America First Legal sues FEC to force action on Hunter Biden laptop deniers during 2020 campaign

After the Federal Election Commission declined to act against Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign for the laptop-denying statement by 51 former intelligence officials, a conservative watchdog group is trying to force action. 

America First Legal sued the FEC in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to force the agency that polices campaign donations and spending to act.

‘The FEC decided we’re not going to act on this. So, what the district court will do, our hope, is that it will order the FEC to investigate and take this seriously,’ Daniel Epstein, vice president of America First Legal, told Fox News Digital.  

In October, the group filed an FEC complaint against the Biden for President campaign from 2020, the Biden Victory Fund, the Biden Action Fund and the Democratic National Committee for failing to report indirect contributions from the later-debunked statement by the 51 officials released on October 19, 2020, just weeks before the November 8 election, and just days before a presidential debate. 

The statement claimed without evidence that the Hunter Biden laptop was likely part of a ‘Russian disinformation’ campaign. 

If the FEC doesn’t act, it is ‘effectively encouraging disinformation to the public that may influence the election,’ Epstein continued. 

An FEC spokesperson told Fox News Digital that the agency doesn’t comment on litigation. Neither the 2024 Biden presidential campaign nor the DNC responded to inquiries for this story. 

The FEC has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit. Epstein anticipates the agency will file a motion to remand the matter back to the FEC for investigation. 

In March 2023, former Obama administration CIA Deputy and Acting Director Michael Morrell testified to the House Judiciary and House Intelligence Committees that on October 17, 2020, then-Biden campaign staffer Antony Blinken, now the secretary of state, contacted him to discuss drafting a statement to attack the Hunter Biden laptop story first reported by the New York Post.  Morrell circulated the statement among other anti-Trump former intelligence officials. The 51 former officials who signed on included Leon Panetta, John Brennan and James Clapper from the Barack Obama administration, as well as Michael Hayden from the George W. Bush administration — all vocal critics of Trump.

Eventually, both the New York Times and Washington Post verified the authenticity of the Hunter Biden laptop. 

‘Because Morrell, Brennan, Clapper, and the other signatories were supposedly ‘nonpartisan’ national security and intelligence experts, their public statement was a campaign contribution of substantial value to the respondents, who solicited the ‘Letter of 51’ from them for the express purpose of influencing the 2020 presidential election,’ the AFL lawsuit says. ‘Yet, the respondents failed to report the contribution and to identify the individuals who made it.’

The lawsuit — like the original FEC complaint — quotes an email at the time among the intelligence experts, saying, ‘[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.’ Another said they wanted to give Biden ‘a talking point to use in response’ if Trump brings up the laptop. 

In an October 22, 2020 presidential debate, Biden referred to the 51 intelligence officials’ letter during a presidential debate. The lawsuit also notes that it was used for an immense amount of media coverage. 

The Biden campaign resources were used to solicit the letter, and the coordination that produced the letter became something of significant value to the Biden campaign. Failure to report something of value violates the Federal Election Campaign Act that the FEC is required to enforce, the lawsuit says. 

‘The proper administration of the act includes ensuring that all disclosure reports are correctly and timely filed with the commission,’ the complaint to the D.C. District Court says. 

Under the Federal Election Campaign Act, if the FEC fails to act on a complaint within 120 days, a complainant can take the case to court. A court could determine that failure to act is contrary to the law and direct the commission to conform to the law within 30 days. 

The lawsuit references a survey that found almost four of five Americans who followed the Hunter Biden laptop scandal thought that honest news coverage would have changed the outcome of the election. The survey by Technometric Institute of Policy and Politics was released in August 2022.  

‘If you firmly believed that this [the laptop story] was disinformation, and you wanted to tell the truth to the public, and this wasn’t about an attempt to defraud the public in order to influence the election, why were you so secretive about this?’ Epstein told Fox News Digital. ‘Why not say, ‘Maybe this is a campaign coordination, and we should report it,’ and say with a straight face, ‘Out of an abundance of caution, we reported this to the FEC’?’

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