Biden is a Fibber*

*Parenthetically, his opponent wouldn't know the truth if it bit him on the ass.

President Joe Biden wears his aviator sunglasses while working at the Resolute Desk, Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in the Oval Office.
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

NYT fact-checker Linda Qui has a beaut in “Biden Loves to Tell Tall Tales. We Cut Them Down to Size.” It begins,

In President Biden’s telling, he was a teenage civil rights activist, a former trucker, the first in his family to go college and the nephew of a cannibalism victim.

All of these claims stretch the truth or are downright false. But Mr. Biden persists in telling personal tales with rhetorical flourishes and factual liberty when he works a room or regales an audience. They are a way to connect with voters, emphasize his “middle-class Joe” persona and charm his audience.

So, look, this is doubtless true. It’s been a fact of Biden’s public persona at least as far back as his first Presidential run back in 1987, which he was forced to abandon after getting caught plagiarizing several speeches.* Still, by and large, Biden rightly has a reputation as an honorable man.

His predecessor and presumptive opponent in a November rematch, on the other hand, not so much. Which Qiu acknowledges in the third paragraph:

Despite Mr. Biden’s penchant for exaggerating details when recounting episodes from his life, these autobiographical embellishments differ in scale and significance from the stream of lies about a stolen election peddled by his opponent, former President Donald J. Trump.

That rather significant caveat out of the way, though, the rest of the article is about Biden’s molehills rather than Trump’s mountains.

The first is frankly bizarre:

WHAT WAS SAID

“In our last debate, when I was 29 years old, the first question he was asked at the debate was, ‘Do you have any regrets, Senator Boggs?’ And he said, ‘No.’ Then we came to the very end of the debate, where I spoke and then he was to conclude. He stood up, and he said, ‘You know, I was asked if I had any regrets. I said no, but I have one: Had Joe Biden gone to the Naval Academy when I appointed him, he’d still have seven months left on and wouldn’t be able to run.’”
— in a May commencement speech at West Point Military Academy

Mr. Biden has repeatedly recounted this tale to graduating cadets at various military academies and to families of service members: In high school in the 1960s, he had been nominated to attend the United States Naval Academy by Senator J. Caleb Boggs of Delaware, his Republican opponent in his first Senate race. Mr. Boggs, Mr. Biden sometimes adds, later lamented that Mr. Biden had declined to accept the nomination in a 1972 debate. It is an anecdote that dates as far back as 2010, when Mr. Biden said in a speech that Mr. Boggs had “considered” him for the academy.

It is possible that this nomination occurred, but The New York Times could not verify Mr. Biden’s claim.

The academy does not have any records of Mr. Biden receiving a nomination or an appointment, said a spokeswoman, Ashley Hockycko, but it does not possess preliminary applications or requests made to congressional offices.

Mr. Boggs started his first term as senator in January 1961. If the current deadline is any indication, members of Congress have until Jan. 31 to submit nominations to the Naval Academy. Mr. Biden graduated from high school that June and began his first semester at the University of Delaware that fall. The Delaware Historical Society, which houses Mr. Boggs’s Senate records, could find only his nominations to the Naval Academy from 1962. Mr. Biden’s name was not on that list.

Similarly, The Times was unable to verify Mr. Biden’s retelling of that 1972 debate. Newspaper articles detailing debates and events attended by Mr. Biden and Mr. Boggs in September and October of that year did not mention any questions about regrets or the nomination. In his 2007 autobiography, “Promises to Keep,” Mr. Biden wrote of only one debate, and did not include any reference to the nomination.

It is also unclear what Mr. Boggs, in Mr. Biden’s telling, could have meant by suggesting Mr. Biden would have still been committed to the academy or the armed services for another seven months. Cadets at the Naval Academy attend for four years and serve for at least five years in the Navy or Marines after graduation. Had Mr. Biden attended the academy instead of the University of Delaware in 1961, he would have still been able to run against Mr. Boggs in 1972.

