptop repair shop owner, citing invasion of privacy
March 17, 2023 Updated Fri., March 17, 2023 at 7:16 p.m.
Hunter Biden has filed a sweeping countersuit against the computer repair shop owner who said that Biden dropped his laptop off and never claimed it, a legal action that escalates the battle over how provocative data and images of the president’s son were obtained nearly five years ago.
In the counterclaim, filed on Friday morning in U.S. District Court in Delaware, Biden and his attorneys say that John Paul Mac Isaac had no legal right to copy and distribute private information. They accuse him and others of six counts of invasion of privacy, including conspiracy to obtain and distribute the data.
The 42-page filing goes into significant detail on the ways Hunter Biden’s data became public, a development that propelled it into the maelstrom of the last presidential campaign and, since January, to the center of a Republican-led congressional investigation of the president’s son.
The lawsuit could draw further attention to a sordid chapter in Hunter Biden’s life, one involving nude photos, sensitive audio and a trove of personal texts and emails. The countersuit is in part an attempt by Hunter Biden and his lawyers to reframe the story, focusing it on a private citizen whose privacy was allegedly invaded rather than a man who critics say traded on his father’s name and benefited from his political connections.
“As a result of Mac Isaac’s unlawful agreement and his conspiracy with others, Mr. Biden’s personal data was made available to third parties and then ultimately to the public at large, which is highly offensive, causing harm to Mr. Biden and his reputation,” the suit states. “The object of invading Mr. Biden’s privacy and disseminating his data was not for any legitimate purpose but to cause harm and embarrassment to Mr. Biden.”
The move is a response to a suit filed by Mac Isaac himself last year and amended several times since, alleging that Hunter Biden defamed him by saying he had illegally accessed the data – when in fact, Mac Isaac contends, the laptop became his property when it was abandoned in his shop. The repairman’s suit also targeted CNN, Politico, the Biden campaign and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.).
Hunter Biden’s decision to respond with an aggressive legal challenge of his own intensifies the battle with his critics, just as Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, prepares a high-profile investigation into the president’s son. The dynamic could become an awkward distraction for President Biden, who is expected to launch his reelection bid within weeks.
Hunter Biden is seeking a jury trial to determine any compensatory and punitive damages. The suit also asks the court to require Mac Isaac and others to return any copies, or partial copies, of any data belonging to the president’s son.
It marks the first legal filing from Hunter Biden and his attorneys since his laptop emerged as a point of intense interest for the president’s political adversaries, and it reflects a newly aggressive approach by a legal team that Hunter Biden put in place in recent months. That team had previously sent criminal referrals and cease-and-desist missives to various people, but this is the first time the attorneys have formally gone into court.
Still, the legal move required delicate positioning by the president’s son, who has never explicitly confirmed that the laptop was his.
Hunter Biden does not concede in his lawsuit that he dropped off the laptop, received an invoice or neglected to pick it up. In response to such claims by Mac Isaac, the filing states, “Mr. Biden is without knowledge sufficient to admit or deny the allegations.”
But he does acknowledge that some of the data that has been released publicly belongs to him, and concedes that Mac Isaac could have obtained it in April 2019.
“This is not an admission by Mr. Biden that Mac Isaac (or others) in fact possessed any particular laptop containing electronically stored data belonging to Mr. Biden,” the filing says. “Rather, Mr. Biden simply acknowledges that at some point, Mac Isaac obtained electronically stored data, some of which belonged to Mr. Biden.”
Hunter Biden argues that if even Mac Isaac did have his unclaimed laptop, Delaware law would have restricted his ability to access or distribute the data on it.
Mac Isaac and his allies have often pointed to a signed receipt saying that any property not retrieved after 90 days would be forfeited. But Biden’s attorneys say that agreement had flaws.
The boilerplate terms, they say, were contained in small print at the bottom of the page, well below the signature line. Delaware law says that personal property is only deemed abandoned after one year, and that certain steps have to be taken, such as posting public notices asking that the owner retrieve the property.
