Archive for Sonam Sheth,John Haltiwanger

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort charged US taxpayers $3 for a glass of water

Trump drinking water on 60 minutes orange tan white hands
Trump on 60 Minutes
  • President Donald Trump's golf club in Florida once charged US taxpayers $3 for a glass of water when he was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Washington Post reported.
  • When the two men met in April 2018, the resort charged the US government $13,700 for rooms, $16,500 for food and wine, and $6,000 for floral arrangements, the Post reported.
  • Tuesday's report is the latest example of how Trump's businesses have made millions from taxpayers and the president's supporters since he took office.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago golf club in Florida once charged taxpayers $3 for a glass of water, the Washington Post reported.

The water was billed as part of a "bilateral meeting" when Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister at the resort in April 2018. In all, when the two men met, the Post reported that Mar-a-Lago charged the US government $13,700 for rooms, $16,500 for food and wine, and $6,000 for floral arrangements.

The Post's report about the meeting is the latest example of how Trump's properties have made millions off of the US government since he took office in 2017. To date, according to the Post, the president's businesses have made $8.1 million off the taxpayers and Trump's supporters since then.

Legal and ethics experts have long sounded the alarm about Trump's personal interests being entwined with his presidency, and he has been sued multiple times after being accused of violating the Constitution's emoluments clause, which bars public officials from receiving gifts or cash from foreign governments without congressional approval.

In May, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia cleared the way for an emoluments lawsuit that the Maryland and Washington, DC attorneys general filed against Trump to move forward.

Trump's personal defense lawyer, Jay Sekulow, told Politico that the president's legal team would take the case to the Supreme Court, adding, "We disagree with the decision of the Fourth Circuit. This case is another example of presidential harassment."

The Washington, DC, Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit in which congressional Democrats accused Trump of violating the emoluments clause. And in September 2019, a three-judge panel on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York resurrected a 2017 lawsuit alleging that Trump violated the provision through his Washington, DC, hotel and other properties.

The president, for his part, has brushed off the allegations, saying to reporters last October, "You people with this phony emoluments clause."

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Fact-checking the final Trump-Biden debate

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  • President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden took the debate stage for the final time Thursday night ahead of the 2020 general election.
  • The debate was moderated by NBC News' Kristen Welker and focused on six main topics: COVID-19, race, climate change, national security, leadership, and American families.
  • The debate came as Biden holds a hefty lead over Trump in a number of national and state polls, and as the Trump campaign levels new allegations of corruption against Biden based on unverified and unsubstantiated information that Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has circulated in conservative media.
  • Scroll down to follow Business Insider's fact-check of the debate.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump and the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden took the stage for the final time Thursday night in what was a contentious and fiery debate ahead of the November general election.

NBC's Kristen Welker moderated the debate, and the evening focused on six key topics: COVID-19, race, climate change, national security, leadership, and American families. The debate began at 9 p.m. ET, and Welker allotted 15 minutes of discussion for each topic.

Thursday's event came just weeks after the first Trump-Biden debate, in which the president drew widespread backlash for repeatedly interrupting Biden. In the wake of that debate, the Commission on Presidential Debates decided to allow a third party to mute the candidates' microphones to give each contender two minutes of uninterrupted speaking time at the start of each topic. The commission said it was implementing the rule change to "ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues."

With fewer than two weeks left to go until Election Day on November 3, Thursday was Trump and Biden's last chance to appeal to a broad group of potential voters. Biden currently holds a hefty lead over Trump; according to FiveThirtyEight's latest forecast, the president currently has a 12% chance of winning a second term, while Biden has a 88% chance. The data website's national poll tracker also shows that Biden has nearly a 10-point lead over Trump.

Scroll down to follow Business Insider's fact-check of Thursday's debate.

COVID-19

Trump: "We closed up the greatest economy in the world in order to fight this horrible disease that came from China. The mortality rate is down 85%, the excess mortality rate is way down and much lower than almost any other country. There are some spikes and surges in other places, they will soon be gone. We have a vaccine ... it's going to be announced within weeks. Now they say I'm immune, whether it's four months or a lifetime, nobody's been able to say that, but I'm immune. I've been congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we've been able to do. We're rounding the turn, we're rounding the corner. It's going away."

Fact check: Trump's statement that the US's mortality rate is "way down and much lower than almost any other country" is inaccurate. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, more than 223,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and the number of US deaths as a proportion of the population is higher than many other countries.

Trump has also repeatedly said a new COVID-19 vaccine will be released within weeks, but CDC Director Robert Redfield recently told Congress: "If you're asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we're probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021."

The president's claim that he is "immune" from COVID-19 is also misleading. As Business Insider previously reported, scientists say there is no reliable indicator of immunity from the novel coronavirus.

On Trump's contention that the US is "rounding the corner," Forbes reported that as of last week, Trump made the same statement on 28 out of the last 46 days. The majority of US states are continuing to see sharp increases in new cases and hospitalizations.

Trump: The president repeatedly attacked Biden over the handling of the swine flu, known as H1N1.

Fact-check: Biden wasn't president when the H1N1 pandemic struck the US in 2009, and he wasn't spearheading the federal response to it; President Barack Obama was. H1N1 also killed far fewer Americans — 14,000 — than COVID-19 has.

National security

Biden: "His own national security adviser told him that what is happening with his buddy, Rudy Giuliani, he's being used as a Russian pawn, he's being fed information that is Russian — that is not true. And then what happens? Nothing happens. And then you find out that everything that's going on here about Russia is wanting to make sure that I do not get elected the next president of the United States because they know I know them and they know me."

Fact check: Biden was referring to a recent Washington Post report that said US officials warned the White House last year that Russian operatives were using Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to funnel disinformation to Trump.

One source told The Post that the message to Trump was, "Do what you want to do, but your friend Rudy has been worked by Russian assets in Ukraine."

According to the report, Trump responded by shrugging and saying, "That's Rudy."

Trump: "Joe got $3.5 million from Russia and it came through Putin because he was very friendly with the former mayor of Moscow. Your family got $3.5 million. I never got any money from Russia. I don't get money from Russia."

Fact check: Trump's claim Biden received $3.5 million from Moscow refers to uncorroborated allegations from a Republican Senate report last month that said an investment firm linked to Hunter Biden took in $3.5 million from Yelena Baturina, the widow of the late Mayor Yury Luzhkov of Moscow.

Biden's lawyer, George Mesires, told Politico in a statement that the Senate report held no merit because Hunter Biden did not have any "interest in" and was not the "cofounder" of the investment firm, Rosemont Seneca Thornton, "so the claim that he was paid $3.5 million is false."

Trump's claim that he does not "get money from Russia" has been contradicted by his son, Donald Trump Jr., who said in 2008 that a lot of the Trump family's assets come from Russia.

"In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets," Trump Jr. said at a real-estate conference that year. "Say, in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo, and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

Trump: "I was put through a phony witch hunt for three years. They spied on my campaign. [The special counsel Robert] Mueller and 18 angry Democrats and FBI agents all over the place spent $48 million, they went through everything I had, including my tax returns. And they found absolutely nothing: no collusion and nothing wrong."

Fact check: The Justice Department inspector general concluded after an internal investigation last year that there is no evidence the FBI "spied" on Trump's campaign, as he has repeatedly alleged. Mueller also did not obtain Trump's tax returns, and he did not conclude that there was "no collusion and nothing wrong" related to the Trump campaign.

Mueller's team determined that it did not have sufficient evidence to charge anyone on the campaign with conspiracy connected to Russia's interference in the 2016 election. But prosecutors prefaced that statement with a significant caveat, that "the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts."

The special counsel also declined to make a "traditional prosecutorial judgment" on whether Trump obstructed justice, citing a 1973 Justice Department memo that said a sitting president cannot be indicted. However, his team emphasized that "if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state." The team continued: "Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment."