I very much doubt the story is true. It’s doubtful Biden even applied for a nomination to the Naval Academy, much less received one. His high school grades were decent but not great, so he would likely not have been competitive. Then again, he was class president and a multi-sport athlete, which would have helped. Beyond that, the timeline makes no sense: applications for those entering the Class of 1965 would have been due before Boggs was sworn in; it would have been his predecessor who nominated Biden.

But six paragraphs to fact-check a joke? And to come up with We can’t prove it didn’t happen but we can’t verify it?

WHAT WAS SAID

“I used to drive an 18-wheeler.”
— at an April campaign event in Florida

Mr. Biden often repeats this claim when attending events with union members. The White House cited Mr. Biden’s job driving a school bus during law school. In the 1970s, he also took a 500-mile trip as a senator on a cargo truck.

I don’t know that this even qualifies as a “tall tale.” It’s a weird non sequitur thrown into a back-and-forth with audience members at a campaign event.

WHAT WAS SAID

“As a matter of fact, the first organization I ever joined was the N.A.A.C.P. Didn’t get to vote until you were 21 in those days, but I got involved in civil rights when I was 15.”
— at an N.A.A.C.P. event in Michigan in May

“She said, ‘Remember when they were desegregating Lynnfield, the neighborhood? It was 70 homes, built, suburbia. And I told you there was a Black family moving in, and people were down there protesting. I told you not to go down there. And you went down, remember that? And you got arrested, standing on the porch with a Black family.’”
— in an interview with Howard Stern in April

For decades, Mr. Biden has occasionally suggested that he played a greater role in the civil rights movement than he actually did. While there is corroboration of Mr. Biden’s participation in a few desegregation events, he has also said he would not consider himself an activist in the movement. There is no evidence that he was ever arrested.

The White House said that there are countless moments in any person’s life that local newspapers opt not to cover and that Mr. Biden was proud to have stood up against segregation in his youth.

The Washington Post detailed several other instances of the anecdote Mr. Biden is relaying, through his mother, of his arrest as a teenager while protesting for civil rights. In some cases, Mr. Biden has said he was 13 or that the police brought him home.

Local newspapers reported that in spring 1959, when Mr. Biden was 16, a Black family moved into an all-white neighborhood in Wilmington, prompting residents to protest against integration. Police officers described the demonstrators as a mob, some armed with fire bombs, and arrested seven people, including four teenagers for possessing fireworks. (The house was bombed and destroyed later that year.)

Mr. Biden joined the N.A.A.C.P. during his first political race for New Castle County Council in 1970, when he was in his late 20s, according to a 2019 Washington Post article that included an interview with the former president of the Delaware N.A.A.C.P.

I find these claims more problematic, in that he’s trying to paint himself as a staunch civil rights advocate at a time when it would have been socially costly. And he almost certainly wasn’t. There are plenty of anecdotes about him being wildly indifferent to, even disdainful of, student protest movements while in college and law school.

There is, however, pretty strong evidence that the young Biden was a supporter of civil rights for Blacks. Even Fox News (albeit regurgitating a WaPo fact check) acknowledges this:

The Post was able to confirm that in high school, Biden did walk out of one restaurant that refused to serve a fellow football player who was black. The paper also confirmed Biden, over one summer in college, became the only white lifeguard at an all-black swimming pool.

It also confirmed Biden took part in pickets of the last segregate movie theater in Wilmington in 1962-63.

Do I wish Biden would stick to the perfectly-admirable facts rather than embellish? Absolutely. But he has, over an incredibly long political career, managed to secure the support of Black leaders even in Democratic primaries against Black candidates. I’m not going to lose too much sleep over the size of the fish.

WHAT WAS SAID

“I’m the first in my family ever to go to college.”
— at a May campaign event in Detroit

Mr. Biden described his maternal grandfather, Ambrose Finnegan Sr., as the “only person in the house with a college degree” in his 2007 autobiography. According to Mr. Finnegan’s 1957 obituary, he attended and played football for Santa Clara College in California. Mr. Biden has previously said that he was the first on the Biden side of the family to go to college.

