WASHINGTON — Federal investigators are examining whether emails allegedly describing activities by Joe Biden and his son Hunter and found on a laptop at a Delaware repair shop are linked to a foreign intelligence operation, two people familiar with the matter told NBC News.
The FBI seized the laptop and a hard drive through a grand jury subpoena. The subpoena was later published by the New York Post. The bureau has declined to comment.
The Post has published a series of stories based on emails the conservative tabloid said it obtained from President Donald Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani. The first story highlighted what it called a “smoking gun email” that suggested a meeting between Biden and a representative of a Ukrainian company that once paid Hunter Biden. The Biden campaign says there is no evidence the meeting happened, and the story was greeted with widespread skepticism.
George Mesires, attorney for Hunter Biden, said in a statement, “We have no idea where this came from, and certainly cannot credit anything that Rudy Giuliani provided to the New York Post, but what I do know for certain is that this purported meeting never happened.”
“The New York Post never asked the Biden campaign about the critical elements of this story,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said. “They certainly never raised that Rudy Giuliani — whose discredited conspiracy theories and alliance with figures connected to Russian intelligence have been widely reported — claimed to have such materials.”
Bates added, “We have reviewed Joe Biden's official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place."
Questions have swirled around the Post’s account of how it obtained the emails and other materials. The newspaper said they were found on a laptop left in a Delaware repair shop in April 2019 and never claimed. The repair shop owner then took it upon himself to access the private material, the Post said.
The Post said the shop owner, who has been identified as Mac Isaac, called the FBI, and also called a Giuliani associate. The shop owner said he believed the laptop was among equipment left by Hunter Biden, because a sticker on the laptop bore the name of the Beau Biden Foundation, a charity named after his late brother.
“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,” the Post said. “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.”
It remains unclear whether the emails cited by the Post are authentic or have been doctored.
Giuliani, who acknowledged helping bring the material to light, has in the past sought to unearth information damaging to Biden with the help of a man identified by the U.S. government as a Russian intelligence officer.
Questions about the provenance of the emails have led Facebook and Twitter to limit sharing of the story, prompting fierce criticism from Republicans.
In an interview published by the Daily Beast, Issac, the repair shop owner, did not answer key questions.
“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 FBI that contacted him,” the Beast wrote. NBC News has reached out to Isaac but has not heard back.
The Post published a grand jury subpoena for the laptop and hard drive. 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.
“Other material extracted from the computer,” the Post said, “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.”
Many commentators have said it is hard to believe that Hunter Biden would abandon a Mac laptop full of incriminating information at a repair shop.
Some have speculated that the material could have been hacked from Hunter Biden’s accounts and put on the laptop as a cover story to offer a plausible explanation of how the material became public.
In January, it was reported that Burisma’s networks had been breached by Russian hackers.