- 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 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 as part of a foreign intelligence operation, NBC News reported.
Hunter Biden is the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The two Bidens are 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.
As Business Insider reported, based on media reports, witness testimony, and public statements, there is no evidence that this theory holds merit.
But Hunter Biden made headlines this week when the New York Post published a dubious and widely discredited story purporting to feature “smoking-gun” emails showing the Burisma executive discussing with Hunter the prospect of meeting Joe Biden in 2015.
Though the story 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.
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 yet another US 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.
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.'”