WHAT WAS SAID

“Under my plan, nobody earning less than $400,000 will pay an additional penny. I hope you’re all able to make $400,000. I never did.”
 at an April campaign event in Pennsylvania

“She said, ‘Did you read today’s paper?’ I said, ‘They don’t have today’s paper — Wilmington paper, Delaware — where I’m with Leahy up in Vermont. And she said, ‘Well, let me read it. Top of the fold, headline, Biden, poorest man in Congress.’”
— at a March campaign event in Nevada

For much of his political career, Mr. Biden was among the least wealthy members of Congress. With a net worth of negative $166,500, Mr. Biden was listed by the newspaper Roll Call as the poorest member in 1990, the first year it began compiling net worth rankings. (The News Journal, based in Wilmington, reported the ranking on page 33, not the front page.)

He continued to rank near the bottom for net worth throughout his decades-long career in the Senate. According to Mr. Biden’s tax returns, he and his wife, Jill, earned less than $400,000 almost every year from 1998 to 2016. But they earned more than $400,000 in 2013 and in every year since 2017, ranging from $408,733 in 2013 to more than $11 million in 2017. (The president’s yearly salary, under federal law, is $400,000.)

I wouldn’t give a second Pinocchio to any of these. They’re flubs and fibs, not “tale tales.” That he’s the first Biden to go to college rather than the first “in his family” is hardly a thing. And a man who didn’t clear $400,000 until his 70s likely thinks of himself as a man who’s never earned $400,000.

WHAT WAS SAID

“Ambrose Finnegan — we called him Uncle Bosie — he was shot down. He was Army Air Corps before there was an Air Force. He flew single engine planes, reconnaissance flights over New Guinea. He had volunteered because someone couldn’t make it. He got shot down in an area where there were a lot of cannibals in New Guinea at the time.”
— in remarks to reporters in April

In his 2007 autobiography, Mr. Biden wrote that he often heard family lore about his hero uncle, Ambrose Finnegan Jr., who was a pilot during World War II. But his suggestion that Mr. Finnegan was shot down and cannibalized in New Guinea is not supported by military records or anthropologists.

According to the agency of the Pentagon that accounts for the missing or those taken prisoner during war, Mr. Finnegan, a second lieutenant, was a passenger on an aircraft that crashed into the ocean on the north coast of New Guinea in May 1944 after its engines failed. Three men, including Mr. Biden’s uncle, were lost in the crash while a fourth was rescued by a passing barge. There are no indications that the plane was shot down or that Mr. Finnegan was flying the plane.

Mr. Finnegan would have been an unlikely victim of cannibalism in New Guinea, anthropologists and locals told PolitiFact and The Guardian. Studies of cannibalism in the country have noted that victims tended to be enemies from warring tribes as an act of revenge or deceased relatives as part of a mourning ritual.

Mr. Biden shared his account of Mr. Finnegan’s death after visiting a war memorial in Scranton, Pa., that bore his uncle’s name. The story was meant to highlight Mr. Biden’s commitment to equipping troops and honoring veterans, the White House said.

That Biden didn’t have family lore fact-checked by anthropologists is, frankly, shameful. The House should start impeachment proceedings forthwith.

WHAT WAS SAID

“I was getting on the train, and one of the senior guys at Amtrak — I became friends with all of them after all the years, and I’ve ridden 36 years as a senator — and he comes up to me — his name is Angelo — and he comes over and says, ‘Joey, baby!’ He grabs my cheek, and I thought they were going to shoot him. And I said, ‘Ang, what’s the matter?’ He said, ‘I just read in the newspaper’ — because they keep meticulous mileage about how many times you — how many miles you use an aircraft for the United States Air Force as vice president. ‘I just read in the paper, Joey, you traveled 1,200,000 miles on Air Force Two.’”
— in a speech in Nevada in December

This story, as told, stretches credulity. Mr. Biden logged 1.2 million miles on Air Force Two in early 2016, according to himself. Angelo Negri, the conductor, retired from Amtrak in 1993 and died in 2014. It is possible that Mr. Biden mistook another conductor for Mr. Negri: He recounted in 2009 speaking with an unnamed Amtrak employee, who also called out to him, “Joey, baby.”

Is a man who mixes up his train conductors really someone we can trust with the nuclear codes?

