Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

Late in the 2020 presidential campaign, trailing in the polls, Donald Trump and his allies worked to make a campaign issue out of a trove of files on a laptop that his opponent’s son, Hunter Biden, had apparently abandoned at a Delaware repair shop. The effort to publicize compromising emails, images, and videos from the device involved prominent Trump confidants including Rudy Giuliani and Steven Bannon. But it also featured an unexpected player: Guo Wengui, a fugitive Chinese tycoon who was working with Bannon to build a small empire of Chinese-language media outlets, nonprofits, and other ventures.

Mother Jones obtained scores of WhatsApp audio messages Guo sent to supporters, along with underlying material from Biden’s hard drive that Guo’s assistant distributed at his behest. Previous reports have noted the role of Guo allies and companies in publicizing sex tapes and other material involving Hunter Biden. But the WhatsApp messages, and sources who were involved in the effort, reveal that Guo—who has been accused in lawsuits of fraud and rape and of secretly acting as an agent for the Chinese Communist Party—played a larger role than previously known in ensuring that explicit images and videos from the laptop appeared online, and in spreading lies about them. (Guo has denied the allegations made in the lawsuits against him.)

Guo stage-managed an October 2020 effort to disseminate videos and pictures showing Hunter Biden engaged in sex acts and using drugs. After Giuliani, then President Trump’s personal lawyer, gave him material from Hunter Biden’s laptop, Guo issued detailed instructions to two WhatsApp groups that included dozens of Guo’s supporters. Guo directed these supporters to package, post, and promote hundreds of explicit images and other material about Biden on websites Guo controlled, people involved in the effort said.

The material Guo publicized seems to be real, but he instructed supporters to couple it with false claims that it came from Chinese sources, and that the Chinese government had used it to obtain leverage over Hunter Biden and his father, Joe Biden. “We have to express…The Chinese Communist Party used these to threaten Hunter and [Joe] Biden,” Guo told supporters in an October 24, 2020, message. (Mother Jones is quoting English translations of messages that were originally in Chinese. Multiple people independently verified the translations.)

People who helped Guo publish the material online said that it quickly became clear to them that he was lying about China’s role. “They tried to link the Biden family to the [Chinese Communist Party],” said a person involved in the effort, who shared Guo’s WhatsApp messages with Mother Jones and requested anonymity. “They wanted to help Trump win.”

Hunter Biden and his laptop recently received renewed attention after the New York Times said it had authenticated emails found on the device, which Biden reportedly left in a Wilmington, Delaware, repair shop in 2019 and never picked up. Giuliani has said he obtained a copy of Hunter Biden’s hard drive after John Paul Mac Isaac, the owner of the repair shop, gave it to Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello, in the summer of 2020. Isaac, after receiving a subpoena, also gave the drive to the FBI.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that it had used cryptographic signatures to verify that thousands of additional emails from Biden’s laptop are real. Other publications have reported that a Justice Department probe into Hunter Biden’s business activities has recently picked up. Citing these developments, Republicans and right-leaning publications that reported on the emails in 2020 have attacked mainstream media outlets for downplaying or ignoring them, arguing that those outlets refused to cover a legitimate news story due to anti-Trump bias.

But the effort by Trump allies was far more problematic, dishonest, and unseemly than many of these critics seem to recall. In the final weeks of the 2020 campaign, Giuliani and Bannon selectively doled out information from the laptop to mostly right-leaning publications. The Washington Post noted that the duo refused to share access to laptop files with its reporters at the time. The files included newsworthy information about Hunter Biden’s work for foreign businesses, but Trump allies also linked it with allegations, which remain unsubstantiated, that Joe Biden was involved in his son’s ventures. Joe Biden “has never even considered being involved in business with his family, nor in any overseas business whatsoever,” his campaign said in 2020. 

The effort to exploit the laptop went further. Hunter Biden seems to have saved numerous images and videos that show him using crack cocaine and engaging in sexual encounters with multiple women. Biden’s addiction issues were well-known by the fall of 2020. And he was single when he created the material. This stuff was not news. But Trump allies, Giuliani in particular, played up these purely salacious images, and made false claims about what they depicted, in the apparent hope that the smear would hurt Joe Biden’s campaign.

This was where Guo came in. After getting rich in Chinese real estate, Guo had fled China in late 2014 ahead of fraud and corruption charges. In the US, he began using the name Miles Kwok, joined Mar-a-Lago, and reinvented himself as a vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party, using YouTube and Twitter to issue colorful, unproven claims about corruption and sexual hijinks among Chinese elites. These charges won Guo lots of press, tens of thousands of ardent supporters in the international Chinese diaspora, and friends among US conservatives.

