Something incredibly unusual has been happening this week — Australian news outlets have been getting global-first scoops on US presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
As American media outlets wrestle with whether or not to publish information being provided by the President’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, Sky News Australia, The Daily Telegraph and the Australian have happily broadcast and published their thoughts.
Despite Mr Bannon currently being under indictment for his alleged involvement in a massive fraud scheme, they are running big front page stories, based on nothing but his say-so.
These stories, alleging corruption on the part of the Bidens, are also partially behind President Donald Trump’s newest campaign chant: “Lock him up”.
At one rally this week, Mr Trump blasted the Biden family over the story, which is based on a laptop that supposedly belonged to Hunter Biden.
“Joe, he’s corrupt. And you know what, they found the laptop.
So what are these stories about?
To begin with, it must be noted that the central premise of the stories is false.
Since 2018, Mr Giuliani and Mr Trump have been making the case that Mr Biden acted corruptly during his time as vice-president, accusing him of advocating for the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, which employed his son, Hunter Biden.
The inherent issue with this isn’t whether Mr Biden called for the sacking of the prosecutor — he did, and boasted about it in a public forum in 2018.
The problem is, the prosecutor was not investigating the gas company his son worked for.
Viktor Shokin was prosecutor-general of Ukraine for one year, from February 2015 to March 2016.
In that time, he did not prosecute a single person for corruption, despite corruption being a widespread problem, particularly in the energy industry.
Mr Shokin instead allegedly spent his time in office shaking people down for bribes.
It was marvellously lucrative, not just for him, but also his employees.
When the apartments of some of his senior staff were searched, they were found to be full of sacks of cash and diamonds.
Once this emerged, there were protests demanding he be fired. Additionally, a sniper took three shots at Mr Shokin while he was in a meeting at his office.
The US State Department, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund all urged Ukraine to fire Mr Shokin, arguing he was preventing the country from emerging from its corrupt past.
Democrats and Republicans in the US Senate, including senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, co-authored a letter demanding urgent reform to the prosecutor-general’s office.
When they were met with resistance, Mr Biden was sent to deliver the final message. Mr Shokin was finally fired.
This version of events has been backed up by US State Department officials, like Trump-appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, who testified under oath last year that Mr Biden was carrying out official US Government policy.
Despite multiple investigations by media and government into this series of events, a years-long campaign has been mounted to try and claim that something corrupt happened.
Who is behind the story now being pushed by the Trump campaign?
The work of pushing the story has been led by Rudy Giuliani and a very suspicious cast of characters.
There’s the pair of Ukrainian-American guys who ran a fake business registered as “Fraud Guarantee”, and are currently awaiting trial on campaign finance violation charges.
There’s the Ukrainian oligarch with alleged Russian mob connections who is living in exile in Vienna, fighting extradition to the US.
And there’s the Ukrainian politician who has been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for being a close connection of Russian intelligence, and for being “complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 US presidential election.”
These men worked together on a scheme which in 2019 led directly to the impeachment of Mr Trump, after he demanded the Ukrainian President begin an investigation into Joe Biden based on what Mr Giuliani and his friends had found.
Then, starting at the beginning of 2020, reports emerged that Russian government hackers had gained access to the emails of Hunter Biden, and were planning to release them before the 2020 election, timed to do maximum damage to his father’s campaign, in a direct re-running of their 2016 US election interference campaign.
It was unclear from the reporting whether they would release the information online themselves, through a WikiLeaks-like intermediary as they did in 2016, or by some other means.
Keeping all that in mind, let us tell you about Hunter Biden’s laptop, the new piece of the puzzle, which has made its way into Australian newspapers and led to the chants of “Lock ’em all up”.
The laptop that revived the story
Last week the New York Post reported that emails from Hunter Biden had surfaced, tying Joe Biden to Burisma.
The emails apparently proved, according to the leading paragraph, that: “Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-vice-president Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company.”
The email purportedly from the Burisma executive, provided only in screenshot form, reads: “Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure.”
That’s the scoop.
The story falls over in the first paragraph. As mentioned earlier, the prosecutor was not investigating Burisma.
The story goes on to claim that “other material extracted from the computer includes a raunchy, 12-minute video that appears to show Hunter, who’s admitted struggling with addiction problems, smoking crack while engaged in a sex act with an unidentified woman, as well as numerous other sexually explicit images.”
How did the New York Post obtain this material?
It says the files were on a laptop dropped off at a computer repair shop in Delaware in April 2019.
The owner of the shop is “legally blind” and can’t say for sure who dropped the laptop off, but surmised that it was Hunter Biden because his name was listed as the contact.
But whoever dropped it off never returned to pick it up.
The shop owner looked into the contents of the laptop and was apparently so horrified by what he found he alerted the FBI, though the FBI has not confirmed this.
He then got in contact with Mr Giuliani, through means which remain unclear.
The Biden family has not commented on whether the laptop was really dropped off by Hunter Biden.
Mr Giuliani told the New York Times that the reason he gave the story to the New York Post was that “either nobody else would take it, or if they took it, they would spend all the time they could to try to contradict it before they put it out”.
There are a few possibilities for what has happened here. One is that Mr Giuliani, despite his recent record of lying about this story repeatedly, really did by incredible coincidence come into possession of these materials.
The other is that Russian intelligence hacked into Hunter Biden’s information and then laundered what they found through a laptop and a drop at a friendly computer shop.
Either way, the information on the laptop is highly questionable.
Which is why American news outlets have been hesitant to touch it.
But Australian media has shown no such qualms.