Biden: "With regard to Ukraine, we had this whole question about whether or not because he was on the board" of Burisma Holdings, "that somehow I had done something wrong. Yet every single, solitary person when he was going through his impeachment ... said I did my job impeccably. I carried out US policy. Not one single, solitary thing was out of line. Number two, the guy who got in trouble was this guy trying to bribe the Ukrainian government into saying something negative about me. My son has not made money in terms of this thing about ... China. The only guy who made money from China is this guy. He's the only one."

Fact check: Biden was alluding to Trump and his allies' claim that when Biden was vice president, he inappropriately leveraged his position to force the ouster of the Ukrainian prosecutor general in order to shut down a criminal investigation into Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas company whose board Hunter Biden was serving on at the time.

As Business Insider has previously reported, there are a number of holes in this claim. For one, the Burisma investigation was largely dormant at the time that the prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, was fired. Also, government officials and Ukrainian anticorruption advocates said Shokin had hampered the investigation into Burisma long before Joe Biden even stepped into the picture, The Wall Street Journal reported. In other words, Biden was doing the opposite of what Trump and Giuliani have implied: He was trying to oust a prosecutor who was slow-walking the investigation into Burisma, rather than actively targeting the company.

Most important, Biden represented the US's official position on the matter, one that was shared by many other Western governments and anticorruption activists in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.

Trump: "His son didn't have a job for a long time. As soon as [Biden] became vice president, Burisma ... I hear they paid him $183,000 a month. And they gave him a $3 million upfront payment."

Fact check: Hunter Biden was paid $83,000, not $183,000, per month while working at Burisma. And although multiple current and former career officials have said that the former vice president did not engage in wrongdoing connected to his son's work, they also say the ethics of Hunter Biden working for Burisma given his father's policy work in Ukraine may have blurred ethical lines.

Biden: "I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life. We learned that this president paid 50 times the tax in China [that he paid to the US government], has a secret bank account with China, does business in China, and in fact is talking about me taking money? I have not taken a single penny from any country whatsoever."

Fact check: Biden was referring to a recent New York Times report which found that Trump had a previously undisclosed account at a Chinese bank. It also said Trump ran an office in China and was partnered with a government-controlled company in the country. It added that Trump paid $188,561 in taxes to the Chinese government from 2013 to 2015. Meanwhile, he paid just $750 in taxes to the US in 2016 and 2017.

Biden: Trump "has legitimized North Korea. He talks about his good buddy who's a thug. A thug. And he talks about how we're better off. And they have much more capable missiles able to reach US territory much more easily than they ever did before."

Fact check: Trump has repeatedly met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Kim has sent the US president multiple "love letters," according to the veteran journalist Bob Woodward's latest book, "Rage."

Trump, meanwhile, has boasted about his relationship with Kim on multiple occasions, once stating that he and the North Korean letter "fell in love" over Kim's "beautiful letters."

Trump and Kim have had two formal summits as well as an impromptu meeting at the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea. The meetings were meant to foster the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but that hasn't yet occurred. On the contrary, Pyongyang has continued escalating its aggression in the region and recently created an ICBM that could target the US.

American families

Trump: "We have 180 million people out there that have great private healthcare. Joe Biden is going to terminate all of those policies. They have 180 million plans, 180 million people — families. Under what he wants to do, which will basically be socialized medicine ... they want to terminate 180 million plans."

Fact check: It's not true that Biden's healthcare plan would kick 180 million people off their insurance. Biden has proposed a "public option," which would allow people to voluntarily join a government-run healthcare program similar to Medicare. But if they want to keep their current insurance, under Biden's plan, they would be able to.

Trump: "They did it. We changed the policy. They built the cages."

Fact check: Trump made these remarks in response to questions about his administration's "zero tolerance policy," which separated thousands of migrant families at the US-Mexico border. As The New York Times reported, the Obama administration rarely separated families at the border and only did so if the relationship between a child and the adult accompanying them was not immediately clear.

By contrast, the Trump administration's "zero tolerance policy" was explicitly articulated, and The Times reported that then Attorney General Jeff Sessions specifically told prosecutors who expressed opposition to the policy, "We have to take away the children."

Trump's claim that the Obama administration built cages for migrant children is true.

Biden: "What did the president say? He said [of coronavirus], 'Don't worry, it's going to go away. Be gone by Easter. Don't worry. Maybe inject bleach.' He said he was kidding when he said that, but a lot of people thought it was serious." Trump replied that he was, in fact, "kidding."

Fact check: Here's what the president said during the April task-force briefing, according to a transcript and video recording of his remarks:

"So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light, and I think you said, that hasn't been checked but you're going to test it. And then I said, supposing it brought the light inside the body, which you can either do either through the skin or some other way, and I think you said you're going to test that too, sounds interesting. And I then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute, and is there a way you can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it'd be interesting to check that. So you're going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds interesting to me, so we'll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it goes in one minute, that's pretty powerful."

Race

Trump: The president said that Biden called Black Americans "superpredators" in connection to the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

Fact check: This is untrue. Hillary Clinton made the remark in 1996, not Biden.

Trump: The president went after Biden over his support of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994, which Trump said "put tens of thousands of Black men, mostly, in jail."

Fact check: This claim is largely true. Biden has drawn significant scrutiny because of his support for the measure, which devastated the Black community and exacerbated mass incarceration. The former vice president apologized at the debate and in previous instances for his support of the bill and his hardline stance on criminal justice reform.

Trump: "You know, Joe, I ran because of you. I ran because of Barack Obama. Because you did a poor job. If I thought you did a good job, I would have never run."

Fact check: As several current and former Trump associates have pointed out, he did run because of Obama but it didn't have to do with Obama's record. Instead, they said, it was because Obama made fun of Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner.

"I think that is the night he resolves to run for president," the longtime GOP operative Roger Stone told PBS' Frontline. "I think that he is kind of motivated by it: 'Maybe I'll just run. Maybe I'll show them all.'"

"I thought, 'Oh, Barack Obama is starting something that I don't know if he'll be able to finish,'" Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former White House aide and Trump confidant, told PBS.

Trump: "Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump. If you look, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, possible exception, nobody has done what I've done."

Fact check: "This may well be the president's most audacious claim ever," Michael Fauntroy, a professor of political science at Howard University, told The New York Times in June. "Not only has he not done more than anybody else, he's done close to the least."

The majority of historians and experts believe Lincoln and former President Lyndon B. Johnson have had the most legislative achievements in advancing civil rights, according to The Times. Johnson, in particular, advocated for the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act.

Other presidents like Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton also took action to protect and enforce the constitutional rights of Black Americans, as well as diversify the federal government and the judiciary, the report said.

Climate change

Trump: "We have the best carbon emission numbers that we've had in 35 years."

Fact check: The Times reported that this is a misleading claim because although the US pollutes less now than it did when Trump came into office, that's largely because of lower natural gas prices and policies that were rolled out under the Obama administration.

Also, as Business Insider reported, "the Environmental Performance Index, a metric from environmental scientists at Yale and Columbia that ranks 180 countries around the world, puts the US in 10th place when it comes to overall air quality (Australia is first)."

Moreover, contrary to Trump's claims, "air in the country is actually getting dirtier and more dangerous to breathe under his administration," the report said.

Trump: The president repeated a common allegation that Republicans make about Biden, alleging that he supports the Green New Deal and wants to ban fracking.

Fact check: The former vice president has explicitly said that he would not ban fracking and that he does not support the Green New Deal, though his climate plan features some similarities to the plan. In fact, Biden's lack of support for the Green New Deal was one of the main reasons progressive lawmakers including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were hesitant to throw their support behind the former vice president.

Leadership

Trump: Biden "wants to raise everybody's taxes, and he wants to put new regulations on everything. He will kill it. If he gets in, you will have a depression the likes of which you've never seen, your 401ks will go to hell, and it'll be a very, very sad day for this country."

Fact check: Biden's tax plan would raise taxes only on Americans making more than $400,000 a year.

