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Sean Hannity and the case of the sawdust ‘cocaine’

A central tenet of Sean Hannity’s on-air rhetoric over the past few years has been that the federal government — and, specifically, federal law enforcement — is not reliable.

After all, how else to wave away the various indictments of his friend and ally former president Donald Trump? The Fox News host is not in a position to accept that perhaps there is some validity to the criticisms outlined in the charging documents with which Trump has been presented. So, like Trump — probably echoing Trump, really — Hannity claims that federal prosecutors and investigators are soaked with hostility to the political right. He insists that the prosecutions Trump faces are about politics, not about Trump’s actions. And years of his and other right-wing pundits’ disparagements of the feds as tainted provide a robust foundation for those arguments.

So imagine the internal conflict Hannity must have faced when asked to choose between defending federal prosecutors — and defending someone with the last name Biden.

At issue is a photograph included in a Justice Department filing this month. President Biden’s son Hunter was charged in September with making false statements in an application to obtain a gun — specifically, that he was not at the time using illegal drugs.

To bolster the case that the younger Biden’s attestation about drug use was false, prosecutors working for special counsel David Weiss compiled examples of Hunter Biden’s contemporaneous discussions of drug use.

“During November and December 2018,” it reads at one point, “the defendant took multiple photographs of videos apparent cocaine, crack cocaine, and drug paraphernalia.”

This is the photo that follows that assertion.

What’s immediately obvious are the lines of powder at the center of the image, lines that certainly comport with a layperson’s understanding of cocaine consumption. But everything else in the photo is a bit odd. What’s all that other powder that’s shown? What’s the orange thing embedded in the table? And why is this apparently a photo of another photo that’s contained in a beveled glass frame?

In a response to Weiss’s team filed Tuesday, Hunter Biden’s attorneys put forth an answer: This isn’t a photo of cocaine, nor is it a photo taken by Hunter Biden.

This argument was first presented effectively by journalist Marcy Wheeler. She noted that a social media account linked to the site “Marco Polo,” run by former Trump administration staffer Garrett Ziegler, had already pointed out Weiss’s mistake. Hunter Biden has sued Ziegler for publishing material allegedly sourced from a laptop Biden once owned. In this case, though, the social media account used that archive of material to show that the photo above was sent to Hunter Biden by psychiatrist-slash-media-personality Keith Ablow.

Hunter Biden had been seeing Ablow professionally as he struggled with addiction. (At one point, Biden left another laptop in Ablow’s office, where it was seized by government investigators investigating Ablow on a different matter.) Ablow — according to a message shared by “Marco Polo” that was also included in the response from Biden’s lawyers — shared the image above as a sort of inspiration for his client.

“This one in my office is of lines of sawdust sent to me by a master carpenter who was a coke addict,” the message reads.

The message is labeled as coming from “keith ablow.” “I told him that, ultimately, he would have to choose between his art and his drug,” the message continues. “He sent me the photo and a message that said, ‘Made my choice.’”

The photo is clearly Ablow’s, this message aside. A March 2020 YouTube video shows the framed photo on the mantel over Ablow’s shoulder.

In summary, then, a carpenter suffering from addiction was indicating to his doctor that he had chosen to pour himself into his woodwork, his art. And Ablow appears to have sent that to Hunter Biden, suggesting that he hoped Biden would do the same. Biden’s art was painting, something he refers to as an aspiration in his memoir — and that has triggered its own controversies in the years since.

All of that aside, the context suggested in the apparent message from Ablow makes sense. It is a photo of a framed photo, something that it doesn’t make much sense for Hunter Biden to have on his own. And the orange thing embedded in the table? It appears to also house a circular-saw blade. The yellowish powder next to it would then naturally be sawdust.

From a legal standpoint, such a mistake would be embarrassing for Weiss’s team and would raise questions about the reliability of other presentations. But the photo is just one of several pieces of evidence suggesting Hunter Biden’s drug use — something that is also admitted in the president’s son’s memoir.

Enter Hannity.

In a segment focused on elevating questions about the alleged corruption and illegality of the Biden family, he put the image of the cocaine/sawdust lines on-screen.

“Lawyers for [President Biden’s] son, Hunter, just had to explain in court, a filing, that this photo — take a look at this photo right here. Look at that photo, from his phone, that the government, prosecutors claimed show lines of cocaine. That’s what the government prosecutors are saying,” Hannity said. “They’re saying” — that is, Hunter’s legal team — “that’s sawdust. Take a good look at sawdust lined up in perfect little lines. Take a close look. Does that look like sawdust to you? We’ll let you decide that.”

This is all jumbled, but the intent is obvious: Hannity is casting doubt on the idea that the image is actually of sawdust.

It’s fascinating that this is Hannity’s approach. First of all, he’s basing everything on the filing from Hunter Biden’s legal team — in which the Ablow text is prominent! (It’s worth noting that Ablow was, for a long time, a contributor to Fox News.) But, second, in the battle between Hunter Biden and the federal prosecutors whom he has lambasted generally (and, in Weiss’s case, specifically) for years, Hannity’s impulse is to side with the feds. It is more useful to him to reinforce Hunter Biden’s addiction than to highlight the prosecutors’ apparent mistake.

All of this is admittedly tangential to the Hunter Biden criminal case. But Hannity offers a useful lens into how all of this is deployed politically. Sure, defending Trump from the purported overreach of the federal government is important to the Fox News host. But not as important, it seems, as disparaging the Biden family.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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