The Post-Indictment Hunter Biden Warrant Included the Laptop

The Delaware District Court has started unsealing the dockets Judge Maryellen Noreika ordered unsealed last week.

Remember how I said that getting a new warrant to parallel construct evidence already obtained wouldn’t cause a problem, but misleading a judge might?

Well, this is the kind of thing that might cause a problem.

Here’s how Derek Hines described the post-indictment warrant.

In August 2019, IRS and FBI investigators obtained a search warrant for tax violations for the defendant’s Apple iCloud account. 2 In response to that warrant, in September 2019, Apple produced backups of data from various of the defendant’s electronic devices that he had backed up to his iCloud account. 3 Investigators also later came into possession of the defendant’s Apple MacBook Pro, which he had left at a computer store. A search warrant was also obtained for his laptop and the results of the search were largely duplicative of information investigators had already obtained from Apple. 4 Law enforcement also later obtained a search warrant to search the defendant’s electronic evidence for evidence of federal firearms violations and to seize such data. 5

2 District of Delaware Case No. 19-234M and a follow up search warrant, District of Delaware Case Number 20-165M.

3 The electronic evidence referenced in this section was produced to the defendant in discovery in advance of the deadline to file motions.

4 District of Delaware Case No. 19-309M

5 District of Delaware Case No. 23-507M. [my emphasis]

That led me to believe that the warrant targeted only Hunter’s iCloud content.

It was broader than that. It also targeted the laptop itself.

Here are the RECAP links to the dockets that will, eventually, include the warrants.

August 29, 2019: Original iCloud warrant; warrant return

December 13, 2019: Original laptop warrant; warrant return

July 10, 2020 iCloud warrant; warrant return

December 4, 2023: Post-indictment warrant; warrant return (less attachments)


Oh. Here’s the search warrant return for the warrant obtained in December.

The FBI Agent didn’t sign the search warrant return until … oh! Today!

38 replies
  1. Badger Robert says:

    It appears to be the basis for a motion to suppress. That would be an easy way for the court to get rid of the evidence and the case, on the weapon charge. Today’s posts fit together nicely.

    • emptywheel says:

      I think it was an attempt to AVOID a motion to suppress.

      I think it’ll make Lowell’s bid for discovery far stronger.

      We shall see. His replies are due tomorrow.

      • Rugger_9 says:

        Even if Lowell doesn’t succeed in his MTS or MTD, something like this in front of a jury doesn’t play well even if is generally permitted prosecutorial dickishness. I also have to wonder Ziegler (not Garrett) and Shapley will feel now that Littlejohn got five years for unauthorized release of tax info. How big a pretzel will be needed to logically explain HB’s info being released when they had the data, without being criminally liable?

          • Rugger_9 says:

            I’d expect they will, so in that event how useful could they possibly be to SC Weiss and how much of a case remains once Lowell gets to slice them up in cross?

            • CaptainCondorcet says:

              There is an assumption in there that SC Weiss and his masters evaluate “usefulness” based on whether there is an increase in the likelihood of successful prosecution.

              But if we accept (and I personally do) Dr. Wheeler’s continued argument that the SC was likely pressured into a doomed prosecution only for political points, then in fact their use is based on the number of “points” they generate. And the potential future legal troubles of Ziegler and Shapley will allow for deceptively incomplete articles geared towards the frothy right about the Justice Department hunting down and punishing people who exposed Biden corruption. So they may even be MORE useful to Trump now that they could have criminal liability from the leak, an opinion that may not make them feel much better.

      • Badger Robert says:

        True. And we can anticipate attorney Lowell preserving his issues for an appeal, if his client ever needs an appeal.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          Unlike certain Trump attorneys, who reportedly failed to preserve issues for appeal in the E. Jean Carroll case that just ended–before shouting at reporters that Trump would appeal.

  2. Harry Eagar says:

    As a former newspaperman, I have to say that it is a shame and a scandal that other reporters and editors are not piggybacking these reports.

    Some of the exposes from Professor Wheeler seem almost impossible to repackage as something most readers can follow. But this one would be easy.

    • emptywheel says:

      To be honest, since it’s not yet clear WHAT THIS MEANS, other outlets may be waiting. And also few people understand how warrants work, sadly.

      Abbe Lowell has replies due tomorrow so maybe we’ll learn his view of what it means.

      • Shadowalker says:

        They could be disinterested for the simple reason that it doesn’t fit the narrative they’ve been pushing. After all how long did it take the New York Times to finally admit that it was blatantly wrong about facts surrounding the Kitty Genovese murder in 1964?

        • Harry Eagar says:

          The Times isn’t the only paper. A better example would be the failure of all papers to pick up on hunter Thompson’s coverage of the Nixon campaign in ’72. They just couldn’t believe their own eyes.

