The Holy War over Hunter Biden’s laptop- POLITICO


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Every month, there are dozens of stories about HUNTER BIDEN attributed to a hard drive of a computer he left behind.

The New York Post published 23 this past month. The Daily Mail has penned 20. In recent months, The Washington Post has also begun publishing stories on Hunter’s business dealings and personal relationships based on what is now known as “The Laptop” or “The Laptop from Hell,” as the New York Post’s MIRANDA DEVINE has dubbed it.

The origins of many of these stories are two conservative activists who happen to hate each other.

The Washington Post and the Daily Mail both obtained their copies of “The Laptop” from JACK MAXEY, a former co-host on STEVE BANNON’s “War Room” podcast who describes himself as “Hunter’s laptop king” on his Gettr account. On June 14, 2021, The Washington Post’s GLENN KESSLER served as an intermediary for a meeting at the Post between Maxey, editor PETER WALLSTEN and investigative reporter TOM HAMBURGER, according to Maxey—a description a Post spokesperson confirmed. They said that after the Post had problems with the first copy of the drive, Maxey subsequently gave the paper three other digital copies, including one that was more user-friendly.

The Daily Mail and The Washington Post both say they have authenticated at least some material contained in the laptop, upon which they have based their stories (POLITICO has not undergone the process to authenticate the laptop, but reporter BEN SCHRECKINGER has confirmed the authenticity of some emails on it.)

Then there’s GARRETT ZIEGLER, a 26-year-old former aide to Trump trade adviser PETER NAVARRO, who was a key figure in the lead up to Jan. 6 as he escorted MICHAEL FLYNN and SIDNEY POWELL into the White House on Dec. 18 to discuss seizing voting machines, according to the New York Times. Ziegler’s credentials were revoked afterward.

Ziegler has taken a different approach with a copy of the laptop he says he obtained through RUDY GULIANI and his long-time associate BERNARD KERIK in the winter of 2020, when they were passing around copies to many far-right operatives.

Rather than supplying copies to media outlets, starting in May, Ziegler uploaded on his group’s website more than 120,000 emails and other documents from the hard drive. The documents are often watermarked with the name of his group, The Marco Polo Project. Some of these materials have subsequently been cited by the Daily Mail.

Ziegler took the same tack with a journal he claims was written by Hunter’s sister ASHLEY BIDEN, which he transcribed and published online last October.

How these two men became some of the chief purveyors of Hunter Biden dirt provides a window into how the far-right media ecosystem has evolved in response to his father’s presidency.

Neither Maxey nor Ziegler are classic D.C.-operative types peddling oppo to reporters. Rather, they present themselves as zealots in a historic battle for the sake of the republic. They aren’t filtering out items from the laptop in hopes of driving specific media coverage so much as arguing that they have uncovered documents rivaling the Pentagon Papers in importance.

As a result, they’re in an increasingly nasty competition over who gets to claim the title of modern day DANIEL ELLSBERG.

“I think it’s one of the greatest stories of the 21st century so far, probably in the top 10,” Ziegler said of the laptop.

Maxey said he thinks Ziegler is trying to profit off the laptop by collecting donations to the Marco Polo group via donation buttons on his site. “In every respect he’s been full of shit this whole way,” he told West Wing Playbook. Maxey said he gave Ziegler a copy of the laptop in December 2020 to hand off to the director of national intelligence, but that Ziegler instead hung onto it for himself.

Ziegler acknowledged Maxey gave him the Hunter hard drive, but said he returned it after getting another copy from Kerik. He denies ever withholding the laptop from anyone and accuses Maxey of trying to sully his image.

“That’s what haters do, they just make up shit. And people just repeat the lies. Usually in a sane world, in a Western world, the person who is accusing someone else produces some sort of evidence,” he said. “The whole thing is a hoax. So when you write your story, make sure that you put the truth.”

For good measure, he called Maxey “a dumbass.”

The White House and Hunter’s representatives have largely taken a “no comment” approach to the laptop even as photos, videos, text messages, voicemails, and emails continue to trickle out on a weekly basis. They declined to comment for this story as well.

But they are quietly keeping track of Maxey and Ziegler.

Ziegler in particular has drawn the ire of one of Hunter’s representatives, attorney KEVIN MORRIS. On May 30, in the weeks after Ziegler uploaded the emails online and Morris’ involvement with Hunter became public, Morris messaged Ziegler and told him “there is right and wrong in this world. You are a vicious little p—– and I’m coming to get you,” according to screenshots of the messages provided by Ziegler. “Make sure you take a few nice outfits to jail. You’ll want to look pretty,” wrote Morris, who declined to comment.

Ziegler and Maxey both continue to be immersed in the contents of the hard drive. Ziegler says that most of his days are “spent figuring out how pimps are connected to one another,” adding that he has called “over 40 prostitutes” he believes Hunter has solicited either for sex or drugs. Hunter’s ex-wife claimed in her 2017 divorce filing that he spent “extravagantly” on drugs and prostitutes. In his memoir “Beautiful Things,” Hunter wrote that he would also browse online escort service ads in order to find drugs.

While mainstream news outlets continue to tread carefully on the laptop — if they touch it at all — conservative media have feasted on it. And the stories likely aren’t going away.

On Monday night’s show, TUCKER CARLSON gave a shout out to Maxey for his work and showed part of a lengthy interview the two did in April in Switzerland, to where Maxey said he fled out of fear of reprisal.

