WASHINGTON – Former Vice President Joe Biden sought to fend off questions about his son Hunter Biden and potential conflicts of interest overseas during the last presidential debate with President Donald Trump.
Biden said he’s “not taken a penny” from any foreign country after Trump raised allegations that the former vice president made money in a business scheme involving China with his son, allegations that were raised in recently published emails purporting to document Hunter Biden’s business dealings.
“I think you have to clear it up and talk to the American people,” Trump said, putting Biden on the spot to address the emails that have riled up the presidential campaign just ahead of Election Day.
“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source at any point in my life,” Biden responded.
The former vice president raised recent reports that Trump has a secret bank account in China. “He’s talking about me taking money from China? I’ve not taken a penny from any country. Ever. Ever. Ever.”
“Nothing was unethical,” Joe Biden said of Hunter Biden’s role on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. “My son has no made money from China. The only guy who has made money from China was this guy,” he said, directing his comments at Trump.
Biden pointed to Trump not releasing his tax returns after promising to do so for years, saying, “What are you hiding??”
GOP pushes allegations over Ukraine
For months, Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have pushed conspiracy theories alleging that Joe Biden intervened in Ukraine to help Hunter Biden’s business activities.
Their principal claim – which fact-checkers and investigators have debunked – is that Biden sought the ouster of Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin to thwart an investigation of Burisma. But Biden pushed for Shokin’s removal because he was not aggressively pursuing corruption cases. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden.
On Oct. 14, the New York Post published a story – the credibility of which is now in question – that centered on an email purporting to show a Burisma adviser thanking Hunter Biden for arranging a meeting with his father, who was then vice president.
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The story provided no evidence that such a meeting occurred and has come under fire for its reliance on questionable sources and documents whose authenticity was not verified. Biden’s campaign team told USA TODAY that no meeting ever occurred.
Federal authorities are now investigating whether the material – which Giuliani gave to the New York Post – is part of a Russian disinformation campaign aimed at tarnishing Biden.
‘Laptop from hell’
Later during Thursday’s debate, Biden and Trump returned to the issue of the emails and the laptop that Giuliani claims belonged with Biden’s son.
Trump said if Biden’s family did cash in on his position as vice president and the information turns out to be true from the “laptop from hell,” then Biden is a “corrupt politician.”
Biden pointed to intelligence leaders who have said the emails and information being released days before the election is part of a “Russian plan.”
“What he’s saying is a bunch of garbage,” Biden said of Trump.
Trump fired back, exasperated and questioning how Russia was to blame. “You mean the laptop is now another Russia, Russia, Russia hoax?” Trump said. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to boost Trump, and the president’s intelligence officials have warned that Moscow is trying to influence this year’s election as well. Giuliani has met with a Ukrainian lawmaker, Andrii Derkach, whose been identified by the U.S. Treasury Department as an “active Russian agent.”
On Monday, Giuliani went to a Delaware police station to turn over the files from what he says was Hunter Biden’s laptop. The police called the state’s attorney general, who then called the FBI.
Facebook and Twitter flagged the Post story as spreading disinformation. Misinformation experts have noted that the story has some hallmarks of a disinformation campaign, with questionable assertions at its core.
In the Post’s story, the emails are shared as image files, not in a file format that would contain header information and metadata. That makes it harder to analyze and verify the files.
The Post said its story was based on a “massive trove” of data from a laptop computer that was allegedly taken to a repair shop in Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware but never retrieved. The store’s owner, John Paul Mac Isaac, identified himself as the person who gave a copy of the laptop hard drive to Robert Costello, Giuliani’s attorney.
Mac Isaac, a registered Republican and Trump supporter, dodged multiple questions from reporters last week about his intentions and connections to Giuliani. He expressed fear “about saying the wrong things and getting in more trouble than I already am.”
Contributing: Joey Garrison