The Biden administration's new czar to combat disinformation has a history of sharing misleading claims about British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s discredited dossier and downplaying controversy embroiling President Joe Biden's son.
Nina Jankowicz, who was a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center and adviser to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry as part of the Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship, confirmed a report Wednesday that she has been named executive director of the Department of Homeland Security’s new “Disinformation Governance Board."
“Honored to be serving in the Biden Administration’s Department of Homeland Security and helping shape our counter-disinformation efforts,” Jankowicz tweeted, sharing the Politico article about the hire that said she would “coordinate countering misinformation related to homeland security” and focus on Russia. Jankowicz has written two books: How To Lose The Information War: Russia, Fake News, and The Future Of Conflict and How to Be a Woman Online: Surviving Abuse and Harassment, and How to Fight Back.
But there's a lot to unpack before she even gets started in her new role. The Washington Examiner dove into her comments in recent years. For one, Jankowicz touted Steele’s thoughts on disinformation.
On Aug. 7, 2020, Jankowicz tweeted about an appearance Steele made on the Infotagion podcast. “Listened to this last night — Chris Steele (yes THAT Chris Steele) provides some great historical context about the evolution of disinfo. Worth a listen," she said.
Steele is perhaps best known in the United States for his anti-Trump dossier, which Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded in December 2019 played a "central and essential" role in the FBI's effort to obtain wiretap orders against former Trump campaign associate Carter Page.
Steele’s alleged main source, Igor Danchenko, was charged “with five counts of making false statements to the FBI,” which John Durham claims he made about the information he provided to Steele for his discredited dossier. Horowitz said FBI interviews with Danchenko “raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting” and concluded that Danchenko “contradicted the allegations of a ‘well-developed conspiracy’ in” Steele’s dossier.
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Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted Dec. 8, 2017, “Was there collusion between DOJ and Fusion GPS to use Democratic funded dossier for political and legal purposes?” Jankowicz replied that “your party funded the dossier first” and tweeted April 22, 2020, that “you’re probably aware that [the Steele dossier] began as a Republican opposition research project.”
But Steele created his discredited anti-Trump dossier after being hired in early 2016 by the opposition firm Fusion GPS, which was itself hired by the Perkins Coie law firm and Marc Elias, the general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
The conservative Free Beacon said in October 2017 that it had “no knowledge of or connection to the Steele dossier" and "did not pay for the dossier."
Jankowicz also said in April 2020 that “the inclusion of the Steele dossier didn’t influence the conclusions of the [intelligence community assessment].”
However, FBI Director James Comey and FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe fought to include information from Steele’s dossier in the January 2017 ICA on Russian election interference. Although the CIA and NSA ultimately overruled their efforts, the dossier was still summarized in a classified annex attached to the report.
Jankowicz also cast doubt on the Hunter Biden laptop story while falsely claiming an intelligence community report on foreign meddling referenced it. In particular, she played a key role in trying to shoot down reports by the New York Post about the contents of the laptop believed to have belonged to the younger Biden.
The Associated Press ran a story Oct. 14, 2020, reporting, “Disinformation experts say there are multiple red flags that raise doubts about their authenticity, including questions about whether the laptop actually belongs to Hunter Biden, said Nina Jankowicz.” The report quoted her as saying that “we should view it as a Trump campaign product.”
Jankowicz shared a report Oct. 22, 2020, she said was “casting yet more doubt on the provenance of the New York Post's Hunter Biden story.” And she tweeted that day, “The emails don’t need to be altered to be part of an influence campaign. Voters deserve that context, not a [fairy] tale about a laptop repair shop.”
She tweeted during that night’s presidential debate, “Back on the ‘laptop from hell,’ apparently — Biden notes 50 former natsec officials and 5 former CIA heads that believe the laptop is a Russian influence op. Trump says ‘Russia, Russia, Russia.’” She tweeted Wednesday, “For those who believe this tweet is a key to all my views, it is simply a direct quote from both candidates during the final presidential debate.”
Joe Biden was referring to a Politico report about the letter in an article titled “Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say.” Despite offering no proof, Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, along with many in the media, dismissed the laptop story as a Russian disinformation operation.
John Ratcliffe, former President Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence, said in October 2020 that there was "no intelligence" the laptop story was a Russian invention.
Jankowicz tweeted Oct. 24, 2020, about "the nuance of the alleged Biden laptop kerfuffle."
She later tweeted March 16, 2021, that the intelligence community “has a high degree of confidence that the Kremlin used proxies to push influence narratives, including misleading or unsubstantiated claims about President Biden.” She claimed this was “a clear nod to the alleged Hunter laptop.”
But the report released by Joe Biden's Office of the Director of National Intelligence in March 2021 did not reference the laptop story and reached no public conclusions on it.
Jankowicz said on NPR’s On Point on Oct. 26, 2020, “I hesitate to make a conjecture about whether a foreign adversary is even involved.”
She pointed to Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon’s involvement, then said, “We know, for instance, Russia has hacked documents and then put in forged documents among them — this is a tactic they’ve used for decades, in fact — or whether they were stolen by a domestic adversary. All of this is important context for voters, and right now, we don’t have any of that context.”
She also tried to cast doubt on the Iranian regime interfering in 2020 to hurt Trump's chances of being reelected.
Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray held an Oct. 21, 2020, press conference and warned that Russia and Iran had gained access to U.S. voter registration information.
“We have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest, and damage President Trump. ... These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” Ratcliffe said.
NPR played audio by Florida voter Rebecca Connors, who received one of the alleged Iranian emails, and she rejected Ratcliffe’s conclusion. “I didn’t need this email to associate [Trump] with the Proud Boys … so I personally don’t buy that argument," she said.
Jankowicz also rejected Ratcliffe’s conclusion.
“I think Rebecca is exactly right,” she said, adding, “These are designed to suppress voters, first of all, and they’re also designed to cause chaos and confusion and distrust in the system writ large.” Jankowicz criticized Ratcliffe, saying he was “making it look like these campaigns are seeking to target President Trump, when in reality it’s about targeting our democracy.”
But the 2021 ODNI report concluded that the Iranian regime “carried out a multi-pronged covert influence campaign intended to undercut" Trump's reelection prospects.
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In addition, Jankowicz criticized Ratcliffe’s “really bizarre decision to declassify some unverified intelligence about the 2016 election that kind of dredged up the whole Hillary Clinton email scandal and the hack and leak operation perpetrated by the Russians, and again, that seemed like a political decision designed to help President Trump.”
Ratcliffe declassified in the fall of 2020 two heavily redacted Russia-related documents, including handwritten notes from former CIA Director John Brennan showing he briefed then-President Barack Obama in 2016 on an unverified Russian intelligence report. The report claimed Clinton planned in July 2016 on tying then-candidate Trump to Russia’s hack of the Democratic National Committee to distract from the controversy surrounding her improper use of a private email server.