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Russia plans to interfere in the election to help Trump by ‘exacerbating disputes around the results,’ report says

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks on the USS Iowa in San Pedro, Los Angeles, California, United States September 15, 2015.
  • Russian agents plan to interfere in the 2020 election to help President Donald Trump by amplifying "disputes over the results," The New York Times reported.
  • US officials believe Russia poses a far greater threat to the election than Iran does, according to the report. The assessment appears to contradict Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, who has stressed Iran's election interference in recent days.
  • Russian actors have also breached state and local networks in recent days, but there's no evidence that they altered vote totals or voter-registration data, the report said.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

US intelligence officials have discovered that Russia plans to interfere in the November election to help President Donald Trump by "exacerbating disputes around the results" if the race is too close to call, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

The news comes after Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said Wednesday that Russia and Iran were attempting to "influence public opinion" ahead of the election. Ratcliffe focused on Iran and said the Iranian actors sent "spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest, and damage President Trump." He did not specify how the emails, which were sent to Democratic voters and threatened them to vote for Trump, were damaging to the president.

Ratcliffe also said Russian and Iranian actors have obtained some voter-registration data, though as ProPublica's Jessica Huseman noted, most of that information is public anyway and Ratcliffe's disclosure did not indicate whether any election systems had been breached. Ratcliffe said Wednesday that "we have not seen the same actions from Russia," but "we are aware that they have obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016."

However, contrary to Ratcliffe's statements, US officials believe Russia poses a far greater threat to the election than Iran does, according to The Times.

The latest discovery about Russia's actions has several parallels to the Kremlin's elaborate and wide-ranging campaign to interfere in the 2016 election to boost Trump and denigrate his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

In June 2017, Bloomberg reported that election systems in as many as 39 states could have been attacked as part of Russia's meddling in 2016, though voting tallies were not believed to have been altered or manipulated. The report was bolstered by a leaked National Security Agency document published by The Intercept earlier that month detailing how hackers connected to Russian military intelligence had attempted to breach US voting systems days before the election.

Jeanette Manfra, then an official at the Department of Homeland Security, also told the Senate Intelligence Committee that month that Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states' election systems in 2016, successfully exploiting a small number of networks and stealing voter-registration data.

This time, Russian actors have breached state and local networks in a move that could allow them "broader access to American voting infrastructure," The Times said. And just like in 2016, there is no evidence so far that the hackers changed vote totals or manipulated registration information.

Officials who were briefed on US intelligence about the matter told The Times that while Ratcliffe accurately described initial conclusions about Iran's interference, Russia's election meddling is far more serious. One official told the paper they would compare Iran's actions to "single-A baseball, while the Russians are major leaguers."

It's unclear how Russian actors plan to amplify disputes over the election results, particularly if the race is close. Trump, for his part, has repeatedly cast doubt on the integrity and safety of the election, suggesting without evidence that the increased use of mail-in ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to widespread voter fraud.

Just as he did in 2016, Trump is claiming this year that the election will be "rigged" against him, and he's publicly said that he's prepared to contest the results in the Supreme Court. To that end, the president said he nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg because he wanted a conservative majority in the high court to rule in his favor in the event of an election-related dispute. If confirmed, Barrett will be the third Trump-nominated justice on the bench.

"I think this will end up in the Supreme Court," Trump told reporters in September. "And I think it's very important that we have nine justices. This scam that the Democrats are pulling — it's a scam — the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court."

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Trump is considering firing FBI director Christopher Wray after the election, report says

Christopher Wray
Christopher Wray.
  • President Donald Trump is considering firing FBI director Chris Wray after the election, The Washington Post reported.
  • Trump's frustration with Wray and Attorney General William Barr has mounted in recent weeks after neither official announced an investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to boost Trump's poll numbers, the report said.
  • Wray also recently participated in an election security video that debunked many of the conspiracy the president has spread about voter fraud.
  • And Barr has been in Trump's doghouse for weeks after failing to deliver results on two politically charged investigations against Trump's foes that the president claimed would reveal evidence of a broad conspiracy against him.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump's frustration with FBI director Christopher Wray has mounted in recent weeks and he is considering firing Wray after the November election, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Trump's anger is rooted in his belief that Wray, in particular, and Attorney General William Barr did not announce an investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and deliver the president a pre-election boost in the polls.

Trump's frustration comes after he, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and their allies in the right-wing media circulate unfounded allegations that Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, are tied to corrupt Ukrainian interests and that the elder Biden inappropriately leveraged his role as vice president in 2015 and 2016 to shut down a criminal investigation into the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings to protect his son, who was serving on Burisma's board at the time.

Trump and Giuliani have been making claims of corruption against the Bidens for over a year, but they became turbocharged last week after the New York Post published a controversial and widely discredited story purporting to show "smoking gun" emails between Hunter Biden and a senior Burisma executive about setting up a meeting with Joe Biden when he was vice president in 2015. Trumpworld immediately latched onto the story as proof of the president's claim that the Bidens were in bed with shady Ukrainian interests.

Trump said the story showed Biden is a "criminal" and accused his family of being an "organized crime" syndicate but did not say what the former vice president was guilty of. And as Business Insider has previously reported, intelligence assessments, public reporting, witness testimony, and Republican-led congressional investigations have found no evidence that Biden broke the law.

Shortly after the story was published, NBC News reported that the FBI is investigating whether the emails at the center of the story were part of a foreign influence operation. The probe is said to be part of a broader inquiry into Russian disinformation that began sometime last year, before Trump's impeachment inquiry.

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Attorney General William Barr arrives in the Rose Garden before President Donald Trump introduces 7th U.S. Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, 48, as his nominee to the court at the White House September 26, 2020 in Washington, DC.

The attorney general, meanwhile, has been in the president's doghouse for a few weeks, ever since he failed to deliver results on two politically charged investigations Trump wanted to be done before the election.

Earlier this month, Barr reportedly drew the president's ire when he told Republican senators that an investigation he was overseeing on the origins of the FBI's Russia investigation would not conclude in time to release a report before the election.

Trump has long said that investigation, spearheaded by US Attorney John Durham, will show evidence that the Obama administration and the "deep state" masterminded a plot to take him down by illegally launching the FBI's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

So far, the Durham probe has resulted in a criminal charge against a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to making false statements to investigators. But it has not uncovered evidence of a nefarious conspiracy against the president and his loyalists by his perceived political foes.

In another blow to Trump, The Washington Post reported last week that an internal DOJ investigation commissioned by Barr that focused on whether Obama-era officials improperly "unmasked" Flynn's name in intelligence reports formally ended closed with no criminal charges or public report.

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Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announces that Russia and Iran are taking ‘specific actions to influence public opinion relating to our elections’

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), President Donald Trump's nominee to be Director of National Intelligence, is escorted by U.S. Capitol police officers and other security officials wearing face masks because of the COVID-19 disease outbreak as he arrives to testify at his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington, U.S. May 5, 2020.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria
US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe.
  • Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced on Wednesday that Russia and Iran have "taken specific actions to influence public opinion relating to our elections."
  • "First, we have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately, by Russia," Ratcliffe said. "This data can be used by foreign actors to communicate false information to registered voters" to sow chaos and undermine confidence, he added.
  • Ratcliffe went on to say that national security officials have "seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest, and damage President Trump."
  • He added that Russia has also "obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016."
  • Earlier Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security officials told state and local election officials that threatening emails sent to Democratic voters claiming to be from the far-right group, the Proud Boys, actually came from Iranian actors.
  • Separately, the FBI is investigating whether unverified emails about Hunter Biden published by The New York Post and amplified by President Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, are part of a foreign influence operation.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced on Wednesday that Iran and Russia have "taken specific actions to influence public opinion relating to our elections."

"First, we have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately, by Russia," Ratcliffe said. "This data can be used by foreign actors to communicate false information to registered voters" to sow chaos and undermine confidence, he added.

Ratcliffe went on to say that national security officials have "seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest, and damage President Trump."

He also said that Iranian actors are distributing other content including "a video that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots even from overseas. This video and any claims about such allegedly fraudulent ballots are not true," and are "desperate attempts by desperate adversaries."

