“The Laptop” Is the Functional Equivalent of The Steele Dossier, 1: Rudy Is the Real Scandal

I’m going to explain how The Laptop that Rudy Giuliani floated just before the election is the functional equivalent of the Steele dossier.

Before I do, let me make a fairly obvious (if counterintuitive) point: Of the three people that powerful Ukrainians attempted to cultivate for their ties to the Vice President or President — Paul Manafort, Hunter Biden, and Rudy Giuliani — just one provably affected US policy through the Vice President or President: Rudy.

Contrary to what you may have read, for example, Manafort actually wasn’t the one who prevented the GOP platform from being strengthened to support Ukraine, JD Gordon was (though Trump’s do-not-recall answer about his own involvement can’t rule that out). Mueller’s decision not to prosecute Gordon as an agent of Russia was only recently made public (thanks to the relentless work of Jason Leopold and his lawyer).

And while there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence that Manafort entered into a quid pro quo on August 2, 2016, trading campaign strategy for a commitment to help carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking along with $19 million a financial benefit for Manafort personally, because the investigation into Manafort became public in 2016, his ongoing efforts to push that Russian plan to dismember Ukraine never (as far as has been made public) had the involvement of Trump. It’s possible Trump was involved or Manafort got certain commitments in 2016, but Manafort’s own cover-up prevented DOJ from determining whether or not that was true.

According to the NYT story that has renewed the frenzy around the laptop Rudy Giuliani released just before the election, Federal prosecutors still haven’t determined whether Hunter Biden’s treatment of Chinese, Kazakh, and Ukrainian influence efforts amounted to a crime. But they do have evidence that Hunter Biden tried to be explicit that he could not influence his father to help Burisma.

In one email to Mr. Archer in April 2014, Mr. Biden outlined his vision for working with Burisma. In the email, Hunter Biden indicated that the forthcoming announcement of a trip to Ukraine by Vice President Biden — who is referred to in the email as “my guy,” but not by name — should “be characterized as part of our advice and thinking — but what he will say and do is out of our hands.”

The announcement “could be a really good thing or it could end up creating too great an expectation. We need to temper expectations regarding that visit,” Hunter Biden wrote.

Vice President Biden traveled to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, about a week after the email.

In the same April 2014 email, Hunter Biden indicated that Burisma’s officials “need to know in no uncertain terms that we will not and cannot intervene directly with domestic policymakers, and that we need to abide by FARA and any other U.S. laws in the strictest sense across the board.”

He suggested enlisting the law firm where he worked at the time, Boies Schiller Flexner, to help Burisma through “direct discussions at state, energy and NSC,” referring to two cabinet departments and the National Security Council at the White House.

The firm “can devise a media plan and arrange for legal protections and mitigate U.S. domestic negative press regarding the current leadership if need be,” Mr. Biden wrote in the email.

And sworn testimony from experts in both parties say Hunter did not dissuade his father from taking steps to crack down on corruption.

Of these three well-connected Americans being cultivated by powerful and corrupt Ukrainians — some but not all of them known Russian agents — only Rudy Giuliani is known to have had a direct effect on policy. Among other things, Rudy got Marie Yovanovitch fired. In only Rudy’s case, then, do we have clearcut proof that a Ukrainian influence operation had the desired effect of  changing American policy. Though even there, it’s not yet clear whether Rudy’s unregistered influence peddling was criminal.

(Obviously, Manafort pled guilty to being an unregistered Ukrainian agent during the earlier period, and he got paid orders of magnitude more than Hunter Biden did, too.)

So as we fight about The Laptop again, based on a reference to verified emails in a NYT article bylined by serial Rudy mouthpiece Ken Vogel, the first thing we should keep in mind is that there’s far more evidence that Rudy Giuliani successfully influenced the President or Vice President as a secret agent of Ukraine than Hunter Biden.

51 replies
  1. bcw says:

    A careful reading of the NY Times article seems to say that the Times can show some of the emails are written by Biden but it really doesn’t look like there is anything that is actually new about the laptop. What does “authenticated” mean when they are talking about the emails? The narrowest interpretation is that they have authenticated that the emails they were given came from the laptop. has it been shown that the laptop was actually Hunter Biden’s or only that it has some of Hunter’s emails put on it by somebody which was the case a year ago? What is your view?

    • bmaz says:

      My view is that the “laptop” is exactly like the “dossier”. It is irrelevant overhyped bullshit. What is yours?