Seriously, I no idea what the hell the point of this whole article was. Most readers are going to just skim the headline, not even making it to the third paragraph. Devoting this many words to fact-checking mostly trivial assertions is just bizarre.


*The most famous incident, in which he borrowed the life story of British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, was almost surely a function of campaign trail fatigue. In early iterations, he explicitly quoted Kinnock but, over time, it blurred into Biden’s biography.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, Media, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    Gasp! Consider my pearls clutched. Bwa haha hahahaha.

    No, seriously. You know the underlying purpose of the piece. It’s to make him the same as his lying-weasel-in-a-suit opponent in the upcoming election.

    Sadly, it’s another brick in the wall.

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  2. ptfe says:

    Joe Biden is obviously too old & senile to lead this country, and he’s so dangerous he would probably lie to you about whether he put salt on his eggs this morning.

    Donald Trump – svelte, savvy, no-nonsense, hard-hitting dragon slayer – may sometimes overdo the bombast, but it’s just locker room talk, baby!

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  3. Devoting this many words to fact-checking mostly trivial assertions is just bizarre.

    Gots to prove they are fair and balanced. Or something, I guess.

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  4. And BTW, “That Biden didn’t have family lore fact-checked by anthropologists is, frankly, shameful.”

    Ha!

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  5. al Ameda says:

    A lot of this is baked in now but … it sure feels like ‘both sides do it’ is in play now, and that Trump is being normalized now. Thank god there are about 5 months to go, and Trump will change the news cycle many times before election day.

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  6. Paul L. says:

    Were the statements by Biden False and Misleading? According to the over 35,000 Trump lies standard, they can be counted.

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  7. Rick DeMent says:

    This is just more evidence of the asymmetrical way treat the current presidential nominees in this country. Everything that Biden says, does, thinks about, or ruminations over are analyzed, combed through and criticized. Trump’s corpus of stream of conscious emanations, “jokes”, things we are not supposed to take literally and so on are hand waved over. Meanwhile, every time Biden does anything there is someone on the liberal side condemning it, breathlessly telling everyone “This is a huge problem for Biden”, telling anyone who will listen “If he doesn’t do the thing I want right now I’m sitting this one out.

    Meanwhile, if Trump equivocates on a bedrock issue of the Republican party (the way he is trying to split the baby on abortion, or his transparent lies in real-time). Trump’s core supporters never ever waver. he has a locked on a huge number of Republicans that can secure his nomination with a plurality, and then the rest of the party has to decide whether is worth it to support him and eventually come to the conclusion that a deeply flawed candidate is better than any Democrat. Meanwhile, Democrats are searching for any excuse to not support Biden. They did the same thing with Hillary. From where I sit Bengazhi and the email thing seems positively adorable compared to the one-man crimewave that is Donald J. Trump.

    We have no idea what the final issues will be in 5 months because we are now dealing with attention spans that make 15 minutes of fame seem like a decade. It’s hard to see the clear march to authoritarianism this country is on (it should really be considered neo-Nazisum). The ability of billionaires in this country, who care about nothing but tax cuts and who are willing to install a man with the self-control of a 4-year-old just to shave even more off their tax bill is frightening as someone in the early stages of old age who worries about what will happen in my dotage (if I’m lucky enough to get there). But I’m sure voluntary suicide will be an option by then or mandatory for any found to be a liberal.

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  8. Gustopher says:

    After it turned out that Cornpop was a real person, I’m not sure I would dismiss anything Biden says as entirely fanciful.

    He does seem to be a man who won’t let a few little facts get in the way of a good story, but it’s always “my uncle was eaten by cannibals, ain’t that fun?” rather than “my uncle was eaten by cannibals, because the people of New Guinea are savages who must be destroyed.”

    A good story should be cherished, and polished if need be.

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  9. Scott F. says:

    @Paul L.:
    If you want to discount the “35,000 Trump lies” count down to a number you’re more comfortable with, say less than half that or 15,000, then knock yourself out. As long as you still count the 34 convictions on felony fraud, the multiple defamations of E. Jean Carroll, the +$350M civic business fraud, and the Big Lie, then Dr. Joyner’s point about the NYT’s false equivalency is still made – resoundingly so.

