Biden’s campaign on Wednesday rejected a New York Post report on Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter, who the country’s top social media companies considered so dubious that they limited access to the article on their platforms.
The report, which appeared just three weeks before the election, was based on material provided by Republican allies of President Trump, who tried for months to spot Biden because of his son. He claimed that the oldest Mr Biden had met with a consultant to a Ukrainian energy company on whose advice Hunter Biden served.
A Biden campaign spokesman, Andrew Bates, said that Biden’s official schedules did not show any meeting between Biden and the adviser, Vadym Pozharskyi.
“We reviewed Joe Biden’s official schedules at the time and no meeting, as claimed by the New York Post, ever happened,” said Bates.
The Post story quoted an email that Mr. Pozharskyi allegedly sent to Hunter Biden, thanking him for “giving him an opportunity to meet his father” and spending “some time together”. The authenticity of the e-mail correspondence cited by The Post could not be independently verified.
Hours after the Post published its article, Facebook said on Wednesday that it decided to limit the distribution of the story on its platform so it could check the facts. Twitter he said he was blocking the article because it included people’s personal phone numbers and email addresses, which violated his privacy rules and because the article violated his policy on hacked materials.
The actions of Facebook and Twitter immediately elicited strong reactions from Republicans that social media platforms were censoring them, a clamor that grew louder on Wednesday when the Trump campaign said the press secretary’s personal report White House, Kayleigh McEnany, was blocked because she posted the New York Post story. Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, a strong ally of Trump, called Twitter “despicable” action and called “true electoral interference”.
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been criticized by Trump and other Republicans for years for allegedly censoring their views. The companies, located in the liberal Silicon Valley, denied these claims.
Hunter Biden’s trade negotiations abroad have been the subject of intense Republican focus for the past year, including his ties to a Ukrainian company, Burisma, while Biden, as vice president, worked on Ukrainian politics. Both Bidens said the two did not discuss Ukraine with each other. An investigation by Senate Republicans – and a significant scrutiny of the issue last year – found no evidence that Mr. Biden, the former vice president, was involved in irregularities in his son’s negotiations.
Asked about the prospect of even a brief meeting with Pozharskyi, a Biden campaign official said this was “technically possible”, but very unlikely. The official said there was “no indication” that such an interaction had taken place and that, regardless, Biden would not have discussed anything related to Burisma.
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Mr. Trump, who follows Biden in many important battlefield states, struggled for months to define negatively Mr. Biden. The president went from baseless attacks to Biden’s mental acuity to consider him an enemy of the police and even the suburbs.
Mr Trump’s criticisms of Hunter Biden, however, have been a constant throughout the electoral cycle and generally make discredited claims about the older Mr Biden’s activities. Mr trump debate stage attack Last month, Hunter Biden’s fight against addiction was one of the most violent and personal of the campaign. And Mr. Trump was accused in connection with encouraging the leader of Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden.
At a rally on Wednesday night in Des Moines, Trump opened his comments by describing the Post’s article and making a series of baseless allegations against Biden and Hunter Biden, and labeled the former vice president a “corrupt politician.”
The Post’s report described a tortuous and unusual path through which the newspaper obtained email correspondence involving two of Trump’s most loyal allies: Rudolph W. Giuliani, the personal attorney of the president and former New York mayor, and Stephen K. Bannon, a former White House adviser.
The article says the emails are part of a treasure trove of material on a laptop that was left for repairs at a store in Delaware, Biden’s home state, and has never been recovered. According to the agency, the store owner made a copy of the correspondence and provided it to Giuliani’s lawyer.
Mr. Bannon, who was arrested in August and accused of fraud, he informed the Post about the hard drive, and on Sunday Giuliani – who was accused in this election cycle of obtaining information from Russian agents – provided the Post with a copy, the article said.
Bates, Biden’s spokesman, said the Post did not ask Biden’s campaign about “critical elements of this story”.
“They certainly never raised that Rudy Giuliani – whose discredited conspiracy theories and alliance with figures linked to Russian intelligence were widely publicized – claimed to have such materials,” he said in his statement.
The report raises a series of unanswered questions, starting with whether the email referring to a meeting is real and, if so, what Mr. Pozharskyi was referring to specifically when he said he thanked Hunter Biden for the “opportunity” to meet and spend time with your father.
It is also unclear who left the laptop in the workshop. The Post reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized the computer and the hard drive in December, but did not specify what the authorities may be investigating.
The article also does not explain any connection between the store owner and Mr. Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert J. Costello, or why the owner would give him a copy of the hard drive.
In an interview on Wednesday afternoon, Costello said that someone he described as “a source” sent an email to one of Giuliani’s companies in September, adding that he had damaging information about Hunter Biden. (Although Mr. Costello declined to identify the source, his description suggested that he owned the store.)
Costello said he called the person, who agreed to send him the hard drive overnight. In the weeks that followed, Costello examined its contents, which he said contained text messages, photos, videos and emails.
Initially, when no one came back to recover the hard drive for 90 days, said Costello, the source examined the content, believed it was problematic and then called F.B.I.
After the documents did not appear at Trump’s impeachment hearings, the source became agitated and began to approach lawmakers who did not return their messages, said Costello. It is not clear why it would take more than nine months, however, for the person to arrive in Giuliani in September.
Some security experts expressed skepticism about the origin and authenticity of the emails.
The times reported last January that Burisma had been hacked by the same Russian GRU unit that was one of two groups that hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016. Last month, US intelligence analysts contacted several people with knowledge of the Burisma hack for more information after hearing conversations about stolen emails of Burisma would leak in the form of an “October surprise”.
Among his main concerns, according to people familiar with the discussions, was that Burisma material would leak along with counterfeit materials in an attempt to undermine Biden’s candidacy – as Russian hackers did when they dumped real emails alongside forgeries before the 2017 French elections – a slight twist in the 2016 Russian manual when they deflected the D.N.C. emails through fake personas on Twitter and WikiLeaks.
Facebook said that shortly after the story was published it realized the controversy surrounding the veracity of its claims and how the Post obtained the evidence. As the story circulated, the company said it had acted to contain its potential for virality.
In essence, this meant that Facebook would show fewer instances of posts shared with the story in users’ News Feeds, the main way people see and share links and other stories on Facebook.
“I want to make it clear that this story can be verified by Facebook’s third-party fact verification partners,” said Andy Stone, a spokesman for the social media company, in a tweet.
Although Trump and his allies attacked Biden over his son’s business for many months, they do not appear to have dramatically changed the way voters view Biden’s integrity.
In a Fox News poll conducted in October 2019, 48% of voters across the country said they thought Biden was honest and trustworthy. When voters answered the same question in a Fox News poll in August, the proportion that supported that opinion was the same: 48%.
The report was contributed by Nicole Perlroth, Kate Conger, Thomas Kaplan, Giovanni Russonello and Nicholas Fandos.