Apr 27, 2023

Michael Morell's testimony.

Michael Morell's testimony.
Former Deputy Director of the CIA Mike Morell being interviewed by CBS. Image: Abovold / Wikicommons

What does his testimony tell us about the Hunter Biden laptop story?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

Are you new here? Get free emails to your inbox daily. Would you rather listen? You can find our podcast here.

Today's read: 11 minutes.

Today, we're covering the controversial testimony from Michael Morell. Plus, some bloopers from YouTube and a slew of important "quick hits."

From today's advertiser: We may bend, but we don't break.

No matter what is thrown their way, Texans have a way of not only surviving, but rising above. Call it determination, they have the heart of a mighty Oak. We stand firm and true to our values, knowing that our legacy will be passed down from generation to generation.

Live Oak Vodka is inspired by the culture and landscape of South Texas — by the very trees that accent our family ranches and rural cities, paying witness to the lives that have worked the land. A 2022 winner of the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.

Better yet, it’s a family-run business that shares a collective culture toward corporate and social responsibility that is built upon three pillars: craft, community, and culture.

Click here to see if a location near you carries Live Oak Vodka or check them out on Facebook or Instagram. Live the good life, y’all.

Quick hits.

  1. Republicans in the House successfully passed a bill that pairs a debt ceiling hike with deep spending cuts. The bill passed by a 217-215 vote. (The bill)
  2. Writer E. Jean Carroll testified in a Manhattan court that former President Trump raped her in the mid-1990s. Trump has accused her of lying and denied the event ever happened. (The testimony)
  3. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) formally announced his campaign for president. (The announcement)
  4. Disney said it is suing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, saying the state's actions amounted to a "targeted campaign" of government retaliation. (The lawsuit)
  5. Montana's House cited decorum rules and voted 68-32 to expel its first openly transgender legislator, Zooey Zephyr (D), over her rebuke of a ban on gender-affirming care for children. (The story)

Today's topic.

Michael Morell. Last week, Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanding more answers about the public letter signed by 51 intelligence operatives who dismissed the Hunter Biden laptop story as likely "Russian disinformation."

The letter was published by Politico after The New York Post reported on a laptop containing the private emails and communications of Hunter Biden. Executives at Twitter and Facebook decided to censor or limit its sharing over fears that it was part of a foreign influence campaign into the election. The inner workings of the decision to temporarily throttle the story about Hunter Biden’s laptop were revealed in the Twitter files. Days after the originally censored story had been uncensored, 51 intelligence officials signed an open letter insinuating that the Post story could be Russian disinformation.

Biden cited that letter to deflect criticisms of his son in a presidential debate, and some social media outlets took action to suppress sharing of the story over concerns that it was sourced from hacked materials or part of foreign interference.

Now, Rep. Jordan is citing the testimony of Mike Morell, a former deputy director at the CIA under President Barack Obama and one of the signatories of the letter. Morell reportedly told the House Judiciary Committee in sworn testimony that Blinken had personally reached out to him about the Hunter Biden story. At the time, Blinken was a senior advisor to the Biden campaign.

“We are examining the origins of the infamous public statement signed by 51 former intelligence officials that falsely discredited a New York Post story regarding Hunter Biden’s laptop as supposed Russian disinformation,” Jordan wrote.

According to Jordan, Morell's testimony indicated that the call from Blinken eventually led to the issuance of the public statement. In his letter, Jordan shared the following transcript of the testimony:

Jordan: But, prior to [Secretary Blinken’s] call, you – you did not have any intent to write this statement?

Morell: I did not.

Jordan: Okay. So his call triggered –

Morell: It did, yes.

Jordan: – that intent in you?

Morell: Yes. Absolutely.

Jordan: What was the intent of the statement?

Morell: There were two intents. One intent was to share our concern with the American people that the Russians were playing on this issue; and, two, it was [to] help Vice President Biden.

Jordan: You wanted to help the Vice President why?

Morell: Because I wanted him to win the election.

Jordan: You wanted him to win; that’s why?

Morell: Yes, sir.

"Based on Morell’s testimony, it is apparent that the Biden campaign played an active role in the origins of the public statement, which had the effect of helping to suppress the Hunter Biden story and preventing American citizens from making a fully informed decision during the 2020 presidential election," Jordan said.

White House spokesperson Ian Sams accused Jordan of a "highly misleading" leak, saying the "fuller transcript" reveals a different story. Sams highlighted a different part of the interview, where the following exchange took place:

Q: When he called you, did he direct, suggest, or insinuate in any way that you should write a letter or statement on this topic?

Morell: My memory is that he did not, right. My memory is that he asked me what I thought.

We've covered the Hunter Biden laptop story several times in Tangle. You can find our previous coverage of that here, as well as coverage of the Twitter files here.

Today, we're going to take a look at some reactions from the right and left to this story, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right say this story is scandalous, and insist on an investigation.
  • Some argue that this is why Americans don't trust our institutions, and why they are right not to.
  • Others say this story is just the tip of the iceberg.

The New York Post editorial board said Biden's campaign "prompted" former CIA Director Mike Morell to help them by "falsely claiming" the emails The Post published were Russian disinformation.

In private sworn testimony, Morell said Blinken "was the senior campaign official who reached out to him 'on or before' Oct. 17, 2020, three days after The Post published an email from the laptop suggesting Hunter had introduced his Ukrainian business partner to his father, then-Vice President Biden," the board wrote. "Morell, identified as a potential CIA director under Biden, said he organized the letter to 'help Vice President Biden … because I wanted him to win the election.'"

Morell had "no intention of writing any statement exonerating Biden" before the call, but said the call "triggered" that intent in him. Blinken sent Morell a USA Today article claiming Hunter's laptop was part of a disinformation campaign, and Morell "said he ​​did 'a little bit of my own research,'" then reached out to another former CIA officer to compile the letter. "Morell gathered signatures from 51 former intelligence officials,” and testified “that the Biden campaign wanted the statement to go to a particular reporter at the Washington Post," though in the end it went to Politico.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said this is why public trust in American institutions, including the press, is in free fall.

"The letter served its political purpose of giving the media and Joe Biden the opening to dismiss the New York Post’s laptop scoop as Russian disinformation," but it "turns out the Biden campaign was behind [it]... The letter says Mr. Morell also 'explained that the Biden campaign helped to strategize about the public release of the statement,'" and his goal was to "'share our concern with the American people'" and "'help Vice President Biden.'"

"Mr. Morell told the committee that following the debate, Biden campaign chair (and now senior White House aide) Steve Ricchetti called to thank him for the statement," the board wrote. "No doubt. The Biden campaign had in essence generated its own disinformation, marshaling the authority of supposedly nonpartisan intelligence veterans to discredit a story that was accurate about laptop emails that were authentic."

In The Federalist, Margot Cleveland said this was just the beginning.

"Blinken forwarding an article claiming the FBI was investigating the laptop as a potential 'disinformation campaign' is hugely significant because we know the FBI was doing no such thing," she said. "The FBI knew both that the laptop was authentic and that John Paul Mac Isaac had possession of the hard drive, just as the New York Post had reported, albeit without identifying the computer-store owner by name.

"For those who lived through the Russia-collusion hoax, it was the USA Today article and the presidential campaign’s use of Russia to deflect attention from the Biden scandal that bore the 'classic earmarks' of an information operation — one that mimicked Hillary Clinton’s ploy four years prior," Cleveland added. "Given the similarities between the two Russia hoaxes, it seemed likely the Biden campaign worked with the press to push the Russian-disinformation narrative."

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left argue that the story is less than the GOP is making it out to be.
  • Some point to the full context of the testimony, arguing that it is not as clear cut as conservatives are making it.
  • Others say the story is important, and the media is not giving it the coverage that it should.

In The Washington Post, Aaron Blake said the GOP's latest laptop theory is "less than meets the eye."

"As before, though, the evidence isn’t as compelling as advertised," he wrote. The letter "omitted key context," such as when Morell was asked whether Blinken had "directed, suggested or insinuated that he should write such a statement" and replied "'My memory is that he did not.'" Also, the Republicans’ claim "doesn’t really comport with the timeline, insofar as this is about social media suppression." The statement from 51 intelligence officials came five days after the initial story, but "Twitter and Facebook had begun restricting the story shortly after it was published."

"Twitter actually apologized for its decision and said it had stopped blocking links to the story and documents by Oct. 16," Blake said. "In testimony to Jordan’s committee in February, former Twitter chief legal officer Vijaya Gadde said, 'Twitter changed its policy within 24 hours and admitted its initial action was wrong. This policy revision immediately allowed people to tweet the original articles with the embedded source materials.'" The statement was also "more nuanced" than the media or the Biden campaign insisted, "allowing that the contents of the laptop could be genuine."

Also in The Washington Post, Philip Bump said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) was taking "Hunter Biden-laptop-whataboutism to new heights."

"Johnson has been on the excited-but-wrong side of identifying those responsible for the Capitol riot, coronavirus vaccines and voter fraud, among other things," Bump said. Now, he's doing it again, by asserting that this letter "was more electorally influential than any foreign interference. This assertion is ridiculous. It is also revealing... There’s no evidence that the campaign asked Morell to write any such letter; in fact, he denied during his interview that he had been asked to do so." But his assertion isn't that Morell was asked to develop the response, it's that this letter was a "level of interference surpassing what foreign actors might do to influence voting."