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  10. al Ameda says:

    @Paul L.:

    Were the statements by Biden False and Misleading? According to the over 35,000 Trump lies standard, they can be counted.

    In the interest of advancing the ‘Both Sides Do It’ False Equivalency Method of Journalism, I’d like to ask you a simple yet potentially revealing question:

    We know that Trump has had six business bankruptcies, and he’s a self-proclaimed ‘successful’ businessman, and a master of the ‘Art of The Deal.’

    So it begs the question of Joe Biden:
    Question: How many business bankrupcies has Joe Biden filed for under Chapters 7, 11, or 13?

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  11. Paul L. says:

    @al Ameda:
    How many successful businesses has Joe Biden had? 10% for the big guy. BTW Kamila is a cop.

    Critics saw her taking baby steps when bold reform was needed — a microcosm of a career in which she developed a reputation for taking cautious, incremental action on criminal justice and, more often than not, yielding to the status quo.

    @Scott F.:
    Like Popehat, I am comfortable with the multiple defamations of genius climate scientist Michael E. Mann.
    Why is E. Jean Carroll any different?
    I see it as chilling free speech.

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  12. Erik says:

    Your reminder that Paul L by his own admission is not interested in honest discourse:

    ”I don’t want to convince anyone. I want to see how people will go to defend what I see as indefensible.”

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  13. Ken_L says:

    The most easily disproved tall tale of Joe’s was his colorful account of the way he got Viktor Shokin dismissed as Ukraine’s chief prosecutor. He flew to Kyiv, told the president Shokin had to go or Joe would stop a billion dollar loan guarantee, and by golly Shokin was gone that same afternoon! Well he was on the paid speaker circuit at the time, not even running for office, so I guess he thought the audience deserved some entertainment for their money.

    The facts of Shokin’s dismissal were never a secret. It occured months after Biden’s visit, after street protests against Shokin’s failure to take any action against proven corruption by his subordinates, and was enacted by an overwhelming majority of the Ukraine parliament, not the president. Contemporaneous reports in the European media made no mention of any dramatic threats by the US, only to persistent international pressure from the EU, the USA and the IMF as a factor in the parliament’s decision.

    Ironically, despite being so easily discredited, it is also the only anecdote of the president’s which Republicans believe, or at least pretend to.

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  14. Paul L. says:

    @Erik:
    No sense trying to convince true believers. Why try?
    If the Democrats created reeducation/extermination camps and started to round up MAGA deplorables, most people here at OTB would support it.

    Corrupt Judge Lewis A. Kaplan put his thumb on the scale of justice and forbid all of Trump’s due process, defenses and evidences. “Looks at every basic element of due process in a civil case and says “Yeah, we’re going to take the under consideration” i.e ignore it. requiring Trump’s attorney to pre-vett questions to limit what he says. To limiting the questions they can ask of E. Jean Caroll. Limiting Discovery and just frankly looking at a bunch of inconsistencies that are not allowed to be pointed out in E. Jean Caroll’s story.”

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  15. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Paul L.:

    Paul, Paul, Paul…

    Before I can even begin to respond, I’m hung up on the random quotation marks. I can’t tell what you’re trying to quote, or who, or exactly what direction we’re supposed to be looking in.

    Btw, back in the 70s, when we provided quotes, we had to identify the source of the quote. Cite, please?

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  16. Paul L. says:

    “Yeah, we’re going to take the under consideration” is Judge Kaplan.
    Full quote is “Disney hating” YouTube lawyer Legal Mindset.

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  17. Gavin says:

    This entire story is “We have column space to fill, and anything is better than accurately describing the progression of Trump’s mental illness.”

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  18. al Ameda says:

    @Paul L.:
    @al Ameda:

    How many successful businesses has Joe Biden had? 10% for the big guy.

    You’re right, for bankruptcies, Joe Biden 0-6 Former President & Felon

    BTW Kamila is a cop.
    Critics saw her taking baby steps when bold reform was needed — a microcosm of a career in which she developed a reputation for taking cautious, incremental action on criminal justice and, more often than not, yielding to the status quo.

