FBI agents are investigating whether emails allegedly found on a laptop at a Delaware repair shop discussing presidential candidate Joe Biden son's supposed business activities in Ukraine are linked to a foreign intelligence operation, according to a report.
Two sources familiar with the matter told NBC on Thursday night bureau chiefs are looking into the possibility that the email cache - allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden - may have been unearthed with help from a power hostile to the US, such as Russia.
The Independent contacted the bureau for comment.
FBI agents recovered the laptop and hard drive through a grand jury subpoena that was later published by the New York Post, the Trump-friendly newspaper that first printed a story based on the alleged emails.
The Post's article claimed that Biden senior met with Vadym Pozharsky, an adviser for the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, where his son served on the board. The Biden campaign insists that the meeting never took place.
Hunter Biden’s attorney George Mesires said in a statement that “we have no idea where this came from, and certainly cannot credit anything that Rudy Giuliani provided to the New York Post, but what I do know for certain is that this purported meeting never happened.”
Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said the Post “never asked the Biden campaign about the critical elements of this story.” He said the campaign has looked at Joe Biden’s official schedules from the time “and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.”
Republicans, who have long sought to tie Mr Biden to his son's business endeavours, claimed the email was "smoking gun" evidence that the former VP used his political influence to help his son.
But experts and news outlets alike have questioned the veracity of the supposed email linking Biden senior to Mr Pozharsky. “We should view it [the emails] as a Trump campaign product,” said Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the nonpartisan Wilson Center in Washington.
Some analysts have suggested the email may have been doctored. The Post published only a PDF copy of the email.
Facebook and Twitter both limited access to the story on their platforms, which caused outrage among Republicans.
Some of the concerns about the veracity of the story came about because of its links to president Donald Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who has repeatedly pushed unfounded claims about Mr Biden and his son.
Steve Bannon, a former adviser to the president, has also been linked to the story. He reportedly first alerted the Post to the existence of the alleged emails before they were published.
Questions continue about the Post’s account of how it obtained the emails and other materials. The newspaper said they were found on a laptop left in a Delaware repair shop in April 2019 and never claimed. The repair shop owner then took it upon himself to access the private material, the Post said.
The Post said the shop owner, who has been identified as Mac Isaac, called the FBI, and also called an associated of Mr Giuliani. The shop owner said he believed the laptop was among equipment left by Hunter Biden because a sticker on the laptop bore the name of the Beau Biden Foundation, a charity named after his late brother.
Associated Press contributed to this report.