By Ryan Morgan
Conservative government watchdog organization Judicial Watch is suing the CIA for records of its alleged involvement in organizing a letter to discredit negative reporting involving President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
The Judicial Watch records request centers on a laptop Hunter Biden reportedly abandoned at a Delaware computer shop, and a letter signed by 51 former U.S. intelligence officials that claimed the publication of the laptop’s contents had “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”
In May, Republican House investigators released a report alleging officials on the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board (PCRB) helped recruit signatories for the October 2020 letter from the former intelligence community officials, and that the PCRB reviewed and approved the letter on an expedited request. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) subsequently threatened to subpoena the CIA to divulge other records about its involvement in advancing the letter to discredit the Hunter Biden laptop reporting.
As House Republicans used their own means to pursue the CIA records, Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in May, seeking all communications from the PCRB related to the October 2020 intelligence community letter. Now, as the CIA has failed to respond to their FOIA request, Judicial Watch is suing in Washington D.C. federal court, in hopes that a federal judge will compel the CIA to finally respond.
Political Impact of the Intel Community Letter
The CIA’s potential involvement in helping to discredit the Hunter Biden laptop reporting is of particular concern for Republicans and conservatives because it might have swayed the outcome of the 2020 election. The laptop’s contents raised allegations about the elder Biden’s knowledge and involvement in his son’s business activities, including with foreign entities connected to China. The FBI also had possession of the laptop for nearly a year prior to the 2020 election, as they were actively investigating Hunter Biden on tax charges.
A post-election survey conducted by the conservative Media Research Center suggested as many as one in five of President Biden’s voters may not have voted for him had they known of Biden family business ties to China and active FBI investigations.
Some of the letter’s signatories have acknowledged a political value to the letter questioning the Hunter Biden laptop.
Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, who also served for a time as acting CIA director, helped organize the letter. In an email at the time to former CIA Director John Brennan, Mr. Morell said he was “trying to give the [Biden campaign], particularly during the debate on Thursday, a talking point to push back on Trump on this issue.” Mr. Brennan responded to that email by saying, “Add my name to the list. Good initiative. Thanks for asking me to sign on.”
While the signatories mostly identified themselves as former intelligence officials, Republicans are focused on the degree to which current CIA members were involved in the letter.
The PCRB’s sole function is to make sure current and former CIA employees aren’t disclosing classified information in any materials they may release publicly. The board, therefore, has an influential role over current and former agency employees who may be pursuing potentially lucrative book deals about their time working for America’s premier spy agency or otherwise.
One of the signatories of the October 2020 letter, CIA analyst David Cariens, told congressional investigators that his book was up for consideration by the PCRB at the time Mr. Morell was recruiting signatories. Mr. Cariens told investigators that a CIA employee affiliated with the PCRB informed him of the intelligence community letter and asked if he would sign it. Mr. Cariens said “the person in charge of reviewing the book” called to tell him that it had been approved without any changes required and then told him about the letter.
Mr. Cariens’s wife, Janice, also a former CIA employee, also joined in signing the letter.
In a May 16 letter (pdf) to CIA Director William Burns, Mr. Jordan said the CIA’s apparent involvement in advancing the letter to discredit the Hunter Biden laptop story “raises fundamental concerns about the role of the CIA in helping to falsely discredit allegations about the Biden family in the weeks before the 2020 presidential election.”