Homeland Security Pick To Clean Up 'Disinfo Board' Pushed Disinfo Himself

Michael Chertoff (Photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)
May 5, 2022

The Biden administration is calling in backup to bail out its Disinformation Governance Board just days after a disastrous launch. Their ringer is a former government official who blamed Russia for the Hunter Biden laptop story.

Department of Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas this week tapped former DHS secretary Michael Chertoff to advise the board. Its executive director, Nina Jankowicz, had come under fire after she asserted the release of Biden's emails was a "Russian influence op." Chertoff has made similar claims, arguing after the 2020 election that "human intelligence sources"—referring to Russian spies—likely obtained emails from Hunter Biden's computer. Chertoff dismissed as "preposterous" the claim that the emails were recovered after Biden abandoned his laptop at a computer repair shop.

Chertoff's appointment could signal more trouble for the board, which has come under intense scrutiny from Republicans. Critics have dubbed the board the "Ministry of Truth," a nod to fears that it would enable the government to interfere with a free press. Republicans have criticized Jankowicz's defense of the Steele dossier, the Democrat-funded opposition research that made false claims of a Trump-Russia collusion.

Mayorkas, citing "confusion" about the board's role, requested the Homeland Security Advisory Council make recommendations for how his department could "effectively and appropriately address disinformation that poses a threat to the homeland." He picked Chertoff, an advisory council member, and Washington, D.C., super lawyer Jamie Gorelick, the council's co-chair, to oversee the initiative.

Two other members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, former CIA director Leon Panetta and former representative Jane Harman (D., Calif.), also pushed the unfounded claim about Biden's laptop.

Panetta, an ally of President Joe Biden, was one of the 51 former intelligence officials to sign a letter saying the release of Hunter Biden's emails "has the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation." Harman wrote before the 2020 election that information released about Hunter Biden—which she called a "sketchy dossier"—had "shady" origins and had been "widely discredited."

No evidence has emerged to support the claim that Russia handled Biden's computer. Documents from his laptop have been verified through forensic analysis and confirmation by email recipients. The owner of a Wilmington, Del., computer shop said that a man he believed to be Biden left it for repairs in April 2019 and never retrieved it.

The shop owner, John Paul Mac Isaac, said he gave the FBI a copy of the computer hard drive in late 2019. He later provided documents to allies of former president Donald Trump, including Rudy Giuliani. The former New York City mayor then gave some of the documents to the New York Post, which published stories based on Biden's emails on Oct. 14, 2020. Joe Biden's supporters quickly questioned the provenance of the emails and suggested that Isaac lied about how he obtained them. The computer repairman accused multiple news outlets and Democratic lawmakers of defamation in a lawsuit this week.

Chertoff claimed in his dismissal of the Biden laptop story that Giuliani had "weaved a kind of preposterous story about getting this from a laptop that was left to be repaired."

"But it looks like the evidence that's emerging shows that these purported documents were circulating by the Russians in Ukraine for some period of time. This suggests that this information is not only online but it's an old-fashioned spy story involving human intelligence sources," said Chertoff, who served in the George W. Bush administration.

Hunter Biden is under federal investigation for his taxes and foreign business dealings. Biden has admitted he was heavily dependent on drugs at the time he allegedly abandoned his computer.

The Department of Homeland Security and Chertoff's consulting firm, the Chertoff Group, did not respond to requests for comment.