You know what I’m talking about, of course. That particular allegation received a lot of attention without being substantiated, and while most reputable news organizations treated it as unsubstantiated, it still made the rounds, to Trump’s unending consternation. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has objected to the dossier broadly on at least a half-dozen occasions since joining the West Wing in April. It’s a frustration for the administration.
The thing about That Story is that it is not made more believable or substantial simply because there’s been other negative coverage of Trump. Just because Trump is engaged in a scorched-democracy effort to undercut the results of the 2020 presidential election doesn’t make That Allegation seem more or less likely. It’s still dubiously sourced and unsupported by other evidence. It’s still just as sketchy.
It’s important to delineate that before we consider another set of claims made by McEnany on Tuesday.
In one of her final news briefings in her current position, she carved out time to disparage the media for its coverage of President-elect Joe Biden’s son Hunter. It was annoying to Team Trump that the president’s effort to tie Hunter Biden’s dubious business practices to his father late in the campaign didn’t gain any traction. That vexation peaked when the New York Post picked up a story alleging that Hunter Biden had at some point received an email from a Ukrainian official who mentioned meeting the former vice president — apparently bolstering Trump’s long-standing effort to link Joe Biden to his son’s work for an energy company in Ukraine.
This was so important because tying Joe Biden to the company was a central element of Trump’s defense when he faced impeachment late last year. Trump insisted that he was asking Ukraine’s president to probe Joe Biden because of his insatiable desire to curtail corruption, not because it would aid Trump politically.
But there were a lot of questions about that New York Post story. The newspaper obtained the email via a laptop that Hunter Biden had allegedly left with a repair shop in Delaware. The owner of the shop later handed a copy of its contents over to Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, who in turn gave it to the New York Post. He’d first pitched it to Fox News, which passed, so Giuliani turned to the Post because, as he told the New York Times, other media outlets “would spend all the time they could to try to contradict it before they put it out.”
It remains unclear where the data came from, though there are reports that similar material had circulated in Ukraine last year. During that period, Giuliani was actively scouring for material that would impugn Biden. That effort included his soliciting information from Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian politician later linked to Russian intelligence by the U.S. government.
After the election, another Hunter Biden story broke. For months, we learned last week, he has been under investigation by the Justice Department for his business work in China. The investigation was kept under wraps during the campaign, in accordance with department policy related to possibly influencing the election — but to Trump’s obvious irritation.
Regardless of one’s view of whether the Justice Department should have withheld information about Hunter Biden (as it did the allegations about Trump’s campaign in 2016), the pre- and post-election stories are different. The one that emerged in October used a dubiously sourced archive of material to allege a possible meeting — quickly denied by Joe Biden — in an attempt to bolster a narrative about actions then-Vice President Biden took against Ukraine. The one after the election was about Hunter Biden’s taxes.
It’s clear those are different stories — unless you are McEnany.
She likes to begin and end her news briefings with little soliloquies about whatever political narrative is running on Sean Hannity’s show at the time. So, shortly before leaving the briefing room Tuesday, she offered this:
“Interesting pre-election and post-election coverage, too, on the Hunter Biden scandal, which was not covered at all by many outlets in the lead-up to the election.”“In fact, on October 15th, you had a New York Times headline that said, ‘Trump said to be warned that he was being given Russian disinformation over Hunter Biden.’ Now, December 10th, just a few months later, New York Times headline: ‘Investigation of Hunter Biden is likely to hang over Biden as he takes office.’”“Washington Post on October 16th, the headline read: ‘The truth behind the Hunter Biden non-scandal.’ Now, you have The Washington Post headline that says this: ‘Hunter Biden tax probe examining Chinese business deals.’”“Politico, October 19: ‘Hunter Biden story is Russian disinformation’ — that’s a favorite — ‘dozens of former intel officials say.’ False, yet again. December 2nd, now Politico reads: ‘Justice Department’s interest in Hunter Biden covered more than taxes.’”“Really interesting turn of events, and good for those who covered what was a story all along and not Russian disinformation.”
The headlines are generally accurate. The equivalence is not.
The Times story about Hunter Biden in October was about how the White House had been warned that Giuliani might be an unfiltered conduit to Trump of Russian misinformation. (In its current online iteration, Giuliani makes the headline, as was displayed on monitors over McEnany’s shoulder.) The story barely mentions Hunter Biden; McEnany’s simply using “Russian disinformation” as a trigger for conservatives to scoff and roll their eyes. The story after the election did focus on Hunter Biden — specifically, on the investigation into his taxes.
To attack The Washington Post, McEnany compared an opinion piece from David Ignatius focused on the weakness of the New York Post allegations with post-election coverage of the Hunter Biden probe. To bash Politico, she contrasted a statement from former intelligence officials expressing skepticism about the sourcing of the Hunter Biden laptop with December coverage of the Justice Department probe.
Again, this would be like someone arguing that coverage of Trump’s feud with Gov. Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) necessarily validated treating The Dossier Story as legitimate. The two are not related, and the former does not make the latter more valid. Just as stories about Hunter Biden’s possible violations of tax law are not related to the New York Post’s story about the Ukrainian official’s alleged email, and just as coverage of the Biden probe doesn’t make the New York Post story necessarily more sound.
Presumably McEnany knows that her comparison makes no sense. If she does but she makes it anyway, she’s doing the American public a disservice. If she doesn’t, that’s probably worse.
Either way, this will be one of the last claims she makes during a media briefing, if not the last. Fitting that it should be an obviously bogus bit of political rhetoric.