Guo, facing Chinese efforts to have him extradited, hired Bannon in 2018. The conservative strategist, who was ousted from a job as a top White House aide in 2017, helped Guo set up nonprofit organizations and media companies, including a website called GNews and GTV, a mostly Chinese-language video streaming site. Guo used this network to advance bizarre, false conspiracy theories about Covid and other topics. (He claimed last year that China is manipulating Covid vaccines in a plot to kill Jews, because “the CCP wants to gain control of all aspects of the world, and the Jews are in their way.”) By the fall of 2020, Guo’s network, though nominally aimed at overthrowing China’s government, was also aggressively supporting Trump’s reelection bid.

GTV, which closed down last month, hardly had a wide reach among US voters. But the Chinese-language site did have close ties to Bannon, who had been on its board. Like YouTube, GTV allowed users to upload videos and images. And Guo seems to have been unencumbered by concerns about ethics or accuracy that inhibited many US publications from quickly reporting Hunter Biden allegations. So it made sense that while Trump allies pushed publications like the Wall Street Journal and New York Post to report on Biden’s business practices, GTV handled smut.

On September 25, 2020, Wang Dinggang—who at the time was a Guo ally with a YouTube channel called Lude Media that was featured on GTV—announced, falsely, that Chinese sources had sent US officials “three hard disks” of material related to Hunter Biden. That was the first public indication that Trump allies had obtained Hunter Biden’s private material.

The Biden files, of course, came not from China but from Giuliani. Three people with knowledge of the efforts to publish the material said they were told Guo got the material from Giuliani, though the sources said it may have been passed along by other intermediaries. Guo then arranged for some of his devoted backers to promote the material from Biden’s laptop, to misrepresent what it contained, and to post it on his sites. Guo’s personal assistant, Yvette Wang, sent the files to those Guo supporters, using Dropbox links, according to WhatsApp messages and a source involved.

Bannon was involved in discussions about publicizing other materials from the laptop, sources said. Bannon boasted in a September 28 interview for a Dutch news show that he had “the hard drive of Hunter Biden.” About a week later, Bannon, along with Guo, described the material to another Guo ally involved in promoting it. “Bannon said they were planning to make a big deal out of it and the whole world would know,” this person, who agreed to talk about the effort on the condition of anonymity, said. “His feeling was that this would impact the election.”

Guo, Bannon, Giuliani, Costello, Yvette Wang, and Wang Dinggang all declined to comment or ignored inquiries. An attorney for Hunter Biden did not respond to an inquiry.

While he orchestrated the publication of the Hunter Biden material, Guo encouraged supporters to make a false, vile claim. He instructed them to say the laptop included videos that showed Hunter Biden having sex with underage Chinese girls, according to messages he sent and people who communicated with him. Guo also asserted, baselessly, that the Chinese government had created or obtained the compromising videos and images and used them to blackmail the Bidens. Wang Dinggang repeated both of those claims in his September 25 broadcasts. They were later parroted on GNews. No evidence whatsoever supports these allegations. “It was a lie. In all the pictures, we didn’t see any Asians, so how could the CCP have taken all the pictures?” one of the people involved in distributing the material said.

These lies dovetailed with the QAnon conspiracy theory, which holds that many prominent Democrats are pedophiles and that Trump was working to stop them. And they were echoed by Giuliani, who falsely asserted on Newsmax on October 20, 2020, that Biden’s laptop contained “numerous pictures of underage girls.” These bogus claims took off online, with far-right sites amplifying them. QAnon devotees in the fall of 2020 also pushed the claim that Joe Biden himself was a pedophile, a smear that Giuliani also appeared to bolster on Twitter in the final days of the 2020 campaign.

On October 10, 2020, Guo, Giuliani, and Bannon met for dinner in Guo’s Manhattan apartment. Pictures posted by a since-suspended Twitter account supportive of Guo showed Guo and Giuliani embracing and smoking cigars.

The New York Post published its first story with material from the Hunter Biden laptop on October 14, explaining in the article that it learned of the hard drive from Bannon in late September, then received a copy of it from Giuliani. The Post’s story noted that the computer contained sexually explicit video and images but did not repeat Guo’s claims of pedophilia or blackmail by China.

On October 22, 2020, Guo created a WhatsApp group with 82 trusted allies from around the world. This group included the heads of locally based volunteer groups, organized online to support Guo and disseminate his pronouncements. These groups, which Guo labeled “farms,” initially formed organically, but Guo in 2020 had asserted control over them, using them to raise money for his private ventures and to spread disinformation. He instructed the members of this WhatsApp group to help promote GTV and GNews posts that included the Hunter Biden material. One key task he gave them was to translate material from the laptop into local languages to better draw attention to it. “You guys need to translate to all languages,” he said in an October 23 message to the group. Guo, referencing the time remaining until Election Day, told them they would be engaged in “15 days of decisive battle.”