“And contrary to Mac Isaac’s claim that property left in his shop is abandoned property after 90 days, he admits in his recently published book and in other media appearances that he actually began accessing what he claims he had in his possession as Mr. Biden’s data long before 90 days had expired from when he claims any property or data was left in his shop,” the suit states.
The counterclaim also argues that even if the laptop had been abandoned, that would only give Mac Isaac the right to the equipment, not the data stored on it.
“In fact, the Repair Authorization form states that the Mac Shop will make every effort to ‘secure your data,’” the suit states. “Reputable computer companies and repair people routinely delete personal data contained on devices that are exchanged, left behind, or abandoned. They do not open, copy, and then provide that data to others, as Mac Isaac did here.”
The countersuit also cites Mac Isaac’s statements that he made copies of Biden’s hard drive and distributed them to a number of people, including his father, Richard Mac Isaac, his uncle Ronald J. Scott, Jr., and Robert Costello, an attorney for former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. “Mr. Biden gave none of the individuals identified in this counterclaim permission to access, copy, disseminate, post or otherwise distribute any of his data, however they came into possession of it,” the filing states.
“Mr. Biden had more than a reasonable expectation of privacy that any data that he created or maintained, and especially that which was the most personal such as photographs, videos, interactions with other adults, and communications with his family, would not be accessed, copied, disseminated, or posted on the Internet for others to use against him or his family or for the public to view.”
The data alleged to have come from the laptop has been the subject of intense scrutiny dating from stories that the New York Post published just before the 2020 election. At the time, The Washington Post repeatedly asked Giuliani and Trump ally Stephen K. Bannon for a copy of the data to review, but the requests were rebuffed or ignored.
In June 2021, Jack Maxey, who previously worked as a researcher for Bannon’s “War Room” podcast, delivered to the Post a portable hard drive that he said contained the data. He said he had obtained it from Giuliani.
The Post asked two security experts to examine 217 gigabytes of data on the drive, and they found nearly 22,000 emails carrying cryptographic signatures that could be verified using technology that would be difficult for even the most sophisticated hackers to fake. The vast majority of the data – and most of the nearly 129,000 emails it contained – could not be verified, the security experts said.
Hunter Biden has said previously that he is unsure if the laptop is his and he does not remember dropping it off, but he has conceded that his memory in the depths of what he has admitted was a serious drug addiction was not reliable. His allies also suggest that materials later made public may be a mix of materials obtained in various ways.
The new filing on Friday is the latest evidence that Hunter Biden has adopted a new legal strategy after years of largely keeping quiet about the laptop and the contents it purportedly contained. A few months ago he hired Abbe Lowell, a lawyer known for hard-nosed tactics, and earlier this year Lowell sent a series of blistering letters to state and federal prosecutors urging criminal investigations into those who accessed and disseminated his personal data. His team also sent a separate letter threatening Fox News host Tucker Carlson with a defamation lawsuit.
The higher-profile strategy has not been endorsed by all of those in Hunter Biden’s orbit. Those close to President Biden and the White House, in particular, have made it clear they would prefer a more conservative, quieter approach.
In a separate letter on Friday, Lowell notified the judge that Hunter Biden’s lawyers wanted to meet as soon as possible to discuss a discovery phase in the lawsuit, during which they would seek documents. Lowell said that Hunter Biden’s team would be requesting a deposition from Mac Isaac “as soon as feasible” and that he also planned to seek testimony from a range of others involved in the matter.
They include Bannon, Giuliani and Maxey. The attorneys are also seeking testimony from conservative activist Garrett M. Ziegler, who has uploaded some of the data in his possession, and Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist from whom Hunter Biden sought treatment.
Ablow, who has been close to Republican activist Roger Stone, had one of Hunter Biden’s laptops at his Massachusetts-based office. That laptop was seized by agents who raided Ablow’s office in February 2020, and it was eventually returned to Biden. Some of Hunter Biden’s close associates have theorized that that laptop may have been the basis of the hard drives that were later distributed by Trump allies.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.