By Glenn Kessler / The Washington Post
“To be clear, Joe Biden is the ‘big guy.’ This evidence raises troubling questions about whether President Biden is a national security risk and about whether he is compromised by foreign governments.”
— Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, at a news conference, Nov. 17
Soon after claiming control of the House in the upcoming Congress, Republicans announced that they would launch an investigation into business dealings of Hunter Biden, the president’s son, with the aim of proving that the president was involved in some of those deals as well. The news conference, and accompanying report issued by House Republicans, relied heavily on materials found on a hard-drive copy of the laptop Hunter Biden supposedly left behind for repair in a Delaware shop in April 2019.
The laptop has been a source of significant reporting about Hunter Biden’s personal and business life, but many news organizations have treated its contents with trepidation because it emerged late in the 2020 presidential campaign and, at the time, they were unable to verify its authenticity.
Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani provided material from the laptop to the New York Post but refused to share a copy of the hard drive with The Washington Post and other news organizations. In 2021, The Washington Post received 217 gigabytes of data from a Republican activist, who said he had received it from Giuliani. The Washington Post asked two security experts to examine the data, and they found nearly 22,000 emails among those files carrying cryptographic signatures that could be verified using technology that would be difficult for even the most sophisticated hackers to fake.
The vast majority of the data — and most of the nearly 129,000 emails it contained — could not be verified, the security experts said. But The Washington Post also found financial documents on the hard-drive copy that matched documents and information found in other records. The New York Times separately said it had authenticated a cache of emails found on the laptop concerning Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and with a Chinese company. CBS News, in a report that aired Monday, said it obtained a copy of the hard drive directly from a lawyer for the repair shop and that its security experts found “no evidence it is fake or tampered with.”
Asked whether the GOP committee staff had verified the laptop hard drive itself, spokeswoman Jessica Collins said “the laptop’s authenticity has been confirmed by several forensic analysts,” noting specifically the CBS report.
At several points Comer referenced a deal Hunter Biden tried to strike with CEFC China Energy, an energy conglomerate. Many aspects of his financial arrangements have been examined by news organizations, including The Washington Post. But at a news conference, Comer made assertions that have not been proved, are in dispute or appear incorrect. Any potential connection between Joe Biden and his son’s business dealings, thus far, is especially strained.
Here’s a guide to some of the claims made in the news conference.
• “One of these deals involves the sale of American natural gas to China. Evidence suggests Joe Biden had a 10 percent equity stake through his son.”
— Comer, at the news conference
The phrase “evidence suggests” is doing a lot of work here. Comer is referring to a single email — dated May 13, 2017 — whose meaning has been under dispute. In the hard-drive copy of the laptop obtained by The Washington Post, the email lacked verifiable digital information that allowed it to be verified.
The Washington Post, in its reporting, cites only materials from the laptop that the security experts were able to verify or can be confirmed elsewhere. Politico reporter Ben Schreckinger, in his 2021 book “The Bidens,” said the email had been verified as authentic by “a person with independent access to Hunter’s emails.”
The 2017 email described possible ownership stakes for five partners, including Hunter Biden and his uncle Jim Biden, in a planned venture with CEFC, the Chinese company. The entity was to be called Oneida Holdings LLC.
James Gillar, a business associate summarizing the allocation of the equity in Oneida Holdings LLC., in the email, wrote how four partners would get 20 percent each, except for Jim Biden, who would get 10 percent. He added a question: “10 held by H for the big guy?” One of the recipients of the mail, Anthony Bobulinski, has said that the “big guy” referred to Joe Biden and that “H” referred to Hunter. Bobulinski was a guest of Trump at one of the 2020 presidential debates.
But Gillar told the Wall Street Journal in 2020: “I would like to clear up any speculation that former Vice President Biden was involved with the 2017 discussions about our potential business structure. I am unaware of any involvement at anytime of the former vice president. The activity in question never delivered any project revenue.”
Three days after the email was sent, a draft agreement setting up Oneida was circulated. It shows each partner would receive 20 percent, including Jim Biden. No mention is made of Joe Biden. The company agreement signed on May 22, 2017, had the same allocation. Oneida was to hold 50 percent of another corporate entity called SinoHawk. Neither Gillar nor James Biden responded to requests for comment.
The Wall Street Journal said that it had reviewed corporate records and found no role for Joe Biden. The Washington Post, in an extensive report on the CEFC dealings, also did not find evidence that Joe Biden personally benefited from or knew details about the transactions with CEFC. The Biden campaign at the time denied he had any role.
Comer says that this deal involved natural gas, but he appears to be referring to a different transaction, described below. There is no evidence this particular deal concerned natural gas.
Collins said Comer had not made a mistake. “Committee Republicans have evidence the Bidens’ deal with CEFC — a company closely affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party — was changed when the Bidens cut out their Western partners of SinoHawk to keep the business in the family,” she said. Asked to provide the evidence, she would only say it was “based on whistleblower information provided to Committee Republicans.”
In an Oct. 13 letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said that an FBI summary of an interview with Bobulinski revealed that the deal was intended to pay the partners for deals that had “remained intentionally uncompensated while Joe Biden was Vice President.” The venture failed but, in a separate arrangement, Hunter and Jim Biden received nearly $5 million from CEFC, Grassley noted.
• “At a time when Americans are suffering from high energy prices because of this administration’s terrible energy policy, we found evidence that Hunter Biden and Joe Biden were involved in a scheme to try to get China to buy liquefied natural gas.”
— Comer, at the news conference
Hunter Biden, by his own account, discussed a $4 million joint venture in which CEFC would produce liquefied natural gas in Louisiana. But the deal fell through when Ye Jianming, the founder and chairman of the Chinese firm, was detained in mid-February 2018. The reasons for the arrest were unclear, although Reuters reported that it was related to suspected economic crimes.
In any case, the natural gas deal appears separate from Oneida; it involved a Hunter Biden company known as Hudson West III LLC. Joe Biden’s alleged involvement has never been proved.
• “Hunter brought in millions of dollars from this deal from entities tied to the Chinese government. In emails obtained by committee Republicans, Hunter wanted keys made for Joe Biden and Jill Biden, his office mate. He provided Joe Biden’s personal cell number and called him his partner.”
— Comer, at the news conference
Comer mixes documented facts with innuendo here. The Washington Post, via government records, court documents and bank statements, found that CEFC and its executives paid $4.8 million to entities controlled by Hunter and Jim Biden. But the alleged connection of these deals to Joe Biden remains tenuous. It again hinges on a single email; also describing something that did not happen.
In the fall of 2017, Hunter Biden wrote to a building manager of the House of Sweden, where he was renting office space. “Please have keys made for new office mates,” he wrote, listing Joe Biden, Jill Biden, Jim Biden and Gongwen Dong, whom he called “emissary” of CEFC. He also asked the signage updated to say the “Biden Foundation” and “Hudson West (CEFC U.S.).”
The email was on the laptop hard drive but also confirmed by public records released by the Swedish government and first reported in 2021 by the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
But a representative of the Biden Foundation told The Washington Post the House of Sweden was never under consideration as a location. A spokeswoman for the Swedish authority that oversees the property said that the four keys were made available, as requested, but that Hunter Biden never picked them up. The signboard on the door wasn’t changed, she said.
Glenn Kessler has reported on domestic and foreign policy for more than three decades. Send him statements to fact check by sending a message on Twitter to @GlennKesslerWP.