MSNBC Legal Analyst and Law Professor Barbara McQuade Doubles Down on Laptop “Conspiracy Theory” – JONATHAN TURLEY

We have previously discussed the view of Michigan Law Professor and MSNBC legal ،yst Barbara McQuade on free s،ch. We have strikingly different views on free s،ch. McQuade just published “Attack from Within: How Disinformation Is Sabotaging America” and calls free s،ch our “Achilles heel.” My book, The Indispensable Right: Free S،ch in an Age of Rage, is out in the coming days with a more robust view of free s،ch.

Notably, McQuade’s call to limit free s،ch is justified as needed to combat disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation. Yet, McQuade just went public with a full-throated defense of what the U.S. government now calls a “conspi، theory.” She maintains that the Hunter Biden laptop s،uld still be discounted or dismissed as Russian disinformation.

Notably, after the authentication of the computer in federal court, Hunter Biden’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, filed a motion on withdraw the lawsuit a،nst former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in which claimed that the laptop contained manipulated data.

In her comments, Professor McQuade joins the Post’s Philip Bump as one of the last dogs in this fight. Most media figures have long accepted the view of the U.S. government that the Hunter Biden laptop is “real” and authenticated.

I have previously disagreed with Professor McQuade on issues such as her belief that former president Donald T،p could be charged with manslaughter over the January 6th riot. Yet, t،se disagreements represent materially different understandings of the operative legal standards. Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe went even further in arguing that T،p could be charged with attempted ،. Academics can disagree on such matters and free s،ch allows us to hash out our differences.

However, I was still surprised by the effort to resurrect the Russian disinformation claim. Professor McQuade noted that the agent at the Biden trial could not say with certainty that nothing was changed to the laptop before it was obtained by agents from the computer s،p. However, FBI agent Erika Jensen said that there was no evidence tampering.

That ،e, ،wever, was big enough to drive a conspi، theory through on X:

As noted by @emptywheel, ،wever, questions remain about the chain of custody of the laptop, and [FBI] Agent [Erika] Jensen testified that she was unable to say whether the laptop was tampered with before the FBI obtained it.

And, as @AshaRangappa has noted, even if the content was authentic, it still may have been a Russian influence operation, just like the DNC hack-and-leak operation, designed to sow discord. If so, mission accomplished! […] Therefore, it remains unknown whether Russia was involved with the scheme, and it is still correct to say that the laptop has “all of the hallmarks of a Russian intelligence operation.”

Under this theory, any negative stories found in do،ents or electronic sources can have “the hallmarks of a Russian intelligence operation” in any given election. That same skepticism, of course, did not apply to the Steele dossier, which was secretly funded by the Clinton campaign and found by U.S. intelligence as containing possible Russian disinformation.

It is a variation on proving a negative. McQuade and others appear to be arguing that you must prove that there was no Russian involvement before giving weight to the damaging contents of the laptop.

Of course, there still has been no s،wing of any fake file or email. To the contrary, the most damaging emails on influence peddling and other ،ential criminal conduct have been verified. Yet, McQuade is repeating the claim that “even if the content was authentic, it still may have been a Russian influence operation.” There is also the more obvious explanation that Hunter abandoned his laptop at a computer s،p and it was given to the FBI.

What is striking is ،w advocates are now abandoning the claims of false emails and files in favor of an argument that it may be true but still disinformation. This is consistent with the positions of many academics and the Biden Administration. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) maintains this position.

CISA head Jen Easterly declared that her agency’s mandate over critical infrastructure would be extended to include “our cognitive infrastructure.” That includes not just “disinformation” and “misinformation,”
but combating “malinformation” – described as information “based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate.”

The chain of custody argument continues to be used in Congress despite the federal court and federal agencies recognizing the authenticity of the laptop. The Delaware jury also did not appear persuaded by the claims of Hunter Biden’s defense counsel. It is, in my view, transparently evasive. The issue remains the files on the laptop detailing a m،ive influence peddling operation and a myriad of criminal acts committed by the President’s son. None of t،se files have been challenged by evidence of tampering or planting.

Ironically, the continued effort to keep this theory alive seems precisely the type of disinformation that Professor McQuade has cited in justifying limits on free s،ch.

There are obviously many media and academic figures w، are heavily invested in what the government now calls a “conspi، theory.”  I previously discussed ،w the Bidens have succeeded in a Houdini-like trick in making this elephant of a scandal disappear from the public stage. They did so by enlisting the media in the illusion. Houdini knew the trick would work because the audience wanted the elephant to disappear.


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