In the latest bombshell in a presidential campaign full of them, the New York Post reported that it had obtained a cache of emails purportedly from Hunter Biden, the son of former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The emails, which the Post called a “smoking gun,” appeared to show an email from Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, thanking the younger Biden for giving him an opportunity to meet the elder Biden in 2015.
The story drew comparisons to the various email scandals involving Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, but also drew immediate controversy, for a few reasons. First, the Biden campaign, upon review of calendars from 2015, denied that any such meeting had taken place. Second, the story alleges that Biden, as vice president, “pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating [Burisma],” which as those who followed President Trump’s impeachment found, is not a true assertion.
Later in the day, Facebook “reduced” the story on its platform, while Twitter went so far as to block the posting of it altogether, drawing huge pushback.
The sourcing on the Post’s story also raised some eyebrows: Hunter Biden or an associate supposedly dropped off a MacBook laptop at a computer store in Delaware in 2019, although the owner of the store, per the Post, “couldn’t positively identify the customer as Hunter Biden.” The customer never returned to retrieve the laptop, and the owner later made a copy of its hard drive and handed the computer over to both the FBI and to a lawyer for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani is now an attorney for the president, and is known to have been digging up dirt on Hunter Biden in Ukraine for much of the past year—along with Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian official who has been named by the Treasury Department as an agent of Russia. The possibility that the story was part of a hack-and-leak operation was given as a reason why the social media companies suppressed it.
Much of the skepticism about the New York Post story has centered on that computer store. What kind of computer repair shop would not only go through the data and emails of one of their customers, but then give the computer to a political enemy of that person’s family? Why would any customer ever trust such a store ever again?
“I don’t feel sorry for him, as a computer repair tech, a customer’s data is sacred,” the Twitter account for A1 Computer Repair tweeted Wednesday. “You never look at it, you never copy it, you definitely never share it. You do a backup when it is required and you delete it when the repair is done. He broke a customer’s trust which is game over.”
By the end of the day Wednesday, the shop had been identified as The Mac Shop, a Wilmington store whose name was left un-redacted in documents posted by the Post. The owner of the store gave a strange interview to several media outlets Wednesday, in which he repeatedly changed his story, claimed that a “medical condition” prevented him from knowing whether the customer was in fact Hunter Biden and, referencing conspiracy theories involving the murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich, claimed to fear for his life.
In that interview, the owner said he feared that he would lose his business over the affair, and while it’s not clear yet if that will happen, it’s certainly done a number on The Mac Shop’s Yelp reviews.
As of Thursday, The Mac Shop’s average Yelp rating was three stars out of five—and several humorous reviews and been posted that referenced the controversy.
“It was a dingy and dilapidated, with dudes speaking in hushed tones in what sounded like Russian accents,” a review by “Jeff Y.” said. “Because I was in a hurry, I went against my better judgement and abruptly handed my laptop over to some guy named Igor (He kept calling me Hunter for some reason).”
“Pros: might be good at recovering data,” reviewed “Courtney C.” said. “Cons: might give your data to Rudy Giuliani and share it with the New York Post.”
“I came in to get my waterlogged laptop fixed, but then forgot to come by and pick it up. Thankfully, the lovely owner of this store decided to snoop through my files, then call the FBI, clone my hard drive and give a copy to Rudy Giuliani,” “Devon E.” said. “I knew I shouldn’t have put that “Beau Biden Foundation” sticker on it!”
Not all of the Yelp reviews that referenced the Hunter Biden affair were negative.
“True patriots here. Sharing the truth about crooked hometown politicians who are selling out our country for personal gain. Supports American freedom not communist sellots [sic],” “Bill D.” said.
While laws in the matter are murky, it’s generally not advised for computer repair businesses to snoop or steal data that’s brought to them by customers. There have, however, been numerous stories over the years of tech employees with Best Buy’s Geek Squad or other such places discovering child pornography on customers’ laptops, and turning them over to authorities. In another controversy, the FBI was even found to have used Geek Squad employees as paid informants for that purpose.
There have also, however, been multiple incidents in recent years in which Best Buy employees have been caught stealing risqué photos from the computers and phones of female customers.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.