IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Why Trump's desperate 'Bidengate' Hail Marys keep backfiring

Giuliani can't help letting himself get played.
Image: Rudy Giuliani thinking on a yellow background next to Hunter Biden in a blue circle.
Chelsea Stahl / MSNBC

Here's a pro tip: If a headline involves the words "Joe Biden" and "Ukraine," search the story for "Giuliani." Because it's clear that even after he inadvertently helped get his client the president impeached by peddling lukewarm misinformation, the former mayor of New York City still hasn't learned his lesson. But thankfully, a lot of people have caught on by now.

In trying to con the public and media into making “Bidengate” a thing, Giuliani has let himself get played time after time.

For those of you who didn't live and breathe the Ukraine saga for nearly six months this time last year, here's a quick refresher: President Donald Trump, looking to kneecap former Vice President Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 race, pushed Ukraine's president to announce investigations into Biden and his son Hunter. Trump illegally withheld millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine as leverage. As convoluted as the scheme became, it was simple at its core: circulate bad headlines that involve the words "Biden" and "investigation," similar to when Hillary Clinton was weighed down with headlines about her emails in 2016.

That attempt to spin the public into a fervor over Hunter Biden, spearheaded at times by Rudy Giuliani, failed to launch and wound up getting Trump impeached. The best efforts of the Republican-led Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to carry on that work failed to find anything substantive that showed that Joe Biden used his role as vice president improperly to benefit Hunter in Ukraine. But in trying to con the public and the media into making "Bidengate" a thing, Giuliani has let himself get played time after time.

His latest attempt came in the form of a New York Post story Wednesday morning with the headline "Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad." (We're not linking to the piece, given the uncertain provenance of some of the materials used in its reporting.) Its central claim is rooted in an alleged set of emails between Hunter and Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas company Hunter Biden worked for from 2014 to 2019. In the alleged 2015 email, Pozharskyi writes: "Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent some time together. It's realty an honor and pleasure."

The Post claims that this email was part of a trove of information recovered from a mysterious laptop abandoned at a repair shop in Delaware. The owner of that shop is alleged to have made a copy of the hard drive in the laptop before the Justice Department seized it 10 months ago.

Within minutes of the story's being published, holes were getting poked in it. For example, how convenient it is that the laptop's contents just happened to pop up weeks before the election. And, as Politico's Kyle Cheney noted on Twitter, even if this email is real — which we can't verify just yet — there's no real evidence that a meeting between Joe Biden and Pozharskyi ever actually happened.

The Post also leans heavily on another email from Pozharskyi from the year before, asking Hunter Biden for "advice on how you can use your influence" to halt what he said were politically motivated bribes. Now, is it a bad look for Hunter to have this ridiculously highly paid role while his dad is vice president? Absolutely, and both Hunter and members of the Obama State Department have said as much. But the Post's source for this story — Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer-turned-globetrotting geriatric Batman — gives away the game, as made clear in this excerpt:

"... Before turning over the gear, the shop owner says, he made a copy of the hard drive and later gave it to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello.

Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Trump, told The Post about the existence of the hard drive in late September and Giuliani provided The Post with a copy of it on Sunday."

Trumpworld has been obsessed with Ukraine ever since Konstantin Klimnik, whom the Senate Intelligence Committee described as "a Russian intelligence officer," and former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort invented the idea that Ukraine — not Russia — was the main foreign villain in 2016. Giuliani took the bait early and hasn't let go since.

It was Giuliani whom Trump first sent to Ukraine to find evidence for the alleged corrupt dealings between Ukrainians and Democrats as a way to debunk the "Russia hoax" that Trump still swears was a con job to deny him the presidency. In Trump and Giuliani's hunt for Ukrainian meddling, a former Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, saw a chance to get payback for Biden's role in his firing.

It was Giuliani who Trump first sent to Ukraine to find evidence for the alleged corrupt dealings between Ukrainians and Democrats as a way to debunk the “Russia hoax” that Trump still swears was a con job to deny him the presidency.

It was Giuliani who first pushed Shokin's false claim that he was fired to prevent an investigation into Hunter Biden and Burisma, a claim repeated in the Post's story. But let's be clear: Shokin wasn't fired because of anything improper Joe Biden did, no matter how colorfully Biden recounted the tale in 2018. It's a point worth repeating, loudly, as Daniel Goldman, the former prosecutor who led the investigation for House Democrats, did on Twitter.

And it's Giuliani, a famed former prosecutor, who's found himself conned time and time again by people who tell him what he wants to hear. Just last month, Trump's own Treasury Department sanctioned Ukrainian parliamentarian Andrii Derkach for spreading Russian propaganda. Derkach was in recent months one of Giuliani's main sources of disinformation.

To recap, the initial push to have Ukraine's president announce investigations into the Bidens to stall Joe's campaign for president failed spectacularly, even with the president's eventual acquittal in the Senate. Giuliani's attempt to keep things going by rehashing the affair on the hard-right One America News Network failed to gain traction. Homeland Security Committee Chair Ron Johnson's Senate report failed to find any evidence of wrongdoing, even though he clearly framed the investigation as helpful to the president.

And now we have Wednesday's Post article, which is so thin that Twitter has blocked people from accessing or sharing it. Even Facebook, not known for swift action, is slowing the story's spread on its platform.

Will this latest attempt from Giuliani backfire nearly as spectacularly as the first one? Probably not. But it's like watching a quarterback call a trick play on first down and get absolutely demolished — and then proceed to run the exact same play for the next two downs anyway. We're at fourth-and-long now, and this Hail Mary doesn't look like it's gonna fly — but as long as there's still people willing to play receiver downfield, Giuliani's going to keep trying.