"Although we have not seen the same actions from Russia, we are aware that they have obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016," he said. "We are prepared for the possibility of actions by those hostile to democracy."

Ratcliffe did not indicate that foreign actors breached election systems or infrastructure, and ProPublica reporter Jessica Huseman noted that most voter registration is public anyway.

Minutes before the spy chief's announcement, The Washington Post reported that US officials have concluded Iranian actors were responsible for sending threatening emails to Democratic voters claiming to be from the Proud Boys, a far-right group that supports President Donald Trump.

The emails said the Proud Boys were "in possession of all your information" and ordered the recipients to vote for Trump in the November election.

"We are in possession of all your information (email, address, telephone… everything)," the email said. "You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure. You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you. Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take this seriously if I were you."

The email appeared to come from the address "[email protected]" But CBS News reported earlier Wednesday that the messages were linked to overseas servers.

Separately, the FBI is investigating whether unverified emails purporting to belong to Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, were planted in conservative media as part of a foreign influence operation. Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, gave a copy of the hard drive containing the emails to The New York Post last week, which subsequently published them.

Trumpworld seized on the emails as proof that Joe Biden inappropriately leveraged his position as vice president in 2015 and 2016 to stymie a criminal investigation into the Ukrainian natural company Burisma Holdings, whose board Hunter was serving on at the time. As Business Insider has previously reported, there is no evidence that this theory holds merit. But Trump widely amplified it and claimed it showed Biden, who is currently leading him in the race for the White House, is a "corrupt politician."

Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, and Sen. Mark Warner, of Virginia — the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee — released a statement shortly before the news conference Wednesday warning about hostile foreign adversaries who "seek to sow chaos and undermine voters' belief in our democratic institutions, including the election systems and infrastructure that we rely on to record and properly report expressions of the voters' will."

The statement continued: "They may seek to target those systems, or simply leave the impression that they have altered or manipulated those systems, in order to undermine their credibility and our confidence in them."

Rubio and Warner went on to urge the public and members of the media to "be cautious about believing or spreading unverified, sensational claims related to votes and voting." They also reassured the public that local election officials are regularly in contact with federal law enforcement and cybersecurity officials to "ensure that Election 2020 is safe, secure, and free from outside interference."

Russia, Iran, and China have been at the top of national security officials' radars as foreign adversaries looking to meddle in the US election. Over the summer, the US intelligence community concluded that Russia does not want Biden to win the election, while China does.

"Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer," National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina said in a statement in August.

"We assess that China prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection," the NCSC director wrote, pointing to Chinese concerns over the administration's criticisms of Beijing's handling of COVID-19, the shuttering of one of its diplomatic missions, and its efforts to derail China's ambitions in the South China Sea, among other things.

"We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia 'establishment,'" Evanina wrote. "This is consistent with Moscow's public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration's policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia."

Read the original article on Business Insider

FBI says it has ‘nothing to add’ to Trump’s spy chief’s claims about the Hunter Biden laptop controversy

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), President Donald Trump's nominee to be Director of National Intelligence, is escorted by U.S. Capitol police officers and other security officials wearing face masks because of the COVID-19 disease outbreak as he arrives to testify at his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington, U.S. May 5, 2020.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Director of National Intelligence nominee Rep. John Ratcliffe arrives to testify at his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing in Washington
  • The FBI said in a letter to a top Republican lawmaker Tuesday that it has "nothing to add" to recent comments that President Donald Trump's spy chief made about a laptop and emails purportedly belonging to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's son, Hunter.
  • The existence of the laptop and its contents were first revealed in a widely discredited New York Post story last week. The FBI is said to be investigating whether the emails in the story were part of a foreign influence operation.
  • Trump's handpicked Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, told the Fox Business Network on Monday that "there is no intelligence that supports" the claim that the laptop and emails are "part of a Russian disinformation campaign."
  • "Regarding the subject of your letter, we have nothing to add at this time to the October 19th public statement by the Director of National Intelligence about the available actionable intelligence," the FBI assistant director said in a letter to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
  • "If actionable intelligence is developed, the FBI in consultation with the Intelligence Community will evaluate the need to provide defensive briefings to you and the Committee pursuant to the established notification framework," the letter said.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The FBI said in a letter to a top Republican lawmaker that it has "nothing to add" to comments made by Director of National Intelligence about a laptop purportedly belonging to the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's son, Hunter, according to The Washington Post.

The New York Post first reported on the existence of the laptop last week in a widely discredited story that described "smoking-gun" emails discovered on the laptop between Hunter Biden and a senior executive at Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian natural-gas company whose board he served on from 2014 to 2019. 

President Donald Trump and his allies seized on the story as proof that Joe Biden inappropriately leveraged his role as vice president in 2016 to stymie a criminal investigation into Burisma to protect his son. As Business Insider has previously reported, based on intelligence assessments, witness testimony, news reports, and public statements, there is no proof that the allegations hold merit.

Business Insider has not independently verified the authenticity of the laptop or its contents. Soon after the New York Post's story was published, NBC News reported that the FBI is investigating whether the emails featured in the article were part of a foreign influence operation. More than 50 former US intelligence officials also signed a letter saying they believed the New York Post's story had "all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation."

John Ratcliffe, Trump's handpicked Director of National Intelligence, waded into the debate on Monday, telling the Fox Business Network that "there is no intelligence that supports" the claim that the laptop and emails are "part of a Russian disinformation campaign."

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and a staunch Trump ally who's played a key role in amplifying misleading information about the New York Post's story, sent a letter to the FBI demanding more information about the laptop and its contents.

FBI assistant director Jill Tyson responded: "Regarding the subject of your letter, we have nothing to add at this time to the October 19th public statement by the Director of National Intelligence about the available actionable intelligence. If actionable intelligence is developed, the FBI in consultation with the Intelligence Community will evaluate the need to provide defensive briefings to you and the Committee pursuant to the established notification framework."

The New York Post story was coordinated by Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who gave the conservative tabloid a copy of a hard drive containing the purported emails and other compromising information about Hunter Biden that was discovered on the laptop by a computer repair-shop owner in Delaware. The Mac shop owner gave a copy of the hard drive to Giuliani's lawyer in December before turning it over to federal authorities, the New York Post said.

One of the reporters whose byline is on the story formerly worked as a producer for the Fox News show "Hannity." And Bruce Golding, the Post reporter who wrote most of the story, refused to put his byline on it because of concerns about its credibility, The New York Times reported.

The New York Post said it was first alerted to the existence of the laptop by the former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon in late September, and Giuliani gave it the hard drive copy on October 11, three days before the story was published. Bannon was arrested and charged over the summer with fraud in connection to an online fundraising campaign, and Giuliani is currently the focus of a federal criminal investigation over whether he violated foreign lobbying laws.

US intelligence agencies cautioned the White House last year that Russian operatives were using Giuliani to funnel disinformation to Trump. The warning came after intercepted communications showed that Giuliani interacted with multiple people who had ties to Russian intelligence when he traveled to Ukraine in December to look for dirt on the Bidens.

One of those people, a Ukrainian national named Andrii Derkach, was sanctioned by the US Treasury last month for acting as a Russian agent and spreading disinformation related to the Bidens and the 2020 election. Two of Giuliani's other Ukrainian associates who helped him in his quest to dig up dirt on the Bidens, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruamn, were arrested and charged last year with campaign-finance violations.

Read the original article on Business Insider

EXCLUSIVE: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is ‘hanging in there’ as Trump encourages supporters to ‘lock her up’ after the FBI thwarted a right-wing plot to kidnap and execute her

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told Business Insider she was "hanging in there" after the FBI foiled a right-wing plot to kidnap and assassinate her.
  • "That's my phrase for 2020," she said, adding that she was "appalled" when President Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to "lock her up" just 10 days after the men suspected of plotting against her were arrested.
  • Whitmer sharply rejected the Trump campaign's "ridiculous" allegation that she was encouraging "assassination attempts" against the president following a recent television appearance.
  • Whitmer also excoriated the president for stirring up conspiracy theories about the integrity of the election system and expressed confidence in state and local officials who are working overtime to ensure the safety of the vote.
  • "It's going to take a while to count these ballots because we're going to have historic turnout, which is a great thing for democracy," she said. "And so it may take a few days to get a final vote, but we're going to do it right. And we're going to keep voters informed about every step along the way."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she's "hanging in there" after the FBI foiled a right-wing plot to kidnap her.