      • Charles Wolf says:

        Unfortunately, it reminds me of Anthony Weeny’s laptop which was featured by Comey as part of his effort to get TFG elected.
        (How’d that work out for ya Jim?)

      • Mary says:

        I think the laptop is nothing but a red herring

        [Welcome to emptywheel. Please use a more differentiated username when you comment next as we have several community members named “Mary” or a variant, including a beloved former contributor. Thanks. /~Rayne]

    • Alex says:

      What does “authenticated” mean when they are talking about the emails?

      There’s an anti-spam header where the email provider attaches a digital signature to the email. This effectively attests to the fact the email was sent by the claimed sender, as part of the normal operation of the email provider. (Or it could be that the secret key used to construct the signatures was stolen, or the email provider was somehow suborned to falsely sign the email, but those are relatively unlikely explanations, in the case of Hunter Biden’s emails.)

      There’s an example (and explanation) of the verification here.

  2. WilliamOckham says:

    Side note: Can I get a huzzah, an amen, and three cheers for Jason Leopold?

    I’m trying to decide if former Governor Hair Spray (er… Rick Perry) should be added to your list. I don’t think he’s in Guiliani’s or Manafort’s league. He makes an interesting comparison with Hunter Biden though.

      • BobCon says:

        It’s a really, really sad commentary on the state of the press that he is such an outlier for what he does.

        It’s really bad that the NY Times, NBC, CNN, Washington Post, ABC, and all the rest don’t have a proportional level of dedicated staff doing the same kind of digging. The benefits for both the public and the reputation of the outlet are obvious, but the implications for “quote the unnamed source” reporters are too, and the last thing pseudo savvy reporters want is another reporter sticking too close to the record. They hate the implications that has on the value of their hack jobs.

        • bmaz says:

          I think the others may have significant participation too. It is Jason’s specialty though, and he is quite outstanding at it. There are also a cadre of lawyers supporting all of them.

          • BobCon says:

            The approach at other outlets seems to be on an ad hoc basis, rather than a dedicated beat.

            The Post used to have Walter Pincus who didn’t do FOIA, exactly, but did focus on digging out the details of obscure government reports that shed a lot of light on the nitty gritty details of government. The Habermans pretty clearly think this kind of thing is beneath them.

      • Silly but True says:

        Leopold has been doing the really heavy lifting.

        The Mueller release shows that sometimes a rose is just a rose. JD Gordon is interesting here. He was not traditionally a lobbyist shill, and comes with legitimate US military service at appropriate Navy and Pentagon positions to have generated his own reasoned position.

        Also, Leopold being able to reveal that the only Russian connection that Mueller directly tied was Kisylak’s participation in a long-standing US State Dept. Global Partners in Diplomacy Program (GPD) that generally advocates for softer solutions. We can’t really push for less military solutions then fault participants when they attend to embrace less military solutions. Leopold’s unredactions here generally reflect the Republican platform change was probably more than less innocuous.

        I am actually a bit happy to see a career military hawk who has advised hawkish Republican presidents in the past, including arguably the most hawkish Republican administrations, manage to take a softer position on militarizing the world. It’s one of those small things that sustains my hope.

        • skua says:

          “We can’t really push for less military solutions then fault participants when they attend to embrace less military solutions.”
          Beautifully written.
          And worthy of further consideration.
          Looking at parallel examples to test for whether this reasoning is universally applicable gives such as , “We can’t really push for increased recognition of bodily autonomy and then fault those who reject and ignore mask and vaccination mandates”.
          I’ll leave the good reader to evaluate that example and then the general case and then parse silly but trues’ comment above to see if they remain in agreement with the sentiment expressed.

    • ernesto1581 says:

      If memory is good today, Ukraine awarded a very nice oil and gas exploration deal to several of Rick Perry’s political supporters, an arrangement which was firmed up a little more than a month after Perry attended Zelensky’s inauguration in May 2019. (Perry had gone in lieu of Pence whom Trump had pulled from attending.)
      Two of the four(?) partners were Michael Bleyzer & Alex Cranberg.

      more here involving Perry’s other inappropriate interventions in Ukrainian fossil fuel contracts:


    • Leoghann says:

      Molly Ivins’ name for Rick Perry was Governor Goodhair. Although he somehow managed not to have it become a major part of his reputation, Perry was, and is, “crooked as a dog’s hind leg,” as my father and grandpa used to put it. He’s not a grifter of the Trump-Powell-Manafort mold, but rather a gross misuser of his influence.

