Rudy’s Very Bad Week

Three things happened with Rudy Giuliani’s legal woes this week that could have larger repercussions.

As the Philly Inquirer reported, Bruce Castor, the sole noticed attorney in one of the voter fraud lawsuits against Rudy from 2020, asked to be relieved. The Inky lays out how people close to Trump asked Castor to sponsor Joseph Sibley Pro Hac Vice into Philadelphia, only to have Sibley refuse to sign something and then back out of the case, leaving Castor holding the bag. Castor complains that he hasn’t gotten paid and hasn’t gotten Rudy to cooperate at all on discovery.

But a more interesting detail may be that some unnamed lawyer recently contacted Castor to inform him he would pay for the representation, but would do nothing to secure cooperation from Rudy.

23. A lawyer, previously unknown to Petitioner, wrote to Petitioner portraying that he represented Mr. Giuliani, and Petitioner immediately inquired in a response writing when this lawyer would be assuming responsibility for defending the present case.

24. Instead, the lawyer wrote Petitioner that he would be coordinating funding for Defendants, that payment would be forthcoming, but that Defendants expected Petitioner to conduct their defense.


26. Petitioner advised the lawyer, who contacted him to relate that funding for the Defendants was forthcoming, of the motion to compel discovery, and pleaded with him to solicit substantive cooperation from Defendants (since this lawyer evidently was in contact with Defendants), in addition to simply the payment of Petitioners’ fees. Petitioner also continued to contact Defendants directly to keep them informed of developments, such as the motion to compel, further demands for payment of the retainer, and to seek cooperation in the discovery process. Petitioner unequivocally threatened both the newly revealed lawyer who was promising funding, and Defendants that he would file the instant motion to withdraw if Defendants failed to comply with Petitioner’s demands by a certain deadline.  [emphasis original]

This is a plea by Castor not to have to represent an uncooperative defendant for free. But it also reads like a plea by Castor not to force him to risk his legal reputation in a situation where shady lawyers call up out of the blue and promise to pay respectable lawyers to stall a case.

Sibley, the guy who was supposed to represent this case in Philly and who also represented Christina Bobb before the January 6 Committee, remains Rudy’s lawyer of record in Ruby Freeman’s lawsuit in DC, which I wrote about here. Depending on your vantage point, it either seems that Sibley is having as much trouble as Castor is getting Rudy’s cooperation, or that the lawyer has successfully stonewalled discovery so as to avoid increasing Rudy’s criminal liability.

I should say, had successfully stonewalled.

Yesterday, Judge Beryl Howell issued an order requiring certain cooperation from Rudy, including that he list all his devices, social media accounts, and financial assets on which he allegedly defamed Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss, with deadlines attached.

MINUTE ORDER (paperless): Upon consideration of plaintiffs’ [44] Motion to Compel Discovery, For Attorneys’ Fees and Costs, and For Sanctions (“Motion”), defendant’s [51] Response to Plaintiffs’ Motion to Compel, plaintiffs’ [56] Reply in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion, and the parties’ representations to the Court in the proceedings held on May 19, 2023 regarding plaintiffs’ Motion, GRANTING plaintiffs’ Motion in part, and RERSERVING [sic] ruling in part.

Specifically, plaintiffs’ Motion is GRANTED as follows:

1) by May 30, 2023, defendant Rudolph W. Giuliani shall file a declaration, subject to penalty of perjury, that details:

a) All efforts taken to preserve, collect, and search potentially responsive data and locations that may contain responsive materials to all of plaintiffs’ Requests for Production (RFP);

b) A complete list of all “locations and data” that defendant used to communicate about any materials responsive to any of Plaintiffs’ RFPs (including, but not limited to, specific email accounts, text messaging platforms, other messaging applications, social media, devices, hardware, and any form of communication);

c) The specific “data” located in the TrustPoint database, including–

i) a list identifying the source devices from which the data was extracted or obtained;

ii) for each such device, the type of device (i.e., iPhone, Macbook, laptop, iPad, etc.) and user, if known;

iii) a list identifying any social media accounts, messaging applications, and email accounts from which the data was extracted or obtained; and

iv) for each such account and application, the account name and user; and

d) What searches, if any, have occurred as to both categories (b) and (c), see Plaintiffs’ [44-16] Proposed Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion; and

2) By May 30, 2023, in order to evaluate defendant’s claim of an inability to afford the cost of access to, and search of, the TrustPoint dataset or to use a professional vendor, either to access the original electronic devices seized from defendant by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in April 2021 and returned to defendant, or, alternatively, to conduct a search of the archived TrustPoint dataset, defendant is DIRECTED to produce to plaintiffs:

a) full and complete responses to plaintiffs’ requests for financial information in RFP Nos. 40 and 41; and

b) documentation to support his estimated costs for further searches on the TrustPoint dataset.

3) By June 16, 2023, plaintiffs are DIRECTED to submit to the Court an assessment of defendant’s ability to bear the cost of further searches, along with any response to defendant’s submission required under paragraph 1, above; and

4) By June 30, 2023, defendant shall file any response to plaintiffs’ submission required under paragraph 3, above.

The Court RESERVES ruling on the remainder of plaintiffs’ relief, pending the parties’ compliance with directions set out in paragraphs 1) through 4), above. Signed by Judge Beryl A. Howell on May 19, 2023.

In two weeks, if and when Rudy continues to stonewall, then Judge Howell will start imposing penalties on him.

The 3-hour hearing that led to this order was as interesting for the insane comments Rudy made outside the courthouse as anything else. The guy who helped Trump attempt a coup complained that he is being persecuted by fascists. And he claimed that he faces no legal risk from either the Jack Smith investigation or the Fani Willis one, in the latter of which he was already specifically named as a target.