"That's my phrase for 2020," she told Business Insider in an interview Tuesday morning.

Whitmer has been in the national spotlight since 13 men were arrested and charged earlier this month with scheming to kidnap the Democratic governor, put her on trial, and execute her.

Six of the defendants were charged with felonies, and seven were arrested and charged with state crimes. Authorities said the six men who were charged with federal crimes went as far as monitoring Whitmer's vacation home and building bombs.

An FBI affidavit signed by special agent Richard Trask II said that two of the defendants "agreed to unite others in their cause and take violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution."

Trask added: "Several members talked about murdering 'tyrants' or 'taking' a sitting governor."

On Monday, CNN reported on text messages between some of the defendants, one of which said of Whitmer: "Have one person go to her house, knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her."

"It's not easy," Whitmer told Business Insider on Tuesday when asked how she and her family were coping with the arrests. "And it's so serious what was being planned and plotted, and yet, you know, we're trying to stay focused on doing what we each individually need to do to support one another."

Chants to 'lock her up' ring out at Trump's rallies

The controversy surrounding the kidnapping plot against Whitmer became turbocharged over the weekend, when President Donald Trump laughed and encouraged supporters at a Michigan rally to "lock her up."

The chant — an old favorite among the president's supporters and directed at then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 — came after Trump criticized Whitmer's decision to order a lockdown of her state amid surging coronavirus cases this year.

"You've gotta get your governor to open up your state, OK?" Trump said. The crowd cheered and erupted into chants of "lock her up!" The president smirked and responded: "Lock 'em all up."

Trump rally
President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally on September 8.

Whitmer's deputy digital director, Tori Saylor, assailed the president's actions as dangerous, tweeting: "I see everything that is said about and to her online. Every single time the President does this at a rally, the violent rhetoric towards her immediately escalates on social media. It has to stop. It just has to."

Whitmer also responded, writing on Twitter, "This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials' lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans. It needs to stop."

Asked about her immediate reaction when she saw the president's rally, Whitmer told Business Insider she was "appalled."

"We're 10 days out from an unprecedented announcement of charges of a group of people that was plotting to kidnap and murder me, a sitting US governor," she said. "This was a moment where we really need people of good will on both sides of the aisle to take on domestic terrorism. It's a threat to us all, and to hear the president encourage this kind of rhetoric is stunning and incredibly dangerous."

Whitmer derides the president's allegations against her as 'ridiculous'

Whitmer added that no one from the White House or Trump's campaign team had reached out to her since the rally. By contrast, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his vice-presidential running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, have each reached out several times, she said.

She added that several of her Republican gubernatorial colleagues, such as Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, also checked in on her and her family to "share some of their frustrations with the political climate."

"That gives me great hope that there are people of good will on both sides of the aisle who are going to — sure we'll disagree — but we're going to make sure that we never foment that dangerous, hateful rhetoric that's pulling our nation apart," she said.

Shortly after Whitmer appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" over the weekend to criticize the president for what she described as inciting violence against her, the Trump campaign retaliated.

Specifically, it accused Whitmer of "encouraging assassination attempts" against the president because of a series of numbers that were displayed behind her when she appeared on the show.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term "eighty-six" means to "eject or debar (a person) from premises; to reject or abandon."

"That was ridiculous," Whitmer said when asked about the campaign's accusation. "Eighty-six means reject, and I do reject Donald Trump. I reject Donald Trump's rhetoric, I reject Donald Trump's bungled COVID response, and I reject Donald Trump's decisions to pit Americans against Americans."

The Michigan governor also excoriated the president and his allies for stirring up conspiracy theories and casting doubt on the integrity of the election system. But she expressed confidence in state and local officials who are working overtime to ensure the safety of the vote.

"We take very seriously any efforts to undermine keeping voters safe and ensuring that every vote is counted," Whitmer said, adding that she is working with the Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel on the matter.

'The road to the White House is always going to go through the state of Michigan'

Attorney Dana Nessel,
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Trump attacked Nessel on Saturday, telling rallygoers, "Be careful of [Whitmer] and her attorney general. Because, you know, they're, like, in charge of the ballot stuff, right ... You got to watch it. Watch those ballots. Watch what's going on ... and law enforcement is watching."

Nessel hit back at Trump on Twitter, saying, "In nearly every state of the union, including Michigan, the Secretary of State is 'like in charge of the ballot stuff.' I AM law enforcement. And you can bet our election will be safe and the vote will be protected."

Whitmer also defended Nessel and Benson on Tuesday, saying Trump would have attacked the integrity of the election results in her state "regardless of the facts."

"It's going to take a while to count these ballots because we're going to have historic turnout, which is a great thing for democracy," she said. "And so it may take a few days to get a final vote, but we're going to do it right. And we're going to keep voters informed about every step along the way."

Indeed, more than four times as many people have voted so far this year compared with this point in 2016, and 35 million voters have already cast ballots in the 2020 election, according to the US Elections Project.

Michigan has emerged as a critical battleground state ahead of the November general election, particularly since Trump picked up the state in 2016 in a stunning upset for Clinton. Trump won the state by fewer than 11,000 votes in the last election, while Whitmer won it by over 400,000 when she ran for governor in 2018.

"I think Michigan has always been a swing state," Whitmer said. "Even in a year like 2018 where we saw a dramatic swing, it was still a 53% vote. So elections in Michigan, even in big years, are always inherently close, and that's why Michiganders are a reflection of the country, and I think that's why the road to the White House is always going to go through the state of Michigan."

Read the original article on Business Insider

US spies say the Hunter Biden email controversy shows how ‘exploitable’ and ‘grotesquely vulnerable’ Trump and Giuliani are to Russian intelligence

Trump Giuliani
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., August 18, 2016
  • Former spooks told Business Insider that Rudy Giuliani's role in a widely discredited New York Post story and President Donald Trump's willingness to seize on it highlights how vulnerable they are to being duped by Russian intelligence.
  • Giuliani's access to Trump, the two men's personality traits, their eagerness to obtain dirt on the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and unwillingness to acknowledge Russian interference makes them a goldmine for foreign intelligence services, former spies said.
  • They are "grotesquely vulnerable, exploitable targets" and "any foreign intelligence service would be derelict if they did not try to exploit this," said a former CIA covert operative.
  • Steve Hall, the CIA's former chief of Russia operations, also said Trump and Giuliani's tendency to traffic in conspiracies and the rise of misinformation in right-wing media mean "we're doing a lot of [Russia's] work for them."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump smirked when supporters at his campaign rally on Friday revived a familiar chant.

"Lock him up!" they shouted as the president laughed. "Lock him up!"

The chants were referring to the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, whom Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have long accused of being in bed with corrupt Ukrainian interests.

Specifically, they allege that Biden inappropriately leveraged his role as vice president to shut down a criminal investigation into the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings to protect Hunter, who was serving on Burisma's board at the time.

As Business Insider has previously reported, there is no evidence that these claims hold merit, and they've been debunked by intelligence assessments, media reports, congressional investigations, and witness testimony.

Regardless, the Biden-Ukraine conspiracy theory became turbocharged this week, after The New York Post published a widely discredited story purporting to show "smoking-gun" emails between Hunter Biden and a senior Burisma executive about setting up a meeting with Joe Biden when he was vice president in 2015. The story was written by a former producer for the Fox News show "Hannity," and Giuliani was one of its primary sources.

At a rally in Iowa on Wednesday, Trump touted the "explosive documents published by a very fine newspaper, The New York Post," which he said showed "that Joe Biden has been blatantly lying about his involvement in his son's corrupt business dealings."