      From oil patch scuttlebutt, GG was already aware of possible opportunities with Gazprom in Ukraine before he left the governorship in 2015. It was natural for him to use his new position in the Trump administration to make inroads for him and other like-minded (corrupt) officials.

      The oil and gas production contracts that Ernesto mentions were things that had been in the works for awhile before Zelenskyy took office. That may have been a consolation prize, but considering Gazprom’s Russian ownership, I doubt we’d find out about it if Perry and friends were hip deep in an influence peddling scheme there.

  3. BobCon says:

    I’m still awfully curious whether Vogel is a part of the thousands of messages pulled off of Giuliani’s devices, although I realize we may never know. The Times certainly won’t come clean.

    Although the fact that Vogel is back on the case is just another hint of managerial breakdown at the Times. I suspect there is looming staff unrest there approaching the levels following the Cotton Opinion piece and Bennet’s ouster, and management has decided to side with the reactionaries inside and outside their offices.

  4. Super Nintendo Chalmers says:

    It takes around half a dozen Bob Beamon-esque leaps of logic to believe the 3 laptops Rude-E says are Hunter’s, actually belong to H. Biden.

    1)What are the odds of getting three separate laptops waterlogged at once?

    2)What are the odds of recovering data (not backed up on the iCloud) from a waterlogged laptop. If you’ve ever accidentally jumped in a pool with a phone in your pocket, the chances of data recovery are slim.

    3)Very few people who own 3 laptops and at least one iPhone DON’T have Applecare. Most repairs are free. Going to an unauthorized repair shop voids the warranty.

    4)There are at least a dozen Apple Stores in LA County alone. I doubt Hunter Biden’s instinct was to avoid getting an authorized repair and then deciding to fly 3000 miles away to an unauthorized repair shop.

    5)Again, I doubt his first instinct was to take his 3 laptops to an unauthorized repair shop run by a legally blind man.

    6)Ask yourself if you would not get a receipt and just leave your 3 laptops on faith with some dude.

    7)Repair shop guy has no video or other evidence to prove Hunter Biden left 3 laptops.

    8) Rude-E was approached by the FBI who warned him about avoiding a Russian agent.

    9)No one can account for the chain of custody of the laptops after they allegedly ended up in legally blind dude’s repair shop.

    • Rugger9 says:

      Exactly, but it would seem they resurrected Hunter because the last HRC bashing didn’t go well for the GQP. I did like how HRC ‘honored’ Putin’s compliment of sanctions. She’s got a future in comedy if she gets bored, maybe a show with Franken.

      • Desider says:

        Specifically, she’s the only 1 sanctioned who’s not part of the administration, retired 9 years already, thus the “Lifetime Achievement Award” for former luminaries. Rather clever.

    • skua says:

      Point 1. – I’ve got old laptops stored on top of each other in shelving. If one gets waterlogged chances are good that all three get waterlogged.
      Point 2. Recovering data from waterlogged HDDs is pretty standard practice if you’ve got say $5k -$10k to spend per drive.
      Point 5. The visual accuity of a business proprietor is not going to concern any reasonable person.
      For the rest, yeah, whole scenario seems very unlikely.
      Though if HB’s DNA was found in or on all the laptops in expected places then I’d think again.

      • Sonso says:

        Those ‘shelved’ laptops are probably not in use, and haven’t been for a very long time. Yes, data recover on a HD is expensive, so you’d take it to a verifiably legit data recover company, not some fly-by-night place on the other side of the continent. Additionally, nobody has indicated what mail server/service HB might have been using, so even that’s speculation. Listening to Washington Journal is so infuriating when so many ill-informed, animated, and angry people call in from the RW foaming at the mouth about Hunter Biden, demented Joe, and cackling Kamala. Sheesh.

  5. N.E. Brigand says:

    Since the Steele dossier was mentioned: somebody’s probably asked this here before (I hope it wasn’t me), but:

    Did Christopher Steele tell his friend Ivanka Trump that he was investigating her father?

  6. Michael says:

    Am I missing something? Everyone seems to either assume the laptop is fake but with real emails or that the repairman’s story is true. We know the diary was real but stolen- is there any reason the laptop can’t be real but stolen?

      • The Hang Nail says:

        Who cared when they broke into Watergate to steal files. Stealing private info is a big deal. I thought the right cared about freedom and amendments and all that stuff.