Meridith McGraw contributed to this newsletter

MESSAGE US — Are you DARCY PALDER, communications assistant to the Second Gentleman? We want to hear from you! And we’ll keep you anonymous if you’d like. Or if you think we missed something in today’s edition, let us know and we may include it tomorrow. Email us at [email protected].

WHAT YOU WROTE US: Yesterday, we encouraged young “Biden superfans” to write in and, to our pleasant surprise, some of you did!

A 26-year-old sent a pithy email that argued: “Biden could literally do nothing for the next two and a half years, letting the WH interns run the Cabinet and his dog declare war, etc., and the expected value would be far better for the country than having had a second Trump term, which was the only realistic alternative. We chose the only candidate who could win and he did.” He also sent us a Biden meme of what he called “Dark Brandon.”

This one’s from Allie. Another related to presidential pets — which president had the last cow to live at the White House?

(Answer at the bottom)

WHERE THE PURELL AT?: As Biden visits the Middle East this week, the White House said Wednesday that the president will limit his handshaking as a result of the rise in coronavirus cases. “We’re in a phase of the pandemic right now where we’re looking to increase masking, reduce contact to minimize spread. That’s the approach we’re taking,” national security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN told reporters on Air Force One. Our ALEXANDER WARD has more details.

Alas, the president had some trouble sticking to the plan. As Ward reported in today’s NatSecDaily, “Biden shook hands with former Israeli Prime Ministers NAFTALI BENNETT and BENJAMIN NETANYAHU on the airport tarmac. ‘You know I love you,’ Biden reportedly told Bibi during their long embrace.”

HANGING CHAD: For the second time in as many days, the White House announced a slate of judicial nominees and nowhere on the list was the most controversial name. CHAD MEREDITH, the anti-abortion attorney from Kentucky whose likely nomination by the Biden White House was part of a reported deal with Sen. MITCH MCCONNELL that caused a stir among Democrats, was not included among the names.

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: This Fox News’ ADAM SHAW and BROOKE SINGMAN piece about Mexico’s latest investment in U.S. infrastructure. ABDULLAH HASAN, White House assistant press secretary, tweeted out the piece Tuesday night, writing: “Trump in his four years couldn’t finish a border wall, let alone get Mexico to pay for it. President Biden just got Mexico to agree to paying $1.5 BILLION to improve border processing and security through smart, proven border management solutions.”

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: Anything about inflation, as new numbers out Wednesday show that the U.S. hit a 40-year high in June of 9.1 percent. “The persistent price acceleration underscores the brutal impact inflation has inflicted on Americans, with the costs of necessities, in particular, rising much faster than average incomes,” AP’s CHRISTOPHER RUGABER reports.

WHOOPS: Labor Secretary MARTY WALSH tripped over his own Cabinet title during Tuesday’s workforce summit with Vice President KAMALA HARRIS and a number of governors and local officials, POLITICO’s NICK NIEDZWIADEK reports.

Walsh began accidentally calling himself secretary of education before catching it mid syllable, only to repeat the slip-up by switching to “transportat—” before finally correcting it to labor on the third try.

“Don’t tell the other secretaries I said that, because they’ll get mad and think I want to jump ship. I don’t,” he said.

JUST TAKING A PEEK: California Gov. GAVIN NEWSOM met with first lady JILL BIDEN at the White House today and is gearing up for other meetings in Washington, D.C. this week, according to Fox LA’s ELEX MICHAELSON. The visit comes amid a smattering of chatter that Newsom could be a 2024 presidential candidate, should Biden bow out. But the governor said he wants Biden to run.

Biden maintains faith in the Fed despite surging inflation, White House economist says (CNN’s Matt Egan)

Secret Service employee sent home from Israel following a ‘physical encounter’ (NBC News’ Shannon Pettypiece and Kelly O’Donnell)

Sinking FTC workplace rankings threaten Chair Lina Khan’s agenda (WaPo’s Cat Zakrzewski)

Nukes, Oil and a Prince’s Redemption: A Trip Fraught With Perils for Biden (NYT’s David Sanger and Peter Baker)

Yellen Pitches Russian-Oil Price Cap to Chinese Counterpart (WSJ’s Andrew Duehren)

ROBBIE DORNBUSH, the new chief of staff to the press office and senior adviser to the press secretary, found love using the dating app Tinder.

He was such a proponent of the app that when he attended George Washington University, he wrote an opinion piece for The GW Hatchet advocating everyone give it a try.

We highly recommend reading the full piece, but here’s a sneak peek:

“Now is the time to explore and search for that serious relationship you deserve. But where to start? Do you troll bars in an attempt to find your bae, only to be hit on by creepers? Do you scour the web for a lover and a friend only to be absolutely horrified?

“Of course not. You go to Tinder and find the best of both worlds with only some of the negatives. Really.

“How do I know the hookup app is a great way to find happily-ever-afters in addition to one-night Prince Charmings? Because I met my girlfriend of more than a year on Tinder.”

WILLIAM TAFT had a cow named PAULINE while he was president. There was a lot of public fascination with Pauline during Taft’s presidency, so much so that she was called “The Queen of the Capital Cows,” according to the Presidential Pet Museum.

Pauline provided the White House with fresh milk and butter and was the last cow to reside at the property.

A CALL OUT — Do you think you have a more difficult trivia question? Send us your best on the presidents with a citation and we may feature it.

Edited by Eun Kyung Kim and Sam Stein.

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