Fact Check: The Audio of the Joe Biden-Robert Hur Interview Was Not Leaked; it’s a deepfake, DOJ and experts say

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have threatened to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt for refusing to release an audio recording of special counsel Robert Hur’s interview with President Joe Biden in a classified documents case.

A TikTok video from June 5 claimed that an audio clip from that interview may have already been leaked.

“Is this leaked audio of Special Counsel Hur interrogating Joe Biden,” the video’s caption read. “Is it real? If it’s fake, Joe Biden needs to release the real one. How else can this be disputed?”

We found other social media posts sharing the same video.

TikTok has identified this video as part of its efforts to combat inauthentic, misleading, or false content. (Read more about PolitiFact’s partnership with TikTok.)

The Justice Department is reluctant to release the audio recording of the Biden-Hur interview, in part, it says, because of the potential that the audio could be manipulated using artificial intelligence to depict Biden or Hur saying something that they didn’t say.

Concerns about deepfake audio recordings are real. As the number of AI-generated audio recordings increases, the tools that can detect them are lagging behind, as PolitiFact reported in March. In January, a fake robocall mimicking Biden’s voice urged Democrats not to vote in the New Hampshire primary. Steven Kramer, a political consultant, was charged in that case with numerous crimes related to voter suppression and candidate impersonation.

A Justice Department spokesperson said the department was confident the recording is fake, and deepfake experts told PolitiFact that the recording showed signs of tampering. We also searched Google and the Nexis news database and found no reports that audio of the Biden-Hur interview had been leaked.

Fact Check: The Audio of the Joe Biden-Robert Hur Interview Was Not Leaked;  it's a deepfake, say DOJ and experts

(TikTok screenshot)

“While this is a pretty good deepfake of Biden’s voice, there is still a cadence to his voice that shows the telltale signs of AI generation,” said Hany Farid, a computer science professor and digital forensics expert at the University of California, Berkeley. .

Biden and Hur’s voices may sound similar to their real voices and use similar language to the official transcript released by the Department of Justice, but the audio in the TikTok video differs significantly from the transcript.

Additionally, a transcript shown on screen in the TikTok video does not match the released transcript of the Biden-Hur interview, omitting some words and adding others.

Here’s what the TikTok video says, the transcript and the audio say:

Mr. Hur: I wanted to ask some questions about the tasks performed by – I guess I’ll call them front office staff. Is that an accurate description?

President Biden: Ah, I don’t really know, but okay.

Mr. Hur: OK. What did you call the people who worked for you?

President Biden: Uhh, by their names if I knew them.

Mr. Hur: OK.

President Biden: I’m not funny.

Mr. Hur: No of course not.

President Biden: I’m trying to think back ten years now, but – or more than ten years, I think. No, about ten years. No wait. 2016, 2016, 2017, 2018, five, six, whatever.

Mr. Hur: Mr. President, let’s continue.

Here’s what the official transcript says:

The official transcript of the interview contains some words in the video, but is significantly different.

Mr. Hur: We learned the names of some of the people who worked on your front office staff during your vice presidency, (name redacted), Michele Smith, (name redacted) and (name redacted) who then became (name redacted). . So I wanted to ask some questions about the duties that – I guess I’ll call them front office staff. Is that an accurate description of it?

President Biden: I’ve never done that, but sure.

Mr. Hur: OK. What did you call them?

President Biden: By their first names.

Mr. Hur: OK.

President Biden: I’m not funny.

Mr. Hur: No.

President Biden: I’m not funny. And by the way, a lot of this stuff would come back and whoever – if my intelligence team came in and they gave me something, they would come and pick it up, whatever it was.

So now, for example, I’m trying to think back ten years, but – or more than ten years, I think. No, about 10 years. But today I had a briefing with – about what’s going on in Israel, a detailed briefing, in my upstairs apartment in a room not unlike this one next to the bedroom.

A Justice Department spokesperson told PolitiFact in an email that the actual audio matches the actual transcript and believes the TikTok video is fake.

The video is an example of why the department argued in court that not releasing the audio would make identifying counterfeits easier, the spokesperson said.

In a lawsuit filed by a coalition of conservative groups, including Judicial Watch and the Heritage Foundation, and media outlets including The Associated Press and CNN, the Justice Department raised concerns in a May 31 court filing that the Biden-Hur audio recording would be used to create deepfakes.

“​The passage of time and advances in audio, artificial intelligence and ‘deep fake’ technologies only increase concerns about malicious manipulation of audio files,” the department wrote. “If the audio recording is released here, it is easy to foresee that it could be inappropriately altered and the altered file could be passed off as an authentic recording and widely distributed.”

Bradley Weinsheimer, deputy attorney general for the Justice Department, wrote in an affidavit that “malicious actors” could manipulate the recording. He said that if the recording were not released, the department would be “better able to determine the illegality of malicious deepfake.”

Weinsheimer said the written transcript accurately reflects the words in the audio recording, with the exception of “minor instances” such as the use of filler words, including “um or uh,” or words that were repeated, such as “and, and.” Other than that, he wrote, there are “no material differences between the audio recording and the transcripts.”

Weinsheimer said Hur and other FBI personnel who attended the interview confirmed that the transcript accurately reflects the interview.

In May, the Republican-led House Judiciary and Oversight committees voted to hold contempt proceedings against Garland over his refusal to turn over audio recordings of Hur’s interview with Biden.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on June 4, Garland said the Justice Department had gone to “extraordinary efforts” to respond to Congress’ “legitimate request” for information, including providing Hur’s report to lawmakers, allowing Hur was able to testify before Congress for more than a year. five hours and providing a transcript of the interview.

“But we have made it clear that we will not provide audio recordings from which the transcripts you already have were made. Releasing the audio would complicate cooperation with the department in future investigations,” Garland said. “And it could influence witnesses’ answers if they thought the audio of their law enforcement interrogations would be broadcast to Congress and the public.”

Experts told PolitiFact that the audio shows traces of a deepfake.

“The most relevant indicators reflect inconsistencies in speech rhythm and pitch, unnatural intonations, and a lack of alignment between the content in the audio” and the real transcript, says Manjeet Rege, director of the Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence at the University of St. .Thomas. . “The rhythm and cadence do not match what we know about President Biden’s normal speaking style.”

He said the technology struggles to replicate the details of pitch, tone and tempo.

Hafiz Malik, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, is researching deepfakes using software he created with his team that compares potential deepfake video and audio to hundreds of hours of authentic audio from public figures, including Biