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In the days before the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden dismissed leaked emails about his son Hunter’s business dealings as a Russian plot. To make that case, Biden cited a just-released statement from purported voices of authority.
“There are 50 former national intelligence folks who said that” the Hunter laptop story “is a Russian plan” and “a bunch of garbage,” Biden declared. The laptop controversy, he insisted, was “disinformation from the Russians” and “a smear campaign,” a conclusion backed up by “overwhelming evidence from the intelligence community.” Although none of this “overwhelming evidence” was ever produced — in fact, Biden’s “intelligence folks” explicitly acknowledged that “we do not have evidence of Russian involvement” — establishment media outlets nonetheless accepted their claim on faith.
As was obvious at the time, the assertion that the laptop was “Russian disinformation” was in fact Russiagate disinformation: in this case, invoking the familiar Russian boogeyman to deflect attention from the leaks’ contents and even enable their censorship. More than two years later, the source of this smear campaign has now been confirmed: the Biden campaign itself.
In Congressional testimony, former CIA deputy director Michael Morell revealed that he organized the statement at the behest of Antony Blinken, then a senior Biden campaign adviser and now Secretary of State. According to Morell, Blinken called him on October 17th 2020, three days after the New York Post published some of the laptop’s contents. Later that night, Blinken also emailed Morell a USA Today article claiming that the FBI was investigating whether the laptop story “is part of a smoke bomb of disinformation pushed by Russia.” USA Today cited an unspecified “person familiar with the matter.” Despite the fact that the FBI had long been in possession of the laptop and knew it to be authentic, the bureau nonetheless declined to comment – which gave the “disinformation” allegation a veneer of plausibility.
Asked if Blinken’s call “triggered” his intent to write the statement, Morell replied “yes, absolutely” and also acknowledged that he “did not” have any intent to write it beforehand. Morell’s motive, he explained, was to “help Vice President Biden… because I wanted him to win the election.” Morell had an additional incentive: he was considered a front-runner to head the CIA in the event that Biden won.
In response, House Democrats have argued that Republican counterparts failed to disclose that Morell, when asked if Blinken had asked or suggested that he should write the statement, responded: “My memory is that he did not.” Assuming that Morell’s “memory” is correct, his answer is far from dispositive: seasoned Washington actors do not need explicit requests to understand what is being sought from them.
That is why, as Morell also testified, the Biden campaign helped strategize about disseminating the statement and then personally thanked him upon its release. According to House Republicans, Morell revealed that the Biden campaign “wanted the statement to go to a particular reporter at the Washington Post first.” (The story ultimately first appeared in Politico). And after it came out, Biden campaign chairman Steve Ricchetti personally called Morell and “thanked me for putting the statement out.”
This means that the Biden campaign and their intelligence veteran allies carried out exactly what they accused Russia of: a disinformation and smear campaign aimed at, as Morell admitted to, helping their candidate win. It also means that this tactic has now been deployed in two consecutive elections: in both 2016 and 2020, the Democratic presidential campaign generated fake claims about Russia; spread them via intel officials and media stenographers; and did so to deflect from factual disclosures about their potential corruption.
In Hillary Clinton’s case, her attorneys at Perkins Coie used the firm Fusion GPS and its subcontractor Christopher Steele to spread fabricated tales of a Trump-Russia conspiracy. The same Clinton attorneys also hired a different firm, CrowdStrike, which generated the claim that embarrassing Democratic Party emails were in fact hacked by Russia as part of a plot to help Trump. After the election, Clinton operatives also generated the claims that Russian social media posts and bots had manipulated voters into voting for Trump.
All of these Clinton campaign-funded fabrications were fed to willing actors at the FBI and establishment media, whose combined credulity and disingenuousness produced the all-consuming Russia investigation. Although the media has been forced renounce Steele’s concoctions, they have only continued to double down on every other aspect of the Russiagate fraud. This has required the wholesale omission of countervailing information that undermines the claims that they uncritically promoted.
For example, CrowdStrike – whose allegation of Russian hacking kicked off the entire Russiagate saga – admitted under oath in December 2017 that it “did not have concrete evidence” that purported Russian hackers actually removed any data from the DNC servers. “There’s circumstantial evidence, but no evidence that they were actually exfiltrated,” CrowdStrike CEO Shawn Henry said. Henry’s admission – kept under wraps throughout the entirety of the Mueller investigation until its release in May 2020 — has never been reported in establishment US media.
Having refused to account for their post-2016 Russiagate disinformation campaign, it is no surprise that the same political and intelligence actors dusted off the same playbook for 2020. The overlap is so stark that Morell reprised the same role.
In August 2016, well before full-blown Russia-mania took hold, Morell invoked his “training as an intelligence officer” to declare that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have “recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” Morell shared this perspective in an op-ed in which he also declared that “I will do everything I can to ensure that [Hillary Clinton] is elected as our 45th president.”
Four years later, Morell has now used that same “training” to recruit dozens other witting former intelligence agents to lodge a similar evidence-free, Russia-baiting allegation with the same aim of electing Biden, all while invoking their intelligence credentials. “All of us have an understanding of the wide range of Russian overt and covert activities that undermine US national security, with some of us knowing Russian behavior intimately,” the 2020 statement stated, and “our experience makes us deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case.” Accordingly, they concluded, the laptop story “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”
It would be damming enough if these two consecutive Russiagate disinformation operations had solely impacted the 2016 and 2020 elections. But their consequences go far beyond. Among multiple outcomes, the tactic of invoking a fictional Russian boogeyman has enabled a climate of censorship wherein voices of dissent are censored or even prosecuted, as newly underscored by an indictment of Black leftists as alleged Russian agents; the veneration and parroting of the national security state, whose retired operatives dominate the airwaves and newspapers; and the repeated sabotage of diplomacy with Russia, which fueled a proxy war in post-2014 Ukraine, and thwarted any opportunities to prevent Russia’s February 2022 invasion or a peace deal to end it since.
Liberals and progressives have ignored or even cheered the Russiagate playbook because, in both elections, Donald Trump and Republicans were the visible targets. But here too, they have not only undermined their values and but their own political interests. The most clear example came in the 2020 Democratic primary, when the Russian boogeyman was strategically deployed to hurt Bernie Sanders’ prospects.
In this McCarthyite climate, Russiagate disinformation actors in Democratic, intelligence, neoconservative and media circles have been handed a sweeping pass to continue their deceptions. Any countervailing evidence, and deleterious consequences, are simply brushed to the side – all in the name of preventing the very malign interference that is in fact being waged.