    You want a rogue prosecutor?
    Say what you will about Kamala,but Alvin Bragg certainly did not take incrementl action on bringing criminal justice to a well-known Former President with an extensive record of white collar criminal activity.

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  19. Paul L. says:

    @al Ameda:

    Bragg’s prosecution came from evidence submitted by Robert Mueller, whose probe emanated from the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane operation, which was based on FISA surveillance made possible by the Steele Dossier, a product of the Clinton campaign via Fusion GPS — dirty tricks for which Hillary was ultimately fined more than $100,000. So it’s not just that Hillary wasn’t prosecuted for the same kind of behavior as Trump, but that his prosecution is ultimately an extension of the Clinton campaign itself, however circuitously.

    You want a rogue prosecutor?
    Yes since real prosecutors will do anything to get a conviction including hiding exculpatory evidence.

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  20. @Erik: A true PSA.

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  21. @Flat Earth Luddite: It is impossible to parse his prose.

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  22. Chris says:

    To sum up, Biden would have us kiss the Blarney Stone and Trump wants us all to kiss his ass… I take the Blarney Stone any day!

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  23. Paul L. says:

    @Erik:
    Follows link. And my full comment is gone so it can be taken out of context.

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  24. Jack says:

    LOL

    Lies for thee, but not for me.

    Inflation was 9% when Joe took office, right? Or how about: “Hunter’s laptop was Russian disinformation.” In a presidential debate no less………….(50 learned and reliable sources (snicker) uncoerced no doubt. )

    Pardon me while I vomit at the absolute absence of any intellectual honesty here.

    Anyone up for cannibal recipes?

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  25. al Ameda says:

    @Paul L.:
    Alvin Bragg’s team withheld and hid exculpatory evidence from the Trump defense team?

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  26. Ken_L says:

    Jack’s reference to “Hunter’s laptop” without elaboration marks him as a devout member of the Trump Cult, with total faith in every chapter of My Big Book of Republican Myths and Legends.

    For those mystified by the reference, here’s a summary:

    – In December 2019, the FBI took possession of a laptop subsequently verified as the property of Hunter Biden.

    – In October 2020, recently-disbarred habitual drunk Rudy Giuliani, who was then Trump’s personal attorney, announced he had a copy of that laptop’s hard drive, which to great fanfare he gave to the New York Post after the Wall St Journal refused to touch it. There is as little proof today as there was in October 2020 that Giuliani’s data came from the laptop at all, either in whole or in part. The whole exercise did indeed bear all the hallmarks of Russian disinformation, which was the opinion offered by 51 ex-intelligence agency officials at the time.

    – This has not prevented “intellectually honest” people like Jack from braying that “Hunter’s laptop” and “Giuliani’s data” are one and the same thing. I mean Giuliani is an honorable man, right? So are they all in the Trump campaign, all honorable men!

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  27. DrDaveT says:

    @Jack:

    Lies for thee, but not for me.

    Dude, you cannot possibly win any contest based on truthfulness. Seriously. Your guy is the lyingest ever presidential candidate, much less winner, by an order of magnitude. You need a different metric, a different platform, if you want to claim superiority over your opponents.

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  28. Paul L. says:

    @al Ameda:
    What was the felony Trump committed to result in charging falsified New York business records as a felony?

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  29. TheRyGuy says:

    Still, by and large, Biden rightly has a reputation as an honorable man.

    Based on what? The Anita Hill hearings? Constantly bringing up his dead son? Refusing for YEARS to even acknowledge the existence of a grandchild? Telling black people that Mitt Romney wanted to put them “back in chains?” Or what about abandoning Americans in Afghanistan?

    https://apnews.com/article/ap-fact-check-41a83656d872e2a5d5d79e18fffae6d7

    Considering that James Joyner has endorsed the principle that there should be one set of more lenient rules for important people and another set of more stringent rules for less important people, I’m not sure anything he says about “honor” can be taken with a straight face.

    https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/unequal-military-justice-is-good-policy/

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