Outside the courthouse following the hearing, Giuliani said he hadn’t received any communication from Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office and wasn’t worried about federal charges since he cooperated with investigators immediately after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

Asked if he had any pending federal grand jury subpoenas, he replied, “not that I know of.”

Regarding a separate probe into efforts by former President Donald Trump and allies to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results by the Fulton County district attorney’s office, Giuliani said he wasn’t worried because he was serving as an attorney at the time. Last summer, his lawyer confirmed that they’d received notice Giuliani was a target of that probe.

He said on Friday that he hadn’t heard anything from that office since he appeared before a special investigative grand jury in August 2022; District Attorney Fani Willis recently indicated that charges could come later this summer.

Sure, Pops. A judge found crime-fraud exception over a year ago, and you’re in no danger because you’re a lawyer.

Side note: I find it interesting that Robert Costello, who represented Rudy in the Ukraine investigation and before the January 6 Committee and who was involved in the “Hunter Biden” “laptop” caper, has not sued Rudy for payment. He did sue Bannon, for what must be far less unpaid work. Maybe some shady lawyer showed up and found a way to pay Costello too?

Finally, against the background of 1) the lawsuits that Rudy appears to be attempting to stonewall for free, 2) the twin criminal investigations that are expected to start issuing indictments no later than August, and 3) Trump’s attempt to win the presidency again, a former Rudy associate, Noelle Dunphy, filed a lawsuit against Rudy for sexual assault and harassment and unpaid labor going back to 2019.

This lawsuit is — and it is designed to be — eye-popping, alleging lots of drunken coerced sex, some bigotry and kink caught on tape, as well as allegations that implicate Trump just in time for campaign season.

Just as one example, Dunphy makes an allegation that exactly matches a John Kiriakou claim about Rudy selling pardons for $2 million, but unlike some of her other allegations, she doesn’t claim to have proof.

132. He also asked Ms. Dunphy if she knew anyone in need of a pardon, telling her that he was selling pardons for $2 million, which he and President Trump would split. He told Ms. Dunphy that she could refer individuals seeking pardons to him, so long as they did not go through “the normal channels” of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, because correspondence going to that office would be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

And the allegation is not tied, in any way, to the complaints in the lawsuit. But it is one thing that has ensured the lawsuit will attract a lot of attention.

I’m sure many of the claims made in this suit are true, but packaged up as it is, it feels too convenient, just like the “Hunter Biden” “laptop.”

What makes that analogy even more apt, in my own humble opinion, is that the period during which Dunphy most credibly claims to have had damaging contact with Rudy largely overlaps with the period in which Rudy was hunting dirt in Ukraine to help Trump win the presidency, from January 21 through November 2019. She claims to have reviewed his interview with Viktor Shokin as well as his plan to accuse Marie Yovanovitch of corruption. Throughout that period, she claims have been involved in the shady pitches he received. One of those pitches — one she recorded! — involved a $72 billion gas deal in China.

See what I mean about how it feels like the “Hunter Biden” “laptop”?

Meanwhile, she suggests she’s a first-hand witness to matters that were part of the Ukraine investigation into Rudy, and that Rudy coached her to obstruct justice. She says she and Rudy discussed whether he had an obligation to register under FARA — and as proof, she included a photo from a February 9, 2019 meeting with Lev Parnas.

A week later, she claims, after reviewing the emails he had exchanged with various Ukrainian officials, she offered to file a FARA registration for Rudy, but he declined because, he said, he had immunity.

Perhaps most incredible, she claimed that in June and July of 2019, the guy who had just spent a year helping Trump dodge obstruction of justice charges, “asked Ms. Dunphy for help Googling information about obstruction of justice, among other topics.” I don’t doubt that that search exists in her Google account, but I do question whether it got there in the way she describes.

That same period, she claims, is when he first instructed her not to talk to the FBI about him — at a time when the investigation into Parnas and Igor Fruman was not yet public.

Dunphy claims that on October 22, 2019 — after the arrest of Parnas and Fruman but at a time when (at least according to SDNY’s subsequent claims) the investigation into Rudy was not overt — the FBI called and asked for an interview.

209. On October 22, 2019, Ms. Dunphy received a voicemail from the FBI regarding an investigation they were conducting into Giuliani. The FBI was apparently aware that she was working for Giuliani and sought to interview her. The FBI was clear that Ms. Dunphy was considered a witness and was not a target of the investigation.

Nowhere in this 70-page lawsuit does Dunphy say whether she ever was interviewed about all the things she witnessed firsthand when Rudy was soliciting dirt from Ukraine. She does say that within a month, on a day when the FBI showed up in person seeking an interview, Rudy promised to put her on his payroll, seemingly tying that payment to her willingness to claim she didn’t know who he was.

210. On November 19, 2019, Ms. Dunphy went to Giuliani’s home office, and they spoke. Giuliani promised Ms. Dunphy that he would officially put Ms. Dunphy on the books and would “straighten it [i.e., her employment situation] out.” Giuliani and Ms. Dunphy discussed Giuliani’s increasing legal concerns, including his fear that Lev Parnas was “turning on him” in connection with the FBI investigation. Ms. Dunphy told him that the FBI had come to her family’s home in Florida that day seeking to question her. Giuliani informed Ms. Dunphy that his friend and private detective, Bo Dietl, had already told him the specific FBI agents who were involved. Ms. Dunphy was concerned that Giuliani was apparently so powerful that his investigators had secret information, including the names of the FBI agents who had just appeared at her family’s Florida home. Giuliani demanded that Ms. Dunphy not talk to or cooperate with the FBI. Giuliani told Ms. Dunphy that they are all “after him” and that one or two of them are “going to get totally destroyed.” This situation made Ms. Dunphy confused and fearful, and added another layer of tension to a work environment that was already outrageously hostile.13

13 From this point on, Giuliani often spoke to Ms. Dunphy about he FBI’s investigation of him, and Ms. Dunphy understood that participating in these discussions was part of her work for him. He told her that if the FBI sought to interview her, she should “not remember” anything, and should claim that she did not know Giuliani. Ms. Dunphy refused to agree to lie to the FBI, which angered Giuliani.

