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Republicans say Biden campaign exploited former intel officials to discredit Hunter Biden laptop allegations

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Breaking down Republicans' accusations against Biden family 04:57

In the final weeks of the 2020 presidential campaign, 51 former top intelligence officials signed a letter saying that the alleged contents of Hunter Biden's laptop had "all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation." 

The statement was allegedly designed to aid Joe Biden's presidential candidacy, and its dissemination was coordinated through the Biden campaign, according to an interim report by the GOP-led House Judiciary and Intelligence committees. 

The 64-page report, reviewed by CBS News, states that House investigators wrote to all 51 of the former officials requesting "relevant documents and testimony." The report contains portions of witness interviews, as well as partial emails.

The report maintains that emails at the time from former intelligence officials, including former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, a former CBS News contributor, show the statement was meant to help candidate Biden in the final weeks of the 2020 campaign, after the New York Post first reported on the alleged contents of his son's laptop. Information on the computer came into the possession of a Delaware computer repair store owner, who then turned it over to federal investigators and a lawyer for Trump ally Rudy Giuliani.

According to the GOP report, "contemporaneous emails show the organizers' intent in drafting and releasing the statement: '[W]e think Trump will attack Biden on the issue at this week's debate and we want to offer perspectives on this from Russia watchers and other seasoned experts, and we want to give the [Vice President] a talking point to use in response.'" 

During the debate on Oct. 22, 2020, in response to Trump's taunts of "it's the laptop from hell, the laptop from hell," Mr. Biden pushed back, "There are 50 former national intelligence folks who said that what this — he's 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. Nobody believes it except him…and his good friend Rudy Giuliani."

The interim report accuses the Biden campaign of taking "active measures to discredit the allegations about Hunter Biden by exploiting the national security credentials of former intelligence officials" and also said the "Biden campaign coordinated dissemination of the statement to members of the media." 

Committee investigators also claimed to have evidence that a current CIA employee "may have assisted in obtaining signatories for the statement." 

They said that a former CIA analyst who had signed the letter told the committee that a CIA employee affiliated with the agency's Prepublication Classification Review Board ("PCRB") had told him over the phone about the statement and asked if he would sign it.

Separately, Morell, according to the report, told a CIA pre-publication review board that "[t]his is a rush job, as it need to get out as soon as possible." Morell, the committee alleges, wanted the public statement released before the October 22, 2020, presidential debate." 

Committee Democrats said Morell told the committee he alone had been in contact with the PCRB about the draft letter and had submitted a complete copy of his exchange with the PCRB.  If others working on the letter had contacted the PCRB, the Democrats said, Morell would have known.

The role of the CIA's pre-publication review board is, according to an agency spokesperson, "to review materials submitted by current and former officers to determine if the materials contain any classified information."  In the case of this letter, the spokesperson said, "it was submitted to the [review board] in October 2020 and was reviewed only for classification, as is standard practice."

Democrats also suggested that the former CIA analyst who claimed to have spoken with the current CIA employee about the letter was mistaken, and they produced the email he received from one of the letter organizers, which was identical to the one sent to all the former national security officials.

The ranking House Democrats on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Jim Himes, released a joint statement criticizing Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan for a report that they say wrongly targets the former national security officials for raising concern about a possible Russian operation against the U.S.

"In defense of Donald Trump, Mr. Jordan would chill the free speech of private citizens who sought to exercise their First Amendment rights in the face of what they viewed as a likely Russian attack on our democracy," they wrote. "That is something that should deeply concern us all, Republicans and Democrats alike."

Last month, House GOP-led committees said Morell told congressional investigators in a deposition that Secretary of State Antony Blinken, then a Biden campaign adviser, had reached out to him in October 2020 and "set in motion the events that led" to the intelligence officials' public statement.

At the time, House Democrats released what they described as more of the Morell interview, claiming Republicans had "cherry picked excerpts" to "smear Secretary Blinken" According to a portion of the interview released by the committee Democrats in April, Morell was asked if Blinken, when he had phoned Morell, "did he direct, suggest, or insinuate in any way that you should write a letter or statement" about the laptop? Morell responded, "My memory is that he did not, right. My memory is that he asked me what I thought." 

The committee also pressed him, "It wasn't — the campaign could use some help on this — could you…cook up something that we could use?" "It's not my memory that he said that," Morell responded. 

The House Republicans said the Biden administration "declined to cooperate with this oversight."  The CIA has so far "failed to comply" and Blinken has "provided none of the documents that Committees requested." Adding that "although he (Blinken) denied asking Morell to write the statement, Secretary Blinken did not dispute that his communication was the impetus for the statement."

In response to CBS' questions, a CIA spokesperson said, "The House Intelligence Committee (HPSCI) made an inquiry of multiple [intelligence community (IC)] elements with respect to signatories of the public statement, and [Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)]provided an initial response to the HPSCI on behalf of the IC. CIA contributed to the ODNI response." 

The CIA also said it had "provided requested information" to the chairs of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. Morell did not respond to CBS News' questions, but according to a partial transcript released by the GOP committees, Morell testified, "I did not coordinate with the CIA. I would have — had I known (about allegations an employee affiliated with the CIA may have facilitated signatures), I would have reacted very negatively to this."

In response to CBS' questions, Ian Sams, a White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations said "Instead of working with President Biden on the issues that matter most to the American people, House Republicans are weaponizing their power to go after their political opponents and re-litigate the 2020 election with misleading claims. This is all happening as they move ahead on a dangerous plan to push America into default and an economic crisis." 

There was no immediate response from the State Department.

Rebecca Kaplan contributed to this report.

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