To the conservative political sphere, the story was incontrovertible proof that Trump was right about the Bidens. But to former intelligence operatives, Giuliani's involvement in the Post's story and Trump's willingness to seize on it showed just how susceptible they are to being duped by foreign intelligence services.

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

'Any foreign intelligence service would be derelict if they did not try to exploit this'

Former officials said that Giuliani's proximity to Trump, both men's personality traits, their eagerness to dig up dirt on political opponents, and unwillingness to acknowledge Russian influence make them a goldmine for foreign operatives to exploit.

"This is the most recent edition of what we've seen over four years now with the Trump administration," Steve Hall, the former chief of Russia operations at the CIA, told Business Insider. He compared Giuliani to former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was one of Trump's most active surrogates during the 2016 campaign.

"Flynn considered himself the smartest guy in the room and believed the rules didn't apply to him because he was close to the president," Hall said. "Giuliani has the same general profile because he's also someone who thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, politically. And he has protection from the Trump administration. That's exactly the kind of personality that Russian intelligence services would look to take advantage of."

Glenn Carle, a former CIA covert operative who specialized in turning Russian spies, told Business Insider that in addition to Giuliani's access to Trump, his motivations also make him an attractive target for Russian intelligence.

"No matter what the motivation is, a foreign intelligence service can usually exploit it," Carle said. "In this case, it's very straightforward: Giuliani is hunting for information that he thinks will help Trump and harm Biden. And then you look at the person's psychological makeup. Are they gullible? Can they be duped? Are they motivated to take chances? In Giuliani's case, the answer to all those questions is a glaring 'yes.'"

Giuliani, Carle added, has "been stumbling around in Ukraine, which is Russian turf from an intelligence perspective. In every way, Trump and Giuliani are grotesquely vulnerable, exploitable targets for Russian intelligence. And any foreign intelligence service would be derelict if they did not try to exploit this."

Indeed, US intelligence agencies cautioned the White House last year that Russian operatives were using Giuliani to funnel disinformation to Trump. The warning came after intercepted communications showed that Giuliani interacted with multiple people who had ties to Russian intelligence during a trip to Ukraine in December.

Among the people Giuliani met with was a Ukrainian national named Andrii Derkach, a man who has since been sanctioned by the Treasury Department for acting as a Russian agent and spreading disinformation about the Bidens and the 2020 election. Giuliani has been reluctant to acknowledge Derkach is a Russian agent and told The Daily Beast in an interview Saturday, "The chance that Derkach is a Russian spy is no better than 50/50."

The former New York mayor is currently under federal criminal investigation over whether he violated foreign lobbying laws. And two of Giuliani's Ukrainian associates who helped him in his quest to dig up dirt on the Bidens, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were indicted last year for campaign-finance violations.

On Thursday, NBC News reported that federal investigators are examining whether the purported Hunter Biden-Burisma emails featured in the New York Post's story were part of a foreign intelligence operation ahead of the November election. According to CNN, "the probe is part of a larger investigation into Russian disinformation that dates back to before the impeachment inquiry last fall."

In January, hackers associated with Russia's military intelligence agency successfully breached Burisma's servers, The New York Times reported. And in September, US intelligence analysts learned the Russians were planning to dump hacked and forged Burisma emails as part of an "October surprise" targeting Biden before the election. Later that month, the former White House chief strategist told the New York Post about the existence of emails between Hunter Biden and the Burisma executive. Giuliani gave the conservative tabloid a copy of a hard drive containing the emails on Sunday.

He is said to have obtained the hard drive last December from a computer repair shop owner who discovered the emails and other compromising information about Hunter Biden on a water-damaged laptop that someone dropped off but never picked up. When The Daily Beast asked Giuliani if he was concerned the emails came from Russia's hack of Burisma, he replied that it "wouldn't matter" and asked "what's the difference?"

Trump, meanwhile, knew for weeks that the New York Post's story about Hunter Biden was coming, according to The Daily Beast. "The president knew [in recent weeks] that Rudy had something big coming on the Biden family," one source told the outlet. "I remember hearing…something about files, and corruption, and something about sex and drugs…It was evident that the president was interested and wanted it done before the election."

trump giuliani
BEDMINSTER TOWNSHIP, NJ - NOVEMBER 20: (L to R) Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani stands with president-elect Donald Trump before their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, November 20, 2016 in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

'They want to protect their boy in the White House'

Robert Deitz, a former senior lawyer at the CIA who also served as the general counsel at the National Security Agency, told Business Insider that Trump's refusal to condemn Russian election interference and his tendency to fly into a rage when the topic is raised, show that he's "not going to ask any questions" if the Russians try to help his campaign.

Giuliani, he said, "is a lot smarter than Trump but misses being in the limelight and wants to be a power player in Washington. He's an old guy who loves attention. So the Russians can easily get an agent to talk to him, butter him up, and take him out to swishy restaurants. You know, why not?"

Hall echoed that view and described Giuliani as a "useful idiot" for Russian operatives.

"The Russians can make Giuliani feel like he's important," he said. "They can appeal to his ego and basically get the same type of control over him that they can with a traditional recruited asset."

Trump, meanwhile, has dismissed warnings that the Russians were targeting Giuliani. According to the Washington Post, when national security adviser Robert O'Brien and other officials cautioned him about the matter, the president shrugged and said, "That's Rudy."

"At the very least, Giuliani has been directly manipulated and fed information for a substantial period of time," Carle said. "And when confronted with these concerns, both he and Trump aggressively challenged it and denounce those who raised the points. From a counterintelligence perspective, all of that is very alarming and suspicious." 

In all, the polarized political landscape is ripe for foreign intelligence services to conduct influence operations in the midst of a US election. But this time, they don't have to work as hard to get results.

In 2016, according to an indictment from the special counsel Robert Mueller, the Russians took time to establish fake social media accounts, build up a following, and use that to sow discord within the American public. The GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency, also created the fake entities Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks to dump thousands of emails via WikiLeaks that Russian hackers had stolen when they breached the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign.

But in the last four years, the Russians "have learned they don't have to put that much time and effort into this because we're doing a lot of their work for them," Hall said. "Whether it's the New York Post or Fox News or whatever, they know all they have to do is get a bit of weird information out there and it'll just go viral and end up in the right-wing media and on the president's Twitter feed."

The US intelligence community concluded this year that Russia is once again interfering in the election to help the president and hurt his opponent.

"They want to protect their boy in the White House because Trump's policies have been strategically fantastic for Russia," Carle said. "He alienated the United States from NATO and turned a blind eye to Russian influence in Crimea. His actions in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Libya, helped Russia gain a significant presence in the region for the first time in 48 years."

Moreover, Russia also has a strategic objective to "make America dysfunctional because what's bad for America is good for Russia," Carle added. "So if they can sow dissension in our political practices that discredits our institutions and disaffects Americans from participating in the democratic process, then America crumbles."

"And that's how Russia wins," he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

US spies say the Hunter Biden email controversy shows how ‘exploitable’ and ‘grotesquely vulnerable’ Trump and Giuliani are to Russian intelligence

Trump Giuliani
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., August 18, 2016
  • Former spooks told Business Insider that Rudy Giuliani's role in a widely discredited New York Post story and President Donald Trump's willingness to seize on it highlights how vulnerable they are to being duped by Russian intelligence.
  • Giuliani's access to Trump, the two men's personality traits, their eagerness to obtain dirt on the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and unwillingness to acknowledge Russian interference makes them a goldmine for foreign intelligence services, former spies said.
  • They are "grotesquely vulnerable, exploitable targets" and "any foreign intelligence service would be derelict if they did not try to exploit this," said a former CIA covert operative.
  • Steve Hall, the CIA's former chief of Russia operations, also said Trump and Giuliani's tendency to traffic in conspiracies and the rise of misinformation in right-wing media mean "we're doing a lot of [Russia's] work for them."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump smirked when supporters at his campaign rally on Friday revived a familiar chant.