It’s certainly possible that Bill Barr’s very active obstruction of the investigation at that point — an effort to stave off impeachment, though Dunphy doesn’t mention impeachment — led the FBI to decide not to interview her. But that wouldn’t explain why the FBI wouldn’t interview her in 2021, when the investigation did become overt.

At one level, this lawsuit seems more like an offer to testify to the FBI at a time (have I mentioned there’s an election coming up?) when the statutes of limitation still have a year before they expire.

At another, it’s an implicit threat.

Close to the beginning of the lawsuit, Dunphy reveals that — whether because he thought it’d be a good idea or because he got really drunk and did something stupid — Rudy accessed his work email account from her computer, giving her access to a his email correspondence with a whole lot of corrupt people.

93. Therefore, Giuliani added one of his work email accounts into Ms. Dunphy’s email program on her computer, typing his password onto her computer.

94. Once Giuliani’s email account was loaded onto Ms. Dunphy’s computer, at least 23,000 emails associated with the account, including many from before her employment with Giuliani, were stored on her computer.

95. Since Giuliani gave Ms. Dunphy access to his email account, she had access to information that was, upon information and belief, privileged, confidential, and highly sensitive.

96. For example, Ms. Dunphy was given access to emails from, to, or concerning President Trump, the Trump family (including emails from Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump), Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, former FBI director Louis Freeh, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow, Secretaries of State, former aides to President Trump such as Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, and Kellyanne Conway, former Attorneys General Michael Mukasey and Jeff Sessions, media figures such as Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson, and other notable figures including Newt Gingrich, presidential candidates for Ukraine, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the Ailes family, the LeFrak family, Bernard Kerik, Igor Fruman, Lev Parnas, and attorneys Marc Mukasey, Robert Costello, Victoria Toensing, Fred Fielding, and Joe DeGenova.

97. Ms. Dunphy understood that she was given access to these emails because she was employed by Giuliani and the Giuliani Companies. Indeed, although Giuliani and his surrogates have argued that Ms. Dunphy was not an employee of Giuliani or the Giuliani Companies, it is impossible to understand Giuliani’s decision to give Ms. Dunphy complete access to (and copies of) these sensitive emails in any other context.

98. As a lawyer, Giuliani sent and received emails containing privileged information that could not legally be shared with Ms. Dunphy if she were not an employee or consultant. Likewise, Giuliani’s business often involved highly confidential information, and upon information and belief, there were confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements governing access to some of this information. Upon information and belief, those agreements barred Giuliani from sharing covered confidential information with someone who was not an employee or consultant.

99. Giuliani never asked Ms. Dunphy to sign a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement.

Dunphy suggests she continued to have access to Rudy’s emails and his social media accounts — the very same social media accounts he is trying to hide from Ruby Freeman — through January 31, 2021.

And, as she notes, Rudy never asked Dunphy to sign a non-disclosure agreement about all this.

The FBI may be seeking this information. Several plaintiffs, including Freeman, definitely are (Dunphy also helpfully includes a summary of the property he owns, including five homes). And nothing prevents her from sharing it with them unless Rudy retroactively claims she was an employee, covered by non-disclosure obligations, through this entire period, with the $2 million payment she claims he promised her to go along with that nondisclosure agreement.

Not just Rudy — but also the entire Trump family (have I mentioned there’s an election coming up?), Rupert Murdoch and some of his star current and former employees, as well as a bunch of lawyers who’ve been involved in some shady shit — all of them have an incentive to retroactively make her status as an employee official, so that she won’t release these communications.

Many of these very same emails would have been unavailable to the FBI under a privilege claim, but unless Dunphy is an employee, then she can hand them over because Rudy waived privilege over them. I can’t decide whether I’m more interested in seeing the emails that might show Jay Sekulow alerted Trump to the false claims that were made on his behalf during the Russian investigation, or the ones that show Hannity was about to board a plane to meet with a mobbed up Russian asset in support of Trump’s 2020 election bid. But if I know of specific emails I’d like to see, then the people named in paragraph 96 surely do as well.

And that, I think, is the point — perhaps a bid to invite some unnamed lawyer to call her, too, to say he can fund certain things.

But such an unnamed lawyer will need to get there before Ruby Freeman does.

Rudy Giuliani Claims He’s Shooting Blank Documents

Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss have, as Beryl Howell invited them to do, moved to compel Rudy Giuliani to comply with discovery in their defamation lawsuit. The two 2020 Georgia election workers sued for the damage caused by the lynch mob Rudy summoned by falsely claiming they were attempting to steal votes after he saw a video showing Moss passing her mother a ginger mint.

The motion and all its exhibits are here.

What seems to be happening is that Rudy, having had his phones seized in 2021 and successfully avoided — thus far — charges for his Ukraine influence-peddling, is deliberately slow-walking discovery here to avoid identifying any devices or records that prosecutors can use in that investigation, the Georgia investigation, or Jack Smith’s January 6 one, all while sustaining a story that is already starting to fall apart.

