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Are Trump allies peddling Russian disinformation about the Bidens?

This week, President Trump highlighted a controversial New York Post report about Hunter Biden's business dealings. There are major questions about the story’s accuracy and origins. Meanwhile, we learned that senior presidential advisers expressed concerns in the past that Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was peddling Russian disinformation. Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Over the last few days, President Trump has highlighted a report by The New York Post about Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son.

    There are major questions about the origins and the accuracy of that story. And, today, we learned more about concerns expressed by the president's most senior advisers that the president's personal attorney was peddling Russian disinformation.

    To talk about all of this, we turn to Nick Schifrin.

    So, hello, Nick.

    You — take us back to last year and what it was that Rudy Giuliani was at the center, was supposed to be doing.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, Judy, you remember back to impeachment.

    And the crux of the Democrats' argument was that President Trump was seeking favors from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to get dirt on Joe Biden. At the time, the source of the president's information about Biden was Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, who was looking into Joe and Hunter Biden.

    Joe Biden at the time was running the Obama administration's Ukraine policy, and Hunter was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company called Burisma, which was widely considered corrupt. We will talk about those details in a second.

    But the intelligence community was monitoring Ukrainians who it believed were Russian agents. And it realized that Giuliani was meeting with at least one of them. In fact, one of Giuliani's main sources would later be called by the Treasury Department an active Russian agent for the last decade.

    A former senior intelligence official tells me that President Trump was warned Giuliani's information was likely Russian disinformation by National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Joe Maguire, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Attorney General Bill Barr.

    All told the president not to trust Giuliani. And this was first reported, Judy, by The Washington Post.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what do we know, Nick, about the president's response to all this?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The former senior intelligence official I spoke to said that the president shrugged it off and said that, whenever intelligence officials would bring up the idea that Russia was supporting him in 2020, like it did in 2016, he would push back, because he thought they were questioning his 2016 victory.

    The National Security Council spokesman sent me a statement: "The president always treats such briefings with the utmost seriousness. The characterization of the meeting as described is not accurate."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let's now switch over to that New York Post story. Give us the context for why there was interest in the Bidens and Ukraine in 2016.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, at the end of the Obama administration, Vice President Biden and the international community wanted to push Ukraine to crack down on corruption.

    And part of that effort specifically was to oust the chief prosecutor who was considered particularly ineffective. And when it came to Burisma, U.S. diplomats said that that prosecutor was ineffective because he had not pursued corruption allegations against Burisma.

    So, by pushing to get the prosecutor fired, Vice President Biden was actually making it more likely that the Ukrainian government would investigate the company that had his son the board.

    So, The New York Post reported, alleged, that Hunter Biden introduced his father to a Burisma executive in 2015. And this would go against Joe and Hunter Biden claims that they never discussed Hunter's overseas business. This was brought up again and again by President Trump, including this morning in Florida.

  • President Donald Trump:

    He's like a vacuum cleaner. He follows his father around collecting. A lot of disgrace. It's a crime family.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Biden campaign has released a statement saying the meeting never happened and pointing out that two Republican-led committees concluded that Biden — quote — "carried out official U.S. policy in Ukraine and engaged in no wrongdoing."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Nick, what is known about the origin of the New York Post story then?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, so this comes from a laptop that was dropped off at a computer store in Delaware.

    The owner of the store has changed his story, but suggests that he gave a copy of the hard drive from the laptop to Rudy Giuliani. On the hard drive, there are photos of Hunter Biden that are apparently legitimate.

    But there is also this e-mail, which was published in such a way that you can't prove whether it's legitimate or not.

    The bottom line is, we cannot confirm the story, Judy.

    But to go back to where we started, the Biden campaign says that this is Russian disinformation. And disinformation experts I talk to tell me that pro-Russian actors have been packaging their disinformation next to apparently legitimate information, and that they fear that Russian and other actors will continue doing so in the final weeks before the election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Such important reporting.

    Thank you, Nick Schifrin.

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