"Lock him up!" they shouted as the president laughed. "Lock him up!"

The chants were referring to the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, whom Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have long accused of being in bed with corrupt Ukrainian interests.

Specifically, they allege that Biden inappropriately leveraged his role as vice president to shut down a criminal investigation into the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings to protect Hunter, who was serving on Burisma's board at the time.

As Business Insider has previously reported, there is no evidence that these claims hold merit, and they've been debunked by intelligence assessments, media reports, congressional investigations, and witness testimony.

Regardless, the Biden-Ukraine conspiracy theory became turbocharged this week, after The New York Post published a widely discredited story purporting to show "smoking-gun" emails between Hunter Biden and a senior Burisma executive about setting up a meeting with Joe Biden when he was vice president in 2015. The story was written by a former producer for the Fox News show "Hannity," and Giuliani was one of its primary sources.

At a rally in Iowa on Wednesday, Trump touted the "explosive documents published by a very fine newspaper, The New York Post," which he said showed "that Joe Biden has been blatantly lying about his involvement in his son's corrupt business dealings."

To the conservative political sphere, the story was incontrovertible proof that Trump was right about the Bidens. But to former intelligence operatives, Giuliani's involvement in the Post's story and Trump's willingness to seize on it showed just how susceptible they are to being duped by foreign intelligence services.

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

'Any foreign intelligence service would be derelict if they did not try to exploit this'

Former officials said that Giuliani's proximity to Trump, both men's personality traits, their eagerness to dig up dirt on political opponents, and unwillingness to acknowledge Russian influence make them a goldmine for foreign operatives to exploit.

"This is the most recent edition of what we've seen over four years now with the Trump administration," Steve Hall, the former chief of Russia operations at the CIA, told Business Insider. He compared Giuliani to former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was one of Trump's most active surrogates during the 2016 campaign.

"Flynn considered himself the smartest guy in the room and believed the rules didn't apply to him because he was close to the president," Hall said. "Giuliani has the same general profile because he's also someone who thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, politically. And he has protection from the Trump administration. That's exactly the kind of personality that Russian intelligence services would look to take advantage of."

Glenn Carle, a former CIA covert operative who specialized in turning Russian spies, told Business Insider that in addition to Giuliani's access to Trump, his motivations also make him an attractive target for Russian intelligence.

"No matter what the motivation is, a foreign intelligence service can usually exploit it," Carle said. "In this case, it's very straightforward: Giuliani is hunting for information that he thinks will help Trump and harm Biden. And then you look at the person's psychological makeup. Are they gullible? Can they be duped? Are they motivated to take chances? In Giuliani's case, the answer to all those questions is a glaring 'yes.'"

Giuliani, Carle added, has "been stumbling around in Ukraine, which is Russian turf from an intelligence perspective. In every way, Trump and Giuliani are grotesquely vulnerable, exploitable targets for Russian intelligence. And any foreign intelligence service would be derelict if they did not try to exploit this."

Indeed, US intelligence agencies cautioned the White House last year that Russian operatives were using Giuliani to funnel disinformation to Trump. The warning came after intercepted communications showed that Giuliani interacted with multiple people who had ties to Russian intelligence during a trip to Ukraine in December.

Among the people Giuliani met with was a Ukrainian national named Andrii Derkach, a man who has since been sanctioned by the Treasury Department for acting as a Russian agent and spreading disinformation about the Bidens and the 2020 election. Giuliani has been reluctant to acknowledge Derkach is a Russian agent and told The Daily Beast in an interview Saturday, "The chance that Derkach is a Russian spy is no better than 50/50."

The former New York mayor is currently under federal criminal investigation over whether he violated foreign lobbying laws. And two of Giuliani's Ukrainian associates who helped him in his quest to dig up dirt on the Bidens, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were indicted last year for campaign-finance violations.

On Thursday, NBC News reported that federal investigators are examining whether the purported Hunter Biden-Burisma emails featured in the New York Post's story were part of a foreign intelligence operation ahead of the November election. According to CNN, "the probe is part of a larger investigation into Russian disinformation that dates back to before the impeachment inquiry last fall."

In January, hackers associated with Russia's military intelligence agency successfully breached Burisma's servers, The New York Times reported. And in September, US intelligence analysts learned the Russians were planning to dump hacked and forged Burisma emails as part of an "October surprise" targeting Biden before the election. Later that month, the former White House chief strategist told the New York Post about the existence of emails between Hunter Biden and the Burisma executive. Giuliani gave the conservative tabloid a copy of a hard drive containing the emails on Sunday.

He is said to have obtained the hard drive last December from a computer repair shop owner who discovered the emails and other compromising information about Hunter Biden on a water-damaged laptop that someone dropped off but never picked up. When The Daily Beast asked Giuliani if he was concerned the emails came from Russia's hack of Burisma, he replied that it "wouldn't matter" and asked "what's the difference?"

Trump, meanwhile, knew for weeks that the New York Post's story about Hunter Biden was coming, according to The Daily Beast. "The president knew [in recent weeks] that Rudy had something big coming on the Biden family," one source told the outlet. "I remember hearing…something about files, and corruption, and something about sex and drugs…It was evident that the president was interested and wanted it done before the election."

trump giuliani
BEDMINSTER TOWNSHIP, NJ - NOVEMBER 20: (L to R) Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani stands with president-elect Donald Trump before their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, November 20, 2016 in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

'They want to protect their boy in the White House'

Robert Deitz, a former senior lawyer at the CIA who also served as the general counsel at the National Security Agency, told Business Insider that Trump's refusal to condemn Russian election interference and his tendency to fly into a rage when the topic is raised, show that he's "not going to ask any questions" if the Russians try to help his campaign.

Giuliani, he said, "is a lot smarter than Trump but misses being in the limelight and wants to be a power player in Washington. He's an old guy who loves attention. So the Russians can easily get an agent to talk to him, butter him up, and take him out to swishy restaurants. You know, why not?"

Hall echoed that view and described Giuliani as a "useful idiot" for Russian operatives.

"The Russians can make Giuliani feel like he's important," he said. "They can appeal to his ego and basically get the same type of control over him that they can with a traditional recruited asset."

Trump, meanwhile, has dismissed warnings that the Russians were targeting Giuliani. According to the Washington Post, when national security adviser Robert O'Brien and other officials cautioned him about the matter, the president shrugged and said, "That's Rudy."

"At the very least, Giuliani has been directly manipulated and fed information for a substantial period of time," Carle said. "And when confronted with these concerns, both he and Trump aggressively challenged it and denounce those who raised the points. From a counterintelligence perspective, all of that is very alarming and suspicious." 

In all, the polarized political landscape is ripe for foreign intelligence services to conduct influence operations in the midst of a US election. But this time, they don't have to work as hard to get results.

In 2016, according to an indictment from the special counsel Robert Mueller, the Russians took time to establish fake social media accounts, build up a following, and use that to sow discord within the American public. The GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency, also created the fake entities Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks to dump thousands of emails via WikiLeaks that Russian hackers had stolen when they breached the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign.

But in the last four years, the Russians "have learned they don't have to put that much time and effort into this because we're doing a lot of their work for them," Hall said. "Whether it's the New York Post or Fox News or whatever, they know all they have to do is get a bit of weird information out there and it'll just go viral and end up in the right-wing media and on the president's Twitter feed."

The US intelligence community concluded this year that Russia is once again interfering in the election to help the president and hurt his opponent.

"They want to protect their boy in the White House because Trump's policies have been strategically fantastic for Russia," Carle said. "He alienated the United States from NATO and turned a blind eye to Russian influence in Crimea. His actions in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Libya, helped Russia gain a significant presence in the region for the first time in 48 years."

Moreover, Russia also has a strategic objective to "make America dysfunctional because what's bad for America is good for Russia," Carle added. "So if they can sow dissension in our political practices that discredits our institutions and disaffects Americans from participating in the democratic process, then America crumbles."