As described in the motion to compel, Rudy’s non-compliance has included:

  • Refusing to turn over any phone or financial records
  • Refusing to explain what accounts and devices he has included in his searches
  • Failing to search for texts and messaging apps from the phones seized in 2021
  • Providing discovery based on much earlier requests from the January 6 Committee and Dominion’s lawsuit against him, rather than the requests from Freeman’s lawyers
  • Providing documents on Hunter Biden along with one Pentagon City Costco receipt
  • Others — like Bernie Kerik and Christina Bobb — similarly refusing to comply
  • Claiming, then disclaiming, reliance on “unknown GOP operatives” for the false claims made about Freeman
  • Refusing to describe how he became aware of the surveillance footage on which he based his false claims about Freeman and Moss

As a reminder, back on April 21, 2021, DOJ obtained a warrant for around 18 of Rudy’s phones in conjunction with the investigation into Rudy’s Ukrainian influence peddling that Bill Barr had successfully obstructed. By September of that year, DOJ had convinced Judge Paul Oetken to have Special Master Barbara Jones to review all the contents on his phones, not just that pertaining to the Ukraine warrants. Since then, I’ve been arguing that DOJ could — and at this point, almost certainly has — obtained that content for use in the January 6 investigation.

Dominion sued Rudy back in 2021. The January 6 Committee subpoenaed Rudy in January 2022 and interviewed him in May 2022. Those are the discovery requests on which Rudy is attempting to rely in this suit, rather than doing searches specific to the requests made by Freeman’s lawyers.

But after May 2022, Rudy’s exposure in Georgia went up. In addition to Freeman’s lawyers filing their amended complaint on May 10, 2022, Fani Willis convened her grand jury on May 2, 2022, subpoenaed Rudy to testify in June 2022, and he testified in August. It is virtually certain that Rudy gave answers to Willis — at the very least, about what he knew of Trump’s call to Brad Raffensperger on January 2 — that subsequent testimony has since disputed and on which topic he has since amended his interrogatory response.

The materials in this motion reveal that Rudy’s lawyer in this matter (Joe Sibley — who represented Christina Bobb in a J6C deposition that conflicts with Rudy’s answers here, though Robert Costello was present for Rudy’s March deposition) at first promised thousands of documents to Freeman’s lawyers, while claiming that most documents would be unavailable because of the Special Master process tied to the Ukraine investigation. Last July 12, Rudy provided 1,269 documents he had also turned over to Dominion’s much earlier request, which Freeman’s lawyers describe as, “his first and only substantial document production to date.”

Then, on August 3, Robert Costello made a showy announcement that SDNY had ended the Special Master process, which is not the same thing as getting a letter that he’s not a subject of that investigation anymore. Shortly thereafter, Freeman’s attorneys pointed out that the excuse Rudy had been using to limit his discovery in this case was no longer operative. He had the phones that — he claimed — included all his communications from the period during which he had started the conspiracy theories about Freeman.

After that showy announcement from Costello on August 3, things changed dramatically. In September, Sibley told Freeman’s lawyers there were 18,000 documents relevant to discovery in the materials seized from his phone. A month later, he said there were 400. In October, Rudy turned over 177 of those documents, 51 of which were blank. Since then, Sibley seems to have provided answer after answer that amounted to throwing up his hands when describing the state of Rudy’s discovery.

Rudy is quite literally attempting to claim he can only shoot blank documents in hopes of getting through this discovery process.

In his March 2023 deposition, Rudy claimed that the physical phones returned by SDNY — which he says only happened in August — were “wiped out.” What actually seems to have happened is that he hasn’t figured out how to access the content saved to the cloud by discovery vendor TrustPoint, and may not have tried to access the phones themselves, which I believe Costello had publicly claimed to have been returned earlier last year.

But far and away the best way to understand his answers are that, first of all, he and Bobb gave materially inconsistent answers while being represented by Sibley, most notably on the topic of whether they participated in the Brad Raffensperger call, which Bobb said they did and Rudy originally claimed — and presumably claimed to Fani Willis’ grand jury — that they had not.

Just as importantly, Rudy may be aware of both messaging apps and phone accounts that he’s not certain prosecutors in SDNY, Georgia, or DC have identified, so he’s refusing to be forthcoming about all the devices and phone accounts he used. There are probably communications from his phones that Costello successfully claimed were privileged during the SDNY Special Master process, which would be obviously crime-fraud excepted in any proceeding before someone who knows the January 6 investigation well. Prosecutors in both SDNY and DC will be able to tell after a quick review of exhibits included with this motion to compel whether Rudy’s claims about the status of the phone content from TrustPoint are accurate.

And therein lies the risk of the game that Rudy is playing.

This would be an obviously bullshit response before any judge, including Carl Nichols (who is presiding over the much more leisurely Dominion suit against Rudy).

But by luck of the draw, he’s attempting this stunt before Beryl Howell, who even on good days does not suffer fools at all, much less gladly, and who until just a month ago was the Chief Judge presiding over all the grand jury proceedings in DC, including the January 6 investigation. She’s one of just two or three judges who knows whether DOJ asked for and obtained a warrant to get the stuff from Rudy’s phones in SDNY. If they did (and I’d bet a very good deal of money they did), she would have seen an affidavit explaining in what form DC USAO understood that phone content to be, and if they did, she has likely overseen discussions about any further attorney-client protections DOJ had to adhere to. If DC USAO obtained warrants for other cloud content, she might also know about any accounts that Rudy is not disclosing to Freeman, including those whose email and phone accounts Rudy consistently used as a proxy. She likely has a sense of how many phone accounts DOJ has identified for Rudy, none of the call records of which would be subject to attorney-client protection. She may know of other aliases that Rudy used in his assault on the election.

Rudy is pulling this contemptuous stunt in front of the one judge who may know the extent to which he’s bullshitting.