          I don’t think any newspaper except the Epoch Times has a staff unwilling to accept, at least in principle, that trump is a bad guy.

  3. kpavlovic says:

    OT, but ACYN and Katie Phang are reporting that the House has been served with a grand jury subpoena.

    • CaptainCondorcet says:

      Several different outlets are reporting it’s a Democratic member of the House under investigation for misuse of funds. Taken with Littlejohn’s sentencing and it sure looks like there is a lot of intentional effort to demonstrate “impartiality”. Perhaps in the run-up to SCOTUS review of a number of critical cases?

    • Beverley54 says:

      It is the Sergeant at Arms’ office that was served a subpoena. This from Newsweek:

      “House of Representatives Sergeant at Arms William McFarland announced his office was served a grand jury subpoena by the Department of Justice (DOJ), sparking a wave of theories on social media on Monday afternoon.”

    • punaise says:

      Is that the same subpoena that someone at DKos is convinced relates to J6?

      Since the subpoena sought documents specifically from the Sergeant at Arms, one’s best guess is that the matter has to do with House members who were involved in the insurrection. (9 GOP House members asked Trump for pardons, 8 won reelection).

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      No. This is cleanup on Aisle 9 quite some time after the spills, which means someone may still slip and fall because of them.

      • zscoreUSA says:

        The 20-mj-165 warrant return:

        Date and time warrant executed: 7/11/20 @ 9am
        Inventory made in the presence of: Robert Gearhart IRS-CI Special Agent

        At the bottom, signed 11/20/20 by Joseph A Ziegler, Special Agent

        • zscoreUSA says:

          Also, the 19-mj-234 warrant was executed 8/30/19 at 7-21am, inventory in presence of same IRS-CI, and signed 12/5/19 by Ziegler.

          The follow-up warrant 20-mj-165 from July 2020 describes the data received from Apple on the first warrant on 9/25/19.

          I have no idea what is normal and what is not. It seems weird that documents are signed months later.

          • emptywheel says:

            Neither of those is normal.
            The 2020 warrant may reflect DOJ holding on it on account of the election.
            The 2019 content is far more interesting. Note there’s an opinion on that one. It’s possible the Magistrate denied that warrant, and they appealed it.

            • zscoreUSA says:

              If everything remains non public under seal why is the election a factor? Does anyone besides investigators and the judge see the warrant return? Does the target get notified? Do the 8/24/20 motion and order for “Renewal of Application For Non Disclosure of Search Warrant by USA as to Sealed Email Address” factor into this timing?

              What is the purpose of the signature? To tell the judge that the warrant was satisfied? Do agents wait for their inbox to pile up then take a stack of returns at once to the judge? Do targets get notified that their digital material was seized in a warrant?

  4. Tech Support says:

    I think the half-assedness lends credence to the parallel construction hypothesis. This has got a real “only doing this because they make me” vibe.

  5. zscoreUSA says:

    On the August 2019 warrant:

    What is the significance of the 18 U.S.C. § 2703(f) requests made on 4/11/19 and 7/11/19? Timing is interesting of course.

    For the time period January 2014 to present to the extent that the information described in Attachment A is within the possession, custody, or control of the Provider, regardless of whether such information is stored, held or maintained inside or outside of the United States, and including any emails, records, files, logs, or information that has been deleted but is still available to the Provider, or has been preserved pursuant to requests made under 18 U.S.C. § 2703(f) on or about April 11, 2019 and on or about July 11, 2019, the Provider is required to disclose the following information to the government for each account or identifier listed in Attachment A:

    • emptywheel says:

      That’s one of the things that IS totally normal.
      It is very easy to get data preserved until such time as you’re ready to serve a warrant. They did that twice, possibly for two separate prongs of the investigation (remember, we’re seeing just the tax side, and there is at least a FARA side).

      Just as an example, Mueller preserved all the content Microsoft had for Trump Org emails in summer 2017, then served the first warrant for that stuff (targeting Michael Cohen) in later summer.

      As you likely know, the April 11 is when Ziegler first submitted the package to DOJ Tax.

  6. Corey_24MAR2020_1933h says:

    Can we get a little more on why that screengrab may be a problem?

    I can follow complex topics but I have no context for assessing anything.

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the SAME username and email address each time you comment so that community members get to know you. Your last comment was published as “Corey Hammer” which complies with the site username standard. Thanks. /~Rayne]

  7. Thomas A. Fine says:

    The DOJ statement casually claims it was “his laptop” (twice counting how they worded the previous sentence). Is that sort of casual reference important for Hunter’s lawyers to disclaim? Or it doesn’t matter at this point and they don’t want to show their defense cards?

    Some news outlets picked up on this and ran stories claiming “the laptop is real” again.


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