This is not defensible. "The letter Morell helped craft did serve as a point of validation for some people (including Biden)," but "the argument it presented was already established and the story it hoped to neuter was already in the conversation." Data shows the Wikileaks releases, which were foreign interference, got a lot more attention, and "Clinton’s 2016 loss was narrow enough that lots of things might be identified as proximate causes." You can't "credibly argue" the laptop letter is the reason for Trump's "7-million-ballot popular-vote loss."

In Racket News, Matt Taibbi took a different angle, criticizing the "news blackout" of this story.

"By any marker, this is an enormous news story," Taibbi said. "If we go by the usual measuring stick of American scandal, the Watergate story, this potentially meets or exceeds that, on almost every level. Does it reach into the current White House? Check. Was it a craven attempt to subvert the electoral process? Check again. Did a presidential candidate engineer a massive public deception? Yes, resoundingly. Did it involve intelligence agencies? Yes, and these weren’t amateurs like Nixon’s plumbers."

"These were 50 of the most powerful people in the intelligence world — including five former heads or acting heads of the Agency in Morell, John Brennan, Leon Panetta, Michael Hayden, and John McLaughlin — conspiring to meddle in domestic politics on a grand scale," he wrote. Yet, "outside of conservative outlets, who naturally are eating it up, there were exactly two serious stories done about this on the national level in an appropriate response time."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. You can also leave a comment.

  • This is a big story, and it is very discouraging how little attention it's getting from certain corners of the media.
  • It doesn't have to be Watergate to merit serious coverage.
  • And it's a good reminder of why so many people distrust our institutions.

Over the last eight years, Americans have been subjected to some of the most combative, confusing, and convoluted political intrigues in our country's history.

Trump vs. Hillary, the Wikileaks dumps, the Comey FBI investigation into Hillary's emails, Russia's disinformation campaigns, the Russia-Trump investigation, the Mueller report, the investigation into the investigation, the investigation into the investigation of the investigation, the Hunter Biden laptop, the Trump vs. Biden race, the claims of election fraud, the debunking of election fraud claims, January 6, the investigations into January 6, the investigation into the investigations of January 6, the Twitter files, the investigation of the Twitter files… and then all the punditry linking, comparing, contrasting, and then melding these events. It's enough to make heads spin, even among the most dedicated news consumers; and these are just the major headlines.

One benefit of this inundation of news, if there is one, is that we have gotten a much clearer and more definitive look at how the sausage is made in Big League American politics. And the Michael Morell story is a fitting addition to that picture.

When Politico published the letter from 51 intelligence officials insinuating the Hunter Biden laptop story had the hallmarks of Russian disinformation, I was skeptical. Much like Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, and other independent journalists of the world, I heard alarm bells after reading the letter. The letter represented a bunch of the most powerful figures in the intelligence world unifying around a single message in a campaign season, when they had a very clear intent and very little hard evidence.

Aaron Blake (under "What the left is saying") is right that the letter never said unequivocally that the Hunter laptop story was Russian disinformation, only that it had "hallmarks" of it and that it could still be genuine. But the usefulness of the letter to the left-leaning press and the Biden campaign is undeniable. Politico's headline still reads: "Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say." On the debate stage, Joe Biden said, “Look, there are 50 former national intelligence folks who said that what [President Trump is] accusing me of is a Russian plan. They have said that this has all the characteristics—four—five former heads of the CIA, both parties, say what he’s saying is a bunch of garbage!”

That the Biden campaign had actually contacted the former deputy director of the CIA — who served under Obama, wanted Biden to win, and had an opportunity to lead the CIA in a Biden administration — is a scandalous revelation. That the same spy chief conceded that contact was the impetus for the letter is a huge story. It is not Watergate or akin to it (Taibbi's assertion made me scoff), but Taibbi is absolutely right that it is an absurdity for it to be so ignored by the mainstream press. Aside from Taibbi’s, I could only find two — two! — opinion pieces about it from left-leaning writers, both at The Washington Post.

It's not as if Michael Morell is some unknown figure. He has published several opinion pieces in The New York Times, yet they don't have a single story up about him in the last month. How could that be?

Did this letter throw the election to Biden? No. Would Biden have won without it? Almost certainly. Did we have reason to think Russia might be interfering? Of course. In fact, even the Trump administration was warning about Russian interference in 2020. Was the letter tied to the throttling of the story on Twitter? Definitely not. As Blake rightly noted, the timeline is simply incompatible with that implication — the story had been censored and then uncensored in the days before the letter even came out (though the Post's Twitter account was locked for a couple weeks, and I suppose you could make a weak argument the letter contributed to that).

