The New York Post inadvertently revealed details identifying the original source of a dubious story it published Wednesday about a "smoking-gun email" between Hunter Biden and a Ukrainian official while he was on the board of the natural-gas company Burisma Holdings.
Two photos published in the story seem to point to a specific Mac repair shop in the Trolley Square neighborhood of Wilmington, Delaware, owned by a man named John Paul Mac Isaac.
In an interview with several reporters who tracked him down, Isaac confirmed he was the source of the story but couldn't get his facts straight when describing his recollection of events outlined in the Post's story, The Daily Beast reported.
The article contained a number of red flags that raised questions about its authenticity and sourcing as soon as it was published, and it gained little traction among more reputable outlets.
The New York Post sent shockwaves through the political sphere Wednesday when it published a dubious story purporting to show a "smoking-gun email" detailing Hunter Biden's communications with a Ukrainian official about meeting with his father, Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee.
The story immediately caught fire in conservative circles, with allies of President Donald Trump pointing to it as incontrovertible proof that the Bidens were in cahoots with the Ukrainian government. Many also said it showed that the former vice president used his official government role to shut down an investigation targeting Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian natural-gas company whose board Hunter Biden served on until April 2019.
Related video: Highlights from Trump and Biden’s first presidential debate
There were a number of red flags and loopholes in the story that raised questions about its authenticity and sourcing, and it gained little traction among more reputable sources.
The report said that in April 2019, an unidentified person dropped off a water-damaged MacBook Pro that contained the alleged emails and other compromising material about Hunter Biden at an unidentified repair shop in Delaware, which is the Biden family's home state. The report cited the repair shop's owner as providing that information but did not give details on his identity.
However, two photos published in the Post's story seem to point to a specific business in the Trolley Square neighborhood of Wilmington, Delaware.
The photos, which appeared in a related slideshow, depict the first and third pages of a subpoena seeking a MacBook laptop and an external hard drive. The metadata of both photos shows they were taken at, or very close to, a local establishment called The Mac Shop.
The owner of the repair shop wasn't sure the laptop belonged to Hunter Biden but said the machine had a sticker from the Beau Biden Foundation on it, according to the report.
The Post said the person who dropped off the water-damaged laptop "never paid for the service or retrieved it or a hard drive on which its contents were stored, according to the shop owner, who said he tried repeatedly to contact the client."
The shop's owner then contacted federal authorities about the laptop and hard drive, and he turned over the hardware in December after being served with a subpoena, the story said. Before turning them over, however, the Post said the shop owner made a copy of the hard drive and gave it to a lawyer representing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The Post said it learned of the alleged emails after Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and Trump campaign CEO, alerted the outlet of their existence late last month, and Giuliani gave Post reporters the hard drive on Sunday.
The article included a photo of the federal-court subpoena showing that the FBI seized the computer and hard drive in December. It's unclear why the bureau subpoenaed or seized the hardware after the repair shop's owner voluntarily told authorities of its existence.
But the first photo in the Post story, depicting the cover page of the subpoena, offers additional clues. If you look closely, you'll notice the faint outlines of handwriting, between and behind the printed text, that seem to suggest something was written on the reverse side of the page. This would make sense, as the blank subpoena — Form AO 110 — contains a second page to be filled out by the agent who serves it.
Reversing the image of the first page, and superimposing it on a blank version of the subpoena's second page, clearly shows that the placement of the faint handwriting lines up with the placement of the various fields and design elements of the second page. The same handwriting indicates that the subpoena was served to a person or entity with four relatively short names, the third and fourth of which appear to begin with a capital "M" and a capital "I." The owner of The Mac Shop appears to be a man named John Paul Mac Isaac.
Isaac later confirmed he was the source of the Post story in an interview with several reporters who tracked him down at his shop. His social-media posts suggest he is an avid supporter of Trump, and he described the president's impeachment as a "sham" in the interview, according to The Daily Beast. Isaac also cited the debunked right-wing conspiracy theory about the killing of the Democratic staffer Seth Rich.
More importantly, The Daily Beast report said Isaac couldn't seem to get his facts straight when laying out the timeline of how the laptop arrived at his shop and when it disappeared.
"Throughout the entire interview, Isaac switched back and forth from saying he reached out to law enforcement after viewing the files in the laptop to saying that it was actually the Federal Bureau of Investigation that reached out to him," the report said. "At one point, Isaac claimed that he was emailing someone from the FBI about the laptop. At another point he claimed a special agent from the Baltimore office had contacted him after he alerted the FBI to the device's existence. At another point, he said the FBI reached out to him for 'help accessing his drive.'"
This analysis also suggests the subpoena was served by an FBI agent based out of the bureau's satellite office in downtown Wilmington. The name of the agent, though not 100% legible, appears to be "Joshua Wilson." Over the past decade, a number of news outlets have quoted or described an FBI agent with the same name.
Last year, The Star-Ledger newspaper described him as "an FBI agent based in New Jersey who has spent nearly five years working full time on child pornography." In 2012, the same Joshua Wilson signed a criminal complaint that charged a New Jersey man with collecting and distributing child pornography. The signature on that complaint clearly matches the unreversed signature on the subpoena published by the New York Post.
It's unclear whether the FBI employs more than one agent named Joshua Wilson. But the available evidence seems to show the Joshua Wilson who signed the subpoena for Hunter Biden's laptop and the Joshua Wilson who investigates child pornography for the FBI are the same person. This raises the possibility, not explored by the Post, that the FBI issued the subpoena for reasons unrelated to Hunter Biden's role in Ukraine and Burisma.
However, Isaac told reporters on Wednesday he "did not see child pornography" on the laptop that the Post reported was dropped off at his shop, raising additional questions about why the subpoena came from an FBI agent who specializes in investigating the matter.
Isaac did not respond to multiple phone calls and text messages seeking comment. The FBI also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Read the original article on Business Insider