On October 24, Guo set up another WhatsApp group that included two supporters, one in the US and one in Australia, who he tapped to oversee editing and preparing laptop files for publication. The same day, Guo’s assistant, Yvette Wang, sent the two supporters a Dropbox file titled “Salacious Pics Package,” containing a video and 35 images. Wang sent the duo additional Dropbox files of Biden material on October 28, titled “Hunter Burisma Emails,” and on November 2, titled “Package for Miles 3.” 

Guo on October 24 sent his supporters a series of WhatsApp audio messages instructing them how to proceed. “You need to find someone to post this video on GTV, not in the United States, but in Taiwan or elsewhere in Asia,” he said in one message that day.

Two people involved in posting the videos and other material said they followed these directives. “At the request of Guo Wengui, I created an account called ‘Gundam’ on GTV and posted indecent photos of Hunter Biden,” a Guo backer who lives in Taiwan explained. The person, who I agreed not to identify, said that Guo wanted the material uploaded abroad “because he was afraid that Hunter Biden would file a lawsuit” against GTV or Guo himself. Later, other material was uploaded by the Guo supporter in Australia, another source said.

In other WhatsApp messages, Guo offered feedback on various details, including the English used in subtitles—”not good”—and editing used to obscure a woman in an explicit video. “This is too blurry,” he said in one message. “The contrast should be sharper, and those parts should be slightly blurred.”

Guo also dictated a message that later appeared as text attached to a video of Hunter Biden that was posted on GTV: “U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden, who is 100% absolutely controlled by the Communist Party, is one of the most important politicians in the United States with the most successful BGY plan of the CCP,” Guo said. “He is one of the important plotters of the CCP’s 3F plan in the United States: foment weakness, foment chaos and foment the destruction of America.” BGY and 3F are plans Guo has claimed China has deployed to use hacking, bribes, and blackmail to influence Western lawmakers and weaken the US.

That video prepped by Guo’s backers and other images appeared on GTV on the evening of October 24. The right-leaning Washington Examiner reported on the material that night and directly quoted Guo’s made-up allegations of Chinese influence over Biden. A Daily Mail article the next day followed suit.

An October 25, 2020, Daily Mail story quoted a concocted claim Guo fed to supporters.

In the following days, Guo pushed his helpers to keep posting material. “Post one right now, one every hour from now on, on GTV, GNews,” he wrote on October 27. “I want everyone to fully promote it.” In an October 29 message about posting emails connected to Biden’s work in China, Guo directed: “The key documents must be marked with the GNews and GTV logos, and watermarks must be included. It must be clear, easy to download, and extremely standard.”

This close involvement shows that a claim by Guo that he has not exercised control over content on his sites was false. “They are not platforms whose content is managed or directed by Mr. Guo or any single individual or company,” a Guo spokesperson told the Washington Post last May, for an article citing the Hunter Biden material posted on GTV. “Mr. Guo posts his own videos on GTV and does not control or coordinate what subscribers or other GTV bloggers do with them.”

In his WhatsApp messages, Guo pressed his backers to make sure to promote his sites. In an October 26 message, he suggested they state that the material he was pushing online “makes us feel the darkness of the world. GTV and GNews will lead everyone to the light and abandon the darkness.” Guo also paid close attention to the clicks that the Hunter Biden videos generated for his sites. “Lots of people viewed GNews and GTV,” one of the people helping post the laptop content said. “He was very happy.” 

That didn’t last. On October 30, Guo said in a WhatsApp message that he had received two messages from Bill Gertz, a Washington Times reporter who has served on the board of one of Guo’s nonprofits. (The Washington Free Beacon fired Gertz in 2019 after learning he had received a $100,000 loan from an associate of Guo. Gertz had covered Guo for the publication.) Guo said Gertz was “in India with [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo, scrolling GNews and GTV every now and then. But he found that a lot of information was taken away by foreigners and shared everywhere, and no one knew it was ours. That’s extremely stupid.” Gertz, who did report from India on Pompeo’s trip there around that time, did not respond to an inquiry.

On November 1, Guo complained that “our GNews and GTV traffic has dropped all of a sudden in the past two days, letting others steal the limelight.”

Trump’s defeat, two days later, completed the failure. But the lies Guo’s network pushed have not been snuffed out. And Giuliani has not recanted his false claims about Hunter Biden. He’s kept making them. In a speech last year at a gala hosted by Guo, Giuliani railed against Hunter Biden and asserted that President Joe Biden “is bought and paid for by the Chinese Communist Party.” (Giuliani billed a Guo nonprofit $50,000 for the speech, a source involved in organizing the event said.) Nothing on Hunter Biden’s laptop substantiates that claim. But the efforts of Trump allies in October 2020, along with the recent furor over coverage of the story, is likely to leave many Americans believing otherwise.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and billionaires wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2022 demands.

payment methods

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and billionaires wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2022 demands.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate