Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist to President Donald Trump, has claimed that Hunter Biden emailed a computer repair shop to reclaim a hard drive now at the center of an FBI probe into Russian disinformation.
The New York Post this week detailed alleged conversations between Hunter—the son of Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden—and an executive at Ukrainian gas company Burisma, on whose board Hunter previously served.
The Post cited emails reportedly found on a hard drive supplied by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani has long been involved in Trump’s political machinations in Ukraine and has reportedly been flagged by U.S. officials as a potential conduit for Russian government disinformation.
One of the released emails shows Hunter was planning to introduce Burisma executive Vadym Pozharsky to Biden—then vice president—in 2015. Pozharsky wrote to Hunter: “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 honour and pleasure.”
Trump and his allies have seized on the email as evidence that Biden misused his position to benefit his son, though it is not clear if Pozharsky and Biden ever actually met. Biden has said he “never discussed” Hunter’s foreign business interests with him.
Bannon told Sky News Sunday: “Hunter Biden’s lawyer has come to us both with phone calls and with emails saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got to get the hard drive back.'”
“This is not some Russian intelligence operation; they admit it’s their hard drive,” Bannon said. “We have the emails from the lawyer, if we need to release them, we’ll release them.”
The emails came from the hard drive of a water-damaged laptop—purportedly belonging to Hunter—dropped off at a Delaware repair shop in 2019. The hard drive was retrieved by a third-party from the shop owner in January and sent to Giuliani. Giuliani seemingly then sat on the information for months, before releasing it to the Post weeks before the election.
The FBI is reportedly conducting an investigation into whether the allegations are part of a Russian disinformation campaign against the Biden campaign. The agency has refused to publicly confirm that an investigation is ongoing.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has warned that Russia is trying to “denigrate” Biden ahead of the election and damage his chances of unseating Trump.
U.S. intelligence agencies and Congress have concluded that Russia did the same to Hillary Clinton in 2016, helping Trump win the presidential race. The president and his allies continue to dispute these findings.
The story also prompted a social media furore after Twitter and Facebook restricted access to the article because of its uncertain sourcing.
Twitter said the report violated their standards on sharing illegally-obtained information. It remains unclear if the emails are genuine, whether they were hacked from the computer or whether they are forged.
Trump and his allies have previously claimed Biden misused his power as vice president to protect Burisma from a fraud investigation, pushing to fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin.
Shokin was considered to be soft on corruption and Biden was reflecting U.S. and allied policy by pushing for his removal. At the time of Shokin’s removal, the investigation into Burisma was dormant. The remains no evidence to suggest Biden misused his influence to benefit his son.
Trump used the conspiracy theory to try and deflect from his own parallel policy in Ukraine—overseen by Giuliani—in which he pushed newly-elected President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Biden’s activities in Ukraine in exchange for U.S. military aid.
The scandal eventually led to Trump’s impeachment by the House though he was later acquitted by the Senate, both by party-line votes.
Bannon is currently facing charges of fraud over a fundraising campaign to support Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border. Bannon left the White House under a cloud in 2017, despite being credited as the intellectual and strategic engine behind the success of the 2016 underdog campaign.
Bannon has since tried to build a pan-European political alliance, building ties with a range of anti-establishment parties while also campaigning for GOP lawmakers in the U.S.