And yet, the whole thing still stinks to high heaven. Much like the workings of the Trump-Russia story, there were a lot of connections at play between the Democratic campaign, the press, and members of the intelligence community that we didn't fully understand at the time. When Trump hammers the "deep state," this is what he is talking about. It doesn’t end up looking like a shadowy cabal pulling the strings behind the scenes, but instead the machinations of a large and powerful bureaucracy that wasn’t interested in cooperating with the then-president.

And, for what it's worth, Morell's testimony is mealy mouthed and unconvincing. Why is Aaron Blake framing Morell's answer to the question of whether Blinken directed him to do this — "My memory is that he did not" — as some kind of definitive end of the conversation? Anytime someone testifying under oath starts talking about their memory, and not what did or didn't happen, your Spidey sense should be tingling.

This story is something every national politics reporter should be looking into. It shouldn't have to be another Watergate for us to care, and doesn't have to have changed the outcome of the election to matter. Maybe it is more smoke than fire, but we don’t know that unless people actually do the work of investigating it.

As it stands, it's another datapoint for Americans who think the system can be rigged, the elite are working in concert in ways we don't know, and our intelligence agencies and powerful government officials are often protecting each other in ways we never see. It’s hard to argue they’re wrong.


Last week, we waded into the Bud Light-Dylan Mulvaney controversy. As I expected, and is usually true with trans issues in America today, our coverage generated a ton of feedback. I heard from trans folks, people who once questioned their own gender identity but no longer do, liberal activists, staunch conservatives, therapists who work with trans children, and many more.

In tomorrow's subscribers-only post, I'm going to be sharing some of that feedback with you. This is a chance not just to see some criticism of my writing, but also to hear directly from experts, trans Americans, and others. I think it will be a very interesting read.

Blindspot report.

Once a week, we present the Blindspot Report from our partners at Ground News, an app that tells you the bias of news coverage and what stories people on each side are missing.

The left missed a story on New York City Mayor Eric Adams saying the migrant crisis has "destroyed" the city.

The right missed a story that changes on Twitter have led to a surge of Chinese and Russian propaganda on the platform.

Ask a Q.

We're skipping today's reader question to give our main story more space. Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

In a wide-ranging, extensive, and at times combative interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci sat down with The New York Times's David Wallace-Wells and discussed his own performance during the pandemic. During the interview, Fauci reflects on the efficacy of masks, the mistakes he made early in the pandemic, and how he hopes things might change in the future. He also talks openly about the things that surprised him most about the pandemic and why he made some of the more controversial decisions he made. You can read a transcript of the interview here.


  • 198 seconds. The peak amount of time, in one day, the word "Wikileaks" took up on Fox News in mid-October 2016.
  • 273 seconds. The peak amount of time, in one day, the word "Hunter" took up on Fox News in mid-October 2016.
  • 20 seconds. The peak amount of time, in one day, the word "Hunter" took up on CNN in mid-October 2016.
  • 68%. The percentage of Biden voters who said they mainly voted for him to oppose Trump.
  • 67%. The percentage of Americans who said they had heard of investigations into Hunter Biden's business dealings, according to a 2022 YouGov poll.

The extras.

Have a nice day.

As many of you know, we recently launched a YouTube channel. I didn't realize this, but my newly hired editor Jon has been quietly slipping in bloopers of me at the end of the video, where I'm knocking over water or completely bungling attempts to sign off (in the video going live today). They gave me a laugh, so I figured you might enjoy them, too. I’ll also take this discovery as my opportunity to remind you that our YouTube channel is live, and we could really use your support (like, share, subscribe). And, best of all, we're going to start churning out more YouTube-only content like short videos, reactions to news, and breakdowns of new topics. You can find the bloopers at the end of the videos, and don't forget to subscribe!

Before you go...

Remember: We have no investors, a small team, and are up against all the divisive, partisan, sensational news outlets in the world. There are so many ways to support us — please consider taking one action to help!

📣 Don't forget to support our international partner, Daily Chatter!

🎥 Follow us on Instagram here or subscribe to our YouTube channel here

💵 If you like our newsletter, drop some love in our tip jar.

🎉 Want to reach 58,000+ people? Fill out this form to advertise with us.

📫 Forward this to a friend and tell them to subscribe (hint: it's here).

🛍 Love clothes, stickers and mugs? Go to our merch store!

Subscribe to Tangle

Join 90,000+ people getting Tangle directly to their inbox!

Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.