    • Rayne says:

      Marcy likens this to the Steele Dossier but I think it’s more like the “single server” op. Team Trump demanded the DNC’s hacked server should be seized while claiming the hacking was a lie because there were no forensics on a seized server.

      Except there was no “single server.” The demands were all a distraction away from everything Team Trump and Russia was doing. They’ve used this same model again and again — like the so-called audit of AZ voting machines when the real fraud was the false certifications.

      Every time someone asks about the device or repairman they amplify the redirection from the crime, that Rudy Giuliani — an unappointed, unelected, unreported foreign agent — used his access to the White House to manipulate US policy, manipulation which may also have included threats to the health and welfare of an ambassador in order to further extorting performance from Ukraine to help Trump get reelected.

      And the U.S. “paper of record,” The goddamned New York Times, helped Giuliani repeatedly.

      • BobCon says:

        “The goddamned New York Times, helped Giuliani repeatedly.”

        I am at a complete loss what is going on there. I think the failure to oversee Vogel at the editorial level is even worse from a pure management analysis level than Judith Miller.

        Miller was a disaster for the Times, but she at least fulfilled the formal definitions of reporting, even if her end product was inexcusable. She was the equivalent of the embezzelling accountant who filed reports that looked like honest double entry filings.

        Vogel is crooked on the surface. There is no way an editor could see the ways he is pursuing his reporting without seeing from the very beginning that he is both helping very bad people craft their message and helping them get their message into the public sphere, at the very obvious risk to the reputation of the Times.

        Vogel is the equivalent of the gangster who shows up at an accounting firm with a stack of $100s and tells the company to file what he says with the IRS and he’ll make it worth their while.

        His bosses don’t care. It is as if Baquet has told everyone he has word from the C Suite that Vogel is untouchable and anyone who gives Ken a hard time had better answer to him.

        The Times isn’t even bothering to hide their complicity with the reactionaries, and the best comparison I can think of is Nick Clegg selling out the Liberal Democrats to the Cameron and the Tories expecting to be equal partners, only to find out how catastrophic the results turned out to be for everyone, including his own party.

        • MB says:

          And now Nick Clegg has some high-falutin executive position with Meta/Facebook, “President of Global Affairs”…

            • Max404 says:

              So let’s go back to the way that Vogel-bylined NYT article reflated The Laptop story. The passage I quoted says three things:

              Prosecutors have looked at emails in question.
              NYT had obtained emails from what it credulously calls The Laptop.
              The “Laptop” emails were authenticated by “people familiar with them and with the investigation.”
              The source for the first claim is likely someone who was a witness in the DE investigation (and we know that witnesses who have offered up their testimony have been part of the recent Murdoch-driven campaign to reflate it). The second claim is simply NYT’s ham-handed effort to make it clear the emails they received were part of the same campaign as the original NY Post story.

              How about folding the NYPost inside the Times? That works in a pinch.

      • AndTheSlithyToves says:

        It’s a Transnational Crime Syndicate. Baby–and we’re not part of it. ;^)
        As Sarah Kendzior has pointed out repeatedly, The Trump & Co MO has always been to cover up criminality with scandal.
        She has been recently retweeting her earlier questions about the Trump|Gorelick|Garland connections, which are troubling:
        Sarah Kendzior @sarahkendzior | ·Oct 13, 2021
        “After repping BP, Gorelick decided to represent the cities of Chicago and Baltimore against probes into the racist police murders of Laquan McDonald and Freddie Gray, respectively.” —
        “Everyone is entitled to legal representation but there’s a type of lawyer who seeks out the most reprehensible clients. Gorelick is like Alan Dershowitz in this way. That’s because Alan Dershowitz is Gorelick’s mentor.
        “In 2017, Merrick Garland’s mentor Jamie Gorelick became the lawyer for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Gorelick also helped structure Kushner’s financial arrangements, promising divestments that did not happen. She should be subpoenaed for assisting a criminal operation in government, but she won’t be, because her friend and protege is Merrick Garland.”
        Update on 3-18-2022 Jamie Gorelick — lawyer for Jared and Ivanka, mentor to Merrick Garland, and state corruption exemplar — is now guiding the official narrative of the January 6 committee. This is both dangerous and a massive conflict of interest: https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/03/18/jan6-committee-journalists-report-hearings/

        • Bay State Librul says:

          Proposals for The Narrative

          Plan A
          Have Arnold Schwarzenegger do a 15-minute video to the American people explaining 1/6/21
          Plan B
          Have Keith Olbermann do a 10-minute video rant, laced with all the criminal, repulsive, insanities created by the Lie and the Republican Party.
          Plan C – Do both

          • BobCon says:

            I don’t know a lot about Gorelick, but I recall that Victoria Toensing hates her guts, so that’s at least one point in Gorelick’s favor.