"And that's how Russia wins," he said.

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The FBI is investigating whether purported Hunter Biden-Burisma emails were part of a foreign intelligence operation

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor and current lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks to members of the media during a White House Sports and Fitness Day at the South Lawn of the White House May 30, 2018 in Washington, DC.
  • The FBI is investigating whether emails purportedly featuring communications between Hunter Biden and a Ukrainian official that were published by The New York Post this week were part of a foreign intelligence operation, NBC News reported.
  • The news comes shortly after The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani — who was a source for the New York Post story — was targeted by Russian intelligence.
  • Trump and Giuliani have pushed multiple conspiracy theories about the Bidens and Ukraine that were amplified by pro-Russian interests. Giuliani has also met several times with a Ukrainian national who was sanctioned last month for acting as a Russian agent.
  • These developments add another layer to a complex saga about disinformation, kompromat, and foreign intelligence operations on the eve of an upcoming US election.
  • Scroll down for a breakdown of key events in the timeline.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The FBI is investigating whether alleged emails of communications between Hunter Biden and a senior executive at the Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings were part of a foreign intelligence operation, NBC News reported.

The emails first surfaced in a dubious and widely discredited story from the New York Post this week purporting to feature "smoking-gun" emails showing the Burisma executive discussing with Hunter the prospect of meeting his father, Joe Biden, when Biden was vice president in 2015.

Though the article offered little new information and contained a multitude of falsehoods, Trumpworld seized on it as incontrovertible proof that Ukrainian officials took advantage of Hunter Biden's position at Burisma to extract special treatment from Joe Biden during the Obama administration.

The two Bidens have long been at the center of unfounded conspiracy theories promoted by President Donald Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, alleging that the elder Biden leveraged his role as vice president to shut down a criminal investigation into Burisma while Hunter was serving on its board in 2016. They've also circulated a bogus allegation suggesting that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to help Democrats and hurt Trump.

As Business Insider reported, based on media reports, intelligence assessments, witness testimony, and public statements, there is no evidence that these theories hold merit. But they've been amplified by Trump's allies in Congress and conservative media, as well as by Russian government officials and state-run media outlets.

News of the FBI investigation into the Hunter Biden emails came shortly after it was reported that US officials warned the White House last year that Russian operatives were using Giuliani to funnel disinformation to Trump. The warning came as Giuliani was in Ukraine on a mission to dig up dirt on the Bidens. While there, he met with a man who was sanctioned by the US Treasury last month for acting as a Russian agent.

Giuliani is currently under federal criminal investigation over whether he violated foreign lobbying laws related to his efforts to obtain dirt on Biden. He was also one of the primary sources of the New York Post story.

It's unclear when exactly the FBI began investigating if the alleged Hunter Biden emails were part of a foreign intelligence operation. But NBC News' report adds yet another layer to an already convoluted saga about disinformation, kompromat, and foreign intelligence operations on the eve of a US presidential election.

Here's a detailed breakdown of key events in the timeline:

April 2019: Unidentified person allegedly drops off a damaged laptop containing compromising Hunter Biden material at a computer repair shop in Delaware

According to the New York Post story, the emails came from a water-damaged laptop and external hard drive that an unidentified person dropped off at a repair shop in Wilmington, Delaware, in April 2019.

The shop's owner, who Business Insider identified as a man named John Paul Mac Isaac, is an avid Trump supporter and told The Washington Post that he is legally blind. Despite that, Mac Isaac said, he was almost sure the person who dropped off the laptop was Hunter Biden. But the laptop was never picked up, he said.

July 2019: Trump brings up Biden and Burisma in a 'perfect' phone call and Mac Isaac goes through the contents of the laptop and hard drive

In July, About ninety days after the laptop and external hard drive were left at his store, Mac Isaac told the Washington Post, he gained possession of the devices per his contract, and he began sifting through them. When he discovered the material, he said he contacted at least three lawmakers and used an intermediary to contact the FBI. Mac Isaac refused to name any of the people he said he got in touch with.

He said that FBI agents said they did not want to take possession of the hard drive and made a copy of it. He also claimed to have gotten in touch with Giuliani in the summer because he was frustrated the Hunter Biden material wasn't yet public, the Washington Post said, but it's unclear if Giuliani got back to him at the time.

Around the same time, on July 25, Trump spoke on the phone with the newly inaugurated Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and asked him to work with Giuliani to launch politically motivated investigations targeting the Bidens and Burisma.

November 2019: Russian hackers attack Burisma's servers for the first time

In November, when the House's impeachment inquiry into Trump's actions surrounding the phone call was well underway — and while Trump and Giuliani were both insisting that the real wrongdoing involved the Bidens and Burisma — hackers associated with Russia's main military intelligence agency tried to breach Burisma's servers for the first time in search of passwords, emails, and other sensitive material.

December 2019: Giuliani meets with a Russian agent for Biden dirt and obtains alleged Hunter Biden hard drive; officials warn Trump that Giuliani is a Russian intelligence target

December is a critical point in the timeline. Giuliani traveled to Ukraine that month in search of dirt on the Bidens, and he met on December 5 with Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian national who has since been sanctioned by the US for acting as a Russian agent and spreading disinformation related to the 2020 election. Giuliani has said he met with Derkach several times again after that.

Also, while the former New York mayor was in Ukraine, US intelligence agencies intercepted troubling communications that indicated Russian intelligence operatives were using Giuliani as a conduit to funnel disinformation to Trump, The Washington Post reported. Officials then warned the White House of what they had discovered, and national security adviser Robert O'Brien thought it serious enough that he cautioned the president to treat anything Giuliani told him with extreme skepticism.

One source told The Post that the message to Trump was, "Do what you want to do, but your friend Rudy has been worked by Russian assets in Ukraine."

Also in December, around the time Giuliani was traveling in Ukraine, Mac Isaac contacted Giuliani's lawyer, Robert Costello, and gave him a copy of the hard drive, the New York Post's article said.

Shortly after, he turned over the laptop and hard drive to federal authorities pursuant to a court subpoena, The New York Post story said. According to NBC News, the "subpoena had been issued by a federal prosecutor who already had the serial numbers of the devices when they were ordered to be handed over in early December 2019, indicating federal law enforcement was aware of the specific devices they want to examine."

On December 19, Trump was formally impeached.

January 2020: Russian hackers successfully breach Burisma

In January, according to The New York Times, Russian military intelligence hackers were successful in getting into Burisma's systems and stole a trove of material.

September 2020: US intel officials learn of Russia's plans to dump hacked Burisma emails, and Steve Bannon tells New York Post about Hunter Biden-Burisma emails

The Times reported that last month, US intelligence analysts became aware that Russia planned to release hacked and forged emails from Burisma.

After US intelligence identified the plans, analysts contacted "several people with knowledge" of the Burisma hack, The Times reported, adding that the analysts were concerned "Burisma material would be leaked alongside forged materials in an attempt to hurt" Biden.

Later that month, the former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon contacted New York Post reporters and alerted them to the existence of the Hunter Biden emails, according to the tabloid's article. Bannon was arrested and charged in August with fraud in connection to an online fundraising campaign.

October 2020: Giuliani gives the New York Post a copy of the hard drive purportedly belonging to Hunter Biden

On Sunday, October 11, the New York Post said that Giuliani gave the paper a copy of the hard drive. The story was published three days later, on October 14.

After the story dropped, several reporters tracked down Mac Isaac, who could not get his facts straight about the timeline of events laid out in the Post's story for which he was the source.

The Daily Beast reported that "throughout the interview, Mac Isaac switched back and forth from saying he reached out to law enforcement after viewing the files in the laptop to saying that it was actually the Federal Bureau of Investigation that contacted him."

"At one point, Mac Isaac claimed that he was emailing someone from the FBI about the laptop," The Daily Beast said. "At another point, he claimed a special agent from the Baltimore office had contacted him after he alerted the FBI to the device's existence. At another point, he said the FBI reached out to him for 'help accessing his drive.'"

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