Which may be why, at a few points in Freeman’s Motion to Compel, her attorneys note that they’re only asking for modest relief, basically just leverage to get Rudy to actually answer the questions, as well as attorney fees for their time he has wasted.

But Judge Howell? Well, if she wants to use her discretion to provide expanded relief, Freeman’s lawyers say, they’d be open to that too.

The relief Plaintiffs seek in this Motion is narrow, while recognizing that the Court in its discretion may enter additional forms of relief, including sanctions. Plaintiffs reserve all rights relating to seeking expanded forms of relief in the future.

At this point, there are at least two criminal investigations into Rudy and two civil suits — January 6, Georgia, Dominion, and this suit. Even before reviewing his J6C transcript, it’s easy to identify plenty of ways his evolving answers here, amended in part because of inconsistent testimony given before the J6C, conflict with what he must have answered before the Georgia grand jury, which could start issuing indictments any day.

Juggling all that legal exposure would be difficult for a sober, organized man with little real legal exposure.

For Rudy, though, this insane approach may be, at best, a futile attempt to limit the damage this civil case can do to his criminal exposure.

The Intercept Helps Protect Rudy Giuliani’s Lies about Ruby Freeman

I had ambitious plans to do four things today: write this post on what I’m calling the Roger Stone convergence, wash my walls in advance of priming them for paint, writing about how we’d all be better off remembering that Elmo (Elon Musk — like most nicknames I adopt, I wasn’t smart enough to make that one up) just entered a forced marriage, and explaining why this Intercept article is a piece of shit.

Lo and behold, as I was sitting around procrastinating and rationalizing that I shouldn’t climb a ladder while Mr. emptywheel was on his tenth ever visit to the office where he has worked at for 18 months, I saw that Mike Masnick wrote the article about the Intercept piece I was contemplating writing, down to multiple observations that the journalists kept including things that have fuck all with what they claim they’re writing about.

In other words, this entire system has literally fuck all to do with the rest of the article, but the Intercept makes it out to be a system for suppressing information.


The article continues to pinball around, basically pulling random examples of questionable government behavior, but never tying it to anything related to the actual subject. I mean, yes, the FBI does bad stuff in spying on people. We know that. But that’s got fuck all to do with CISA, and yet the article spends paragraphs on it.

There are just two things I wanted to add to Masnick’s post (really, go read his), first to add some points about the Intercept’s “Hunter Biden” “laptop” claims, and also to talk about why this matters so much.

Masnick writes at length about how fucking stupid the Intercept’s take on the “Hunter Biden” “laptop” is. I want to add a few key points, interspersed with Masnick’s.

And then, I can’t even believe we need to go here, but it brings up the whole stupid nonsense about Twitter and the Hunter Biden laptop story. As we’ve explained at great length, Twitter blocked links to one article (not others) by the NY Post because they feared that the article included documents that violated its hacked materials policy, a policy that had been in place since 2019 and had been used before (equally questionably, but it gets no attention) on things like leaked documents of police chatter. We had called out that policy at the time, noting how it could potentially limit reporting, and right after there was the outcry about the NY Post story, Twitter changed the policy.

Yet this story remains the bogeyman for nonsense grifters who claim it’s proof that Twitter acted to swing the election. Leaving aside that (1) there’s nothing in that article that would swing the election, since Hunter Biden wasn’t running for president, and (2) the story got a ton of coverage elsewhere, and Twitter’s dumb policy enforcement actually ended up giving it more attention, this story is one about the trickiness in crafting reasonable trust & safety policies, not of any sort of nefariousness.

Yet the Intercept takes up the false narrative and somehow makes it even dumber:

In retrospect, the New York Post reporting on the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop ahead of the 2020 election provides an elucidating case study of how this works in an increasingly partisan environment.

Much of the public ignored the reporting or assumed it was false, as over 50 former intelligence officials charged that the laptop story was a creation of a “Russian disinformation” campaign.

Interjection: These men likely have spent too much time with Glenn Greenwald, who lies about what the former spooks did as regularly as some people attend church. They didn’t “charge” that the story was a creation of Russian disinformation. They said it had the hallmarks of such a campaign, but emphasized that they didn’t know.

It is for all these reasons that we write to say that the arrival on the US political scene of emails purportedly belonging to Vice President Biden’s son Hunter, much of it related to his time serving on the Board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.

We want to emphasize that we do not know if the emails, provided to the New York Post by President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, are genuine or not and that we do not have evidence of Russian involvement — just that our experience makes us deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case.

Then they provided around six reasons why they believed it might be true. All six were and remain true (and there has been reinforcement of several since then). Glenn likes to claim these spooks lied, which is nearly impossible, since they simply expressed a belief. Importantly, their belief was and remains eminently reasonable.

Now back to Masnick:

The mainstream media was primed by allegations of election interference in 2016 — and, to be sure, Trump did attempt to use the laptop to disrupt the Biden campaign. Twitter ended up banning links to the New York Post’s report on the contents of the laptop during the crucial weeks leading up to the election. Facebook also throttled users’ ability to view the story.

In recent months, a clearer picture of the government’s influence has emerged.

In an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast in August, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that Facebook had limited sharing of the New York Post’s reporting after a conversation with the FBI. “The background here is that the FBI came to us — some folks on our team — and was like, ‘Hey, just so you know, you should be on high alert that there was a lot of Russian propaganda in the 2016 election,’” Zuckerberg told Rogan. The FBI told them, Zuckerberg said, that “‘We have it on notice that basically there’s about to be some kind of dump.’” When the Post’s story came out in October 2020, Facebook thought it “fit that pattern” the FBI had told them to look out for.