            • bmaz says:

              Never been a fan of Gorelick, but that is mostly because of her government work, not private clients. But all real lawyers have some horrible clients, trust me you would cringe at some I have represented. Never lost any sleep over any of them.

              • earlofhuntingdon says:

                My concern with Gorelick is the same that it would have been with John Foster or Allen Dulles: in or out of office, the Dulles bros. acted as if their clients’ and the government’s interests were the same.

  7. Dopey-o says:

    Let me see if I understand this situation. Hunter Biden had 3 Apple laptops that were all simultaneously water-damaged. And the data on these laptops was so important to HB that he took them to a data-recovery service. Getting them to the recovery shop entailed paying several hundred dollars for airfare and spending most of a day on an airplane. With no assurance of success.

    There was mention of an iCloud account. My 2 iPads and 2 MacBooks are all tied to my iCloud account. They sync. I write a document Tuesday on my MacBook, Wednesday I can edit it on my iPad.

    HB could have strolled over to the Apple Store, bought a new / refurbed MacBook, and entered his AppleID and password. A hour later, he would be home with his data synced and recovered.

    3 laptops, 3,000 miles on an airplane? Just doesn’t make sense.

    • bmaz says:

      By the way, thank you for the Dylan thing. Not sure I still have it all exactly right after all these years, but at one point my cousin lived in north Phoenix/Sunnyslope and had an across the back fence neighbor named Bobby. Zimmerman. Yes, it was that one. Nobody knew at the time.

      • Voxxy says:

        His (Dylan’s) brother was my elementary school principal, Mr. ZIimmerman. Gave us a ride home when we missed the bus once too, (but pretty sure nowadays that would not be allowed.) He, Dylan, would come to our school on the hush hush and play for us. Looking back, I wish I understood just how cool those days where he visited us were. I high fived him. Noble Elementary in Minnesota

    • Leoghann says:

      You left out the part about that computer repair shop coincidentally being in Hunter’s father’s home state. Because, as we know, all 40-something men live with their parents.

  8. Zinsky says:

    Hunter Biden’s laptop is the biggest joke of the the long-running Trump circus. It’s “Hillary’s e-mails” 2.0.
    We also have Rudy on tape, pressuring Ukranian officials to open, or at least announce, a bogus investigation into Burisma:


    Igor Novikov, an adviser to President Zelenskyy, is noted as possibly helping the SDNY investigation into Giuliani’s travels abroad. The trouble with Hunter Biden’s laptop is the problem identified by Mark Twain, that a lie can get halfway around the world, before the truth gets its boots on!

  9. Thomas says:

    It’s news to me that Devon Archer has corroborated any of the emails attributed to him and found in the collection of material released to the NY Post by Guiliani.
    As I opined elsewhere, it is possible that both authentic and falsified material was contained in Giuliani’s collection.
    I say this because of the uncanny resemblance of this “laptop material” to the Wikileaks email dumps of Hillary’s emails, which she has always maintained were doctored.
    In Hillary’s case, emails attributed to her were published by Wikileaks putting specific Republican Party political talking points in her mouth, along with authentic emails, which were hacked.

    I have always thought that the Wikileaks 2016 material was hacked by the Russians but curated and doctored by a Republican operative.

    My prime suspect is Ted Malloch, who is the author of the “flashdrive signature” theory, which he published.
    Malloch could have obtained the Russian hack materials from Assange via Nigel Farage on a flashdrive, and then doctored and curated the files with advice from Roger Stone.

    Malloch would thus have a reason to circulate and promote a “flash drive theory” cover story, and Roger Stone did circulate such a story: The Seth Rich conspiracy theory.

    Soon after Malloch published his theory, Roger Stone promoted it on Reddit, and subsequently Sean Hannity spread that disinformation from Sep 2016 to July 2018, and he only stopped when Mueller indicted the Russians for election interference.

    Stone and Hannity used elements of Malloch’s “flashdrive” cover story.

    The laptop seems to have a similar hybrid origin, in that the original material was probably hacked, and then doctored to fit a pre-existing narrative published by Peter Schweizer in Sept 2018 in the book “Secret Empires”

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