The former spy who pushed the false notion that Russia was behind the release of Hunter Biden’s emails at the behest of President Joe Biden’s adviser also used his perch at the Washington Post to help the Democrat’s presidential campaign.
As a contributing columnist for the Post, former CIA deputy director Michael Morell published numerous articles before the election attacking former president Donald Trump and pushing various claims about Russian disinformation. Morell called on Trump’s intelligence chief, John Ratcliffe, to resign in his final Post column on Oct. 12, 2020, a week before he concocted the Hunter letter. In an Oct. 11 piece, Morell said Trump’s financial debt raises national security concerns. In August 2020, Morell made the disputed claim that "the Russians infiltrated Trump’s 2016 campaign."
Morell was carrying water for the Biden campaign behind the scenes, too. The former intel official admitted in a recent congressional interview that he was behind an Oct. 19, 2020, letter that cast the release of Hunter Biden’s laptop days earlier as a probable Russian disinformation campaign. Morell said he organized the letter, which was signed by 50 other former intelligence officials, after a conversation with Biden adviser Tony Blinken, now the secretary of state. Morell told lawmakers he undertook the initiative to help Biden "win the election."
The Post has penalized columnists for campaign connections more tenuous than Morell’s. In 2011, conservative columnist George Will came under scrutiny after his wife began advising Rick Perry’s presidential campaign. The Post’s ombudsman found that Will did not use his column to improperly boost his wife’s client, but said the columnist should have disclosed his wife’s work. The ombudsman wrote that "readers need to be able to judge for themselves if any conflict of interest could bias a journalist, even an opinion columnist."
"A cynic would say none of this is surprising," Tim Graham, the Media Research Center’s director of media analysis, said of Morell and the Post. He noted that the Post describes Morell’s CIA service in the George W. Bush administration to make Morell look bipartisan. "It's that ‘career official’ spin that helps them present people like Morell as less partisan."
A spokesman for the Post noted Morell’s final column for the paper was Oct. 12, 2020, several days before he orchestrated the Hunter Biden letter, but did not provide additional comment. Morell had contact with Blinken before he published his final columns. He interviewed Blinken on his podcast on Sept. 22, 2020, and told lawmakers that he had a "fairly close" relationship with the Biden aide.
Morell, who was at one point under consideration for Biden’s CIA chief, said he got the idea to write the Hunter Biden letter after an email or phone call with Blinken on Oct. 17, 2020, three days after the New York Post published its first story on emails from Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop. Morell said that call "triggered" him to write a letter that portrayed the laptop release as a Russian ruse. That theory has largely been discredited. Biden abandoned his laptop at a computer shop in April 2019. The shop owner provided it to the FBI, Trump allies, and journalists.
According to Morell, Blinken sent him a USA Today article that said the FBI was investigating whether the laptop was part of a Russian disinformation campaign. Morell said he then contacted former CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos before starting the letter, according to a transcript reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.
Morell testified that the Biden campaign helped strategize the release of the letter. The retired spymaster told an aide to former CIA director John Brennan, another signatory, that the campaign wanted the letter to go to a Washington Post reporter. It eventually appeared at Politico, which published the letter under the headline, "Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say."
Biden cited the letter during a debate with Trump on Oct. 22, 2020, but made no mention of his campaign’s hidden hand. Morell said Biden aide Steve Ricchetti, who now serves in the White House, thanked him for the letter after the first debate.
Morell, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, leaned on a deep network of former spies to gather signatures for the letter. Many of those were from his consulting firm, Beacon Global Strategies, including former CIA director Leon Panetta, former CIA official Jeremy Bash, and former Defense Department official Mike Vickers.
Morell wrote some of his Post columns with signatories to the letter, including Vickers and former CIA officer David Priess. An Oct. 11, 2020, column with Priess asserted that Trump’s financial debt posed a national security risk. His Oct. 12, 2020, article with Vickers asserted that Trump intelligence director John Ratcliffe should resign. Democrats would later assail Ratcliffe after he disputed Biden campaign claims that Russia was involved in the release of Hunter’s emails.