What DNI John Ratcliffe doesn’t say here is almost more important than what he does say. Is Hunter Biden’s laptop part of a Russian disinformation campaign, as Adam Schiff claims the intelligence community believes? That’s news to Ratcliffe, who tells Fox’s Maria Bartiromo that the intelligence community hasn’t been consulted on the topic. Ratcliffe blasts Schiff for making false claims about intelligence estimates, and says he took the job as DNI in order to prevent people like Schiff from politicizing intelligence.
Ratcliffe, however, keeps his distance from the question of authenticity, noting pointedly that the FBI has jurisdiction, not intelligence agencies:
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe blasts Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff for leveraging a political narrative.
"Hunter Biden’s laptop is not part of some Russian disinformation campaign." pic.twitter.com/49SSjhfQuN
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) October 19, 2020
Ratcliffe’s correct about jurisdiction, to a point. Under FISA laws, Hunter Biden is a US person and therefore excluded from intelligence gathering without a FISA warrant. That jurisdiction belongs to the FBI, which has its own counter-intelligence operations. If this did involve Russian disinformation, however, the FBI would likely be consulting with intelligence agencies for information on those efforts. The Patriot Act allows for that kind of coordination within the counterintel bureaus under Ratcliffe, specifically the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC). That would allow the intelligence agencies to work in tandem on this particular potential penetration, if the laptop was seeded with agitprop disinformation.
It’s worth noting, on jurisdiction, that Schiff could have gotten that estimate from the FBI rather than the agencies under Ratcliffe. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have some oversight of the FBI’s counter-intel work. It does seem unlikely, though, that the FBI would reach that conclusion without engaging Ratcliffe’s office. Or at least without Ratcliffe being aware of those assessments.
Note too that Ratcliffe avoids answering Bartiromo on the authenticity of the data. All Ratcliffe is saying is that Schiff’s lying about intelligence estimates on the issue, not opining on the legitimacy of the e-mails. If Ratcliffe’s correct and the FBI hasn’t shared the data with the intelligence community, then he’s right to avoid answering it. How can he know whether it’s authentic when his agencies haven’t had a chance to review it?
And that raises other questions. If the FBI hasn’t brought the laptop to Ratcliffe’s agencies, then they must not be terribly concerned about the laptop being a component of a foreign disinformation campaigns — Russian or otherwise. They’ve had it for almost a year, too; if it was part of a Russian disinformation campaign, why didn’t the FBI inform the relevant intelligence committees in the House and Senate before now? Sen. Ron Johnson and other members of Congress only found out about it from an “intermediary” of the computer repairman who worked on the laptop.
Ratcliffe notes that the FBI also has jurisdiction on “fraud.” It’s possible that this isn’t an intelligence or corruption issue, but just plain ol’ fraud — someone using hacked material to perpetrate a fraud for domestic political purposes. That’s a possibility to keep in mind too, especially for something that dropped into the FBI’s lap in the middle of an impeachment … and then into the hands of the New York Post three weeks before an election. Read Byron York’s warning to Republicans and conservatives about the trap of leaping to belief on the basis of non-refutation. That didn’t work out too well for Democrats in the end with the Steele dossier.