Zuckerberg said he regretted the decision, as did Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter at the time. Despite claims that the laptop’s contents were forged, the Washington Post confirmed that at least some of the emails on the laptop were authentic. The New York Times authenticated emails from the laptop — many of which were cited in the original New York Post reporting from October 2020 — that prosecutors have examined as part of the Justice Department’s probe into whether the president’s son violated the law on a range of issues, including money laundering, tax-related offenses, and foreign lobbying registration.

Interjection: The Intercept’s representation of what the WaPo and NYT wrote is horseshit (again, it leads me to suspect these gents have spent too much time listening to Glenn’s rants).

First, as I wrote about the NYT “authenticat[ion]” at the time, the description of the emails was of particular interest because it cited someone who had familiarity with the investigation.

People familiar with the investigation said prosecutors had examined emails between Mr. Biden, Mr. Archer and others about Burisma and other foreign business activity. Those emails were obtained by The New York Times from a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop. The email and others in the cache were authenticated by people familiar with them and with the investigation.

That person could have been an FBI agent leaking about the investigation (as likely has happened more recently, when someone revealed they believe there is sufficient evidence to charge on crimes unrelated to the “laptop,” probably an effort to pressure US Attorney David Weiss to charge Hunter Biden). Or it could be someone like Mac Issac or Robert Costello, both of whom were in the chain of custody of the “laptop,” the testimony from whom might be of interest to the Hunter Biden investigation and/or might be of interest in the investigation into Rudy Giuliani’s negotiations with known Russian agents for Hunter Biden dirt that almost exactly resembles what the laptop is. The story actually doesn’t say the FBI first obtained the emails from the laptop. Indeed, the story reports that the foreign influence aspect of the investigation started in 2018, before the FBI got the laptop, in which case the FBI may have obtained the emails from Apple, which is where at least some of the content on the laptop came from. Almost certainly the FBI would have obtained the iCloud content independently anyway, to ensure the integrity of their chain of evidence. But all the NYT said is that someone — perhaps someone who has been questioned in the investigation — is leaking details to the press. All the NYT has done is get the emails from someone involved in the attack on Hunter Biden and — possibly with their help — authenticate the same headers anyone else has.

That doesn’t say “the laptop” is authentic; it says the investigation into Hunter Biden has been grossly politicized.

Now, before we review what the WaPo said, remember that reporters are citing this article to support a claim that the “laptop” was not disinformation. The goal here is to suggest authenticity. For those purposes, here’s what that WaPo story says:

Among the reasons for the inconclusive findings was sloppy handling of the data, which damaged some records. The experts found the data had been repeatedly accessed and copied by people other than Hunter Biden over nearly three years. The MacBook itself is now in the hands of the FBI, which is investigating whether Hunter Biden properly reported income from business dealings.

Most of the data obtained by The Post lacks cryptographic features that would help experts make a reliable determination of authenticity, especially in a case where the original computer and its hard drive are not available for forensic examination. Other factors, such as emails that were only partially downloaded, also stymied the security experts’ efforts to verify content.


In their examinations, Green and Williams found evidence that people other than Hunter Biden had accessed the drive and written files to it, both before and after the initial stories in the New York Post and long after the laptop itself had been turned over to the FBI.

Maxey had alerted The Washington Post to this issue in advance, saying that others had accessed the data to examine its contents and make copies of files. But the lack of what experts call a “clean chain of custody” undermined Green’s and Williams’s ability to determine the authenticity of most of the drive’s contents.

“The drive is a mess,” Green said.

He compared the portable drive he received from The Post to a crime scene in which detectives arrive to find Big Mac wrappers carelessly left behind by police officers who were there before them, contaminating the evidence.

That assessment was echoed by Williams.

“From a forensics standpoint, it’s a disaster,” Williams said.


Analysis was made significantly more difficult, both experts said, because the data had been handled repeatedly in a manner that deleted logs and other files that forensic experts use to establish a file’s authenticity.

“No evidence of tampering was discovered, but as noted throughout, several key pieces of evidence useful in discovering tampering were not available,” Williams’ reports concluded.


Some other emails on the drive that have been the foundation for previous news reports could not be verified because the messages lacked verifiable cryptographic signatures. One such email was widely described as referring to Joe Biden as “the big guy” and suggesting the elder Biden would receive a cut of a business deal.

I’ve also been told that since the laptop was not airgapped, it’s possible Burisma emails were downloaded after Russia reportedly hacked Burisma, meaning those emails could absolutely be fraudulent.

So the Intercept reporters display their highly attuned nose for disinformation by deeming worthy of reporting a “laptop” that does have emails with valid keys downloaded from iCloud (in partial fashion, which should itself raise questions) but also includes a great deal of shit and obvious alteration. The only thing this “laptop” is useful for reporting on is how unreliable “the laptop” as a package is. It is useful for nothing more than serving as the shiny object it was used for in October 2020. Any reporter citing this report as proof that stuff wasn’t forged — or that the whole “laptop” wasn’t packaged up with the help of the same people who were peddling this information to Rudy in the same time period — discredits themselves. The report specifically said such conclusions were impossible and raised a lot of reasons to be more concerned about “the laptop.” The report shows that this “laptop” was a serial hit job and that for a second straight election, people close to Trump once again tried to win an election by using stolen personal data.

Back to Masnick.

The Zuckerberg/Rogan podcast thing has also been taken out of context by the same people. As he notes, the FBI gave a general warning to be on the lookout for false material, which was a perfectly reasonable thing for them to do. And, in response Facebook did not actually block links to the article. It just limited how widely the algorithm would share it until the article had gone through a fact check process. This is a reasonable way to handle information when there are questions about its authenticity.

But neither Twitter nor Facebook suggest that the government told them to suppress the story, because it didn’t. It told them generally to be on the lookout, and both companies did what they do when faced with similar info.

From there, the Intercept turns to a nonsense frivolous lawsuit filed by Missouri’s Attorney General and takes a laughable claim at face value:

Documents filed in federal court as part of a lawsuit by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana add a layer of new detail to Zuckerberg’s anecdote, revealing that officials leading the push to expand the government’s reach into disinformation also played a quiet role in shaping the decisions of social media giants around the New York Post story.

According to records filed in federal court, two previously unnamed FBI agents — Elvis Chan, an FBI special agent in the San Francisco field office, and Dehmlow, the section chief of the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force — were involved in high-level communications that allegedly “led to Facebook’s suppression” of the Post’s reporting.

Interjection: This Intercept story was dated October 31, which last I checked is after October 28. Which means if these reporters were actually reporting from the docket, then they should be accountable for this October 28 filing which says that — according to Meta — the plaintiffs in this nonsense lawsuit made up the bit about Agent Chen.

Meta, however, recently sent Plaintiffs’ counsel a letter—attached as Exhibit A—explaining that Plaintiffs’ understanding of Meta’s statement concerning ASAC Chan is “incorrect.” Meta further stated that that “Mr. Chan at no point in time advised Meta ‘to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story’ . . . [n]or did any of his colleagues.” Based on this newly received evidence, the Court should amend the Deposition Order, and withdraw its authorization of a deposition of ASAC Chan. ASAC Chan, a management-level FBI official, should not have to divert time away from his official duties to participate in an expedited deposition when the record contains no evidence suggesting that he has engaged in the communications that led the Court to authorize his deposition in the first place.


Plaintiffs also relied on several of their own self-serving allegations concerning ASAC Chan—rather than actual evidence—to justify his deposition. See ECF No. 86 at 19-21 (referring to various allegations in Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint). Those allegations generally embellished certain innocuous, public statements ASAC Chan made concerning routine cyber threat discussions he had with various companies, including social media companies. For example, Plaintiffs rely on their allegation that ASAC Chan “admits to regular, routine coordination about censorship with social-media platforms,” see id. at 19 (quoting 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 389), but that allegation relies on an interview in which ASAC Chan simply stated: the FBI regularly “shar[ed] intelligence with technology companies, with social media companies, so that they could protect their own platforms . . . we have all of these methods for collecting intelligence . . . [w]e share them with you and then you do what you want with them to protect your networks,” (cited in 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 387-89) (emphasis added). Plaintiffs could not identify a single quotation in that interview where ASAC Chan ever stated that the FBI asked or pressured any social media company to remove any content from its platform. Plaintiffs also relied on an allegation that ASAC Chan had stated that social media platforms have been “trying to take down any misinformation or disinformation” and that they have “portals where [users] can report” election-related misinformation.” ECF No. 86 at 20. Again, Plaintiffs could not quote any portion of ASAC Chan’s statement where he stated that he, or anyone else at the FBI, asked or pressured any social media company to remove any content from its platform.


Meta emphasized that “Mr. Chan at no point in time advised Meta ‘to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story’ . . . [n]or did any of his colleagues.”

The letter from Facebook to the plaintiffs also notes there are no communications that support their Facebook claims.

We identified Mr. Chan to you during a phone call on September 15, 2022. On that call, we identified Mr. Chan as Meta’s primary individual point of contact on the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force. And we informed you that we had not identified any emails between Mr. Chan and Meta about Hunter Biden’s laptop. You confirmed in writing after that call that “as referenced in today’s call, we continue to request communications between Meta and FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force, especially as it relates to the Hunder [sic] Biden laptop story. Reg represented today that he did not believe there are written communications involving” Mr. Chan.

Which is the perfect setup for Masnick’s conclusion about the Hunter Biden story.

Now here, you can note that Dehmlow was the person mentioned way above who talked about platforms and responsibility, but as we noted, in context, she was talking about better education of the public. The section quoted in Missouri’s litigation is laughable. It’s telling a narrative for fan service to Trumpist voters. We already know that the FBI told Facebook to be on the lookout for fake information. The legal complaint just makes up the idea that Dehmlow tells them what to censor. That’s bullshit without evidence, and there’s nothing to back it up beyond a highly fanciful and politicized narrative.

But from there, the Intercept says this:

The Hunter Biden laptop story was only the most high-profile example of law enforcement agencies pressuring technology firms.

Except… it wasn’t. Literally nothing anywhere in this story shows law enforcement “pressuring technology firms” about the Hunter Biden laptop story.

This story proves the opposite of what it claims.

It proves that the reporters who wrote it read a report that cautioned strongly about relying on the “Hunter Biden” “laptop” because of all the forensic problems with it — which is one reason among many why responsible reporters shouldn’t have reported on it in October 2020 (and most did not, precisely because there was nothing reliable). And it further shows to substantiate their core claim of coercion, the reporters rely on sources that themselves made up claims of coercion.

And here’s why it matters.

As Masnick lays out, the Intercept reporters “pingpong” from topic to topic, with little evident understanding of the topics they’re talking about. Several of the meeting notes they try to spin as wildly spooky deal with how one runs elections in an era of outright disinformation — shit like Presidential candidates repeatedly making false claims about the reliability of the vote count. This one, for example, focused primarily on the difficulties election workers face as they’re trying to tally election results amid a cloud of rumors and deliberately false claims.

The report makes quite clear that what’s at stake is the “peaceful transition of power.”

As Masnick recalled, Chris Krebs debunked a lot of false claims in 2020 and Trump promptly fired him for correctly stating that the elections were free and fair.

This is the kind of thing that the Intercept reporters — reporters who ignored a filing that debunked their key claim about FBI coercion and who didn’t understand that the WaPo said the opposite of what they claimed — appear to want to get rid of. If they achieved what they claim they want, CISA would no longer be able to tell local election supervisors about the false claims armed men trolling dropboxes are making to justify their actions. If they achieved what they claim to want, CISA would not be able to share information nationally about organized disinformation campaigns targeting mail-in votes.

The logical outcome, if these Intercept reporters succeeded in halting what they portray in the story, is that CISA would not be able to protect your vote.

Nor would it be able to protect election workers like Ruby Freeman from false claims that Rudy Giuliani spread, falsely claiming a ginger mint was a thumb drive used to steal votes.

In an opinion denying Rudy’s motion to dismiss a defamation lawsuit from Freeman and Shaye Moss, Beryl Howell cites the harm that the mother and daughter claim arises from Rudy’s false claims.

The accusations levied against plaintiffs had consequences. Plaintiffs claim they have experienced online, personal, and professional consequences directly resulting from Giuliani’s statements and conduct. See id. ¶¶ 140–57. Strangers camped out near Freeman’s home in Georgia, harassing her and her neighbors. Id. ¶ 141. “Christmas cards were mailed to Ms. Freeman’s address with messages like, ‘Ruby please report to the FBI and tell them you committed voter fraud. If not[,] you will be sorry,’ and ‘You deserve to go to jail, you worthless piece of shit whore.’” Id. ¶ 143. Protesters targeted her home on January 5 and January 6, 2021, though Freeman had fled her home at the recommendation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Id. ¶¶ 144–45. Pizza delivery orders were ordered to her home that her family never ordered, which is a common tactic of online harassment called “doxx[ing].” Id. ¶ 142. Local police received more than twenty harassing phone calls while monitoring Freeman’s phone and, eventually, she had to change her email and phone numbers. Id. ¶ 140. Freeman has experienced strangers harassing her in public and has lost friendships, id. ¶¶ 148–49, plus she has had to cease her online business because of prolonged harassment on social media and public events, id. ¶ 147.

She also cites Rudy complaining about how he got banned from social media for making those false claims.

3 Statement 8 was made by Giuliani during an OAN interview on January 18, 2021, as follows:

I mean, they pretty much censored it while it was going on, so they would love to turn the page on it. I mean, I get banned from any of the big tech things when I say that not only was there voter fraud, I have evidence of it, I’ve seen it, I have a motion picture of it. I can show you the voter fraud in living color. It was done in Fulton County, Georgia, it was well over 30,000 ballots were stolen. They were attributed to Biden instead of Trump. Had they been caught and held to account for it, Trump would have won Georgia. Amend. Compl. ¶ 89. A reasonable listener could read this message as referencing the Edited Video and the actions of election workers in Fulton County, which workers include Freeman and Moss.

Finally, she deems sufficiently credible Freeman and Moss’ claims that Rudy made these false claims about the two of them as part of a plan to overturn the democratic election.

7 Giuliani defends the Strategic Plan as a plan to “‘educate the public,’” Def.’s Mem. at 13 (quoting Strategic Plan at 1), rather than to disseminate false information. Regardless of how Giuliani characterizes the goal of the Plan, plaintiffs allege that the Plan’s goal was to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and they allege more than enough evidence in their Amended Complaint to infer that unlawful act was the Plan’s underlying purpose. See, e.g., Amend. Compl. ¶ 9 (noting that the Strategic Plan “relied on the following call to action: ‘YOU CANNOT LET AMERICA ITSELF BE STOLEN BY CRIMINALS – YOU MUST TAKE A STAND AND YOU MUST TAKE IT TODAY’”).

If the Intercept reporters achieved what they claim they want, it would be far harder to combat clear abuse like Rudy’s because it would halt CISA’s efforts to debunk such obvious false claims. It would make it less likely that Rudy would get banned for his false claims about two women who did nothing more than help count the vote. It would be harder to protect your vote, and it would be harder to protect the life and livelihood of election workers.

This article fed the efforts of fascists to delegitimize efforts to protect democracy. Tucker Carlson loved it. For good reason: because he peddles bullshit that poses a risk to your vote and the livelihood of Ruby Freeman.

Not only didn’t it substantiate what it claimed, but it discredited precisely the efforts that will be used next week to protect democracy.

Update: ProPublica reports that, contra Intercept’s claim that disinformation efforts are increasing, DHS under Biden has backed off the kind of support for election workers that was so successful (and important) in 2020.

In May, one Department of Homeland Security office instructed staffers that work on “sensitive” topics including disinformation should be put on “immediate hold,” according to material reviewed by ProPublica. In the months that followed, DHS canceled a series of planned contracts that would have tracked and studied the proliferation of disinformation and its connection with violent attacks. And after issuing six nationwide warnings about domestic terrorism fueled by disinformation in the first 13 months of the Biden administration, DHS has only issued one in the eight months since.

The government’s retreat comes ahead of midterms in which election officials throughout the country are being inundated with false rumors about their work. After talks on a project to help election officials monitor and respond to threats stalled, election officials from Colorado and Florida wrote a private letter in August to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas pleading for help.

“Threats and harassment of election officials has become an extremely serious concern and terribly frequent experience for election workers,” they warned, adding, “We are ourselves a crucial part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, in need of and deserving of protection.”

“Time is of the essence,” the officials wrote.

Weeks later, DHS scrapped the project.


[E]lection administrators remain deeply concerned.

“States need more support. It is clear that threats to election officials and workers are not dissipating and may only escalate around the 2022 and 2024 elections,” Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, said in an email to ProPublica. “Election offices need immediate meaningful support from federal partners.”

Kevin Drum compared the ProPublica’s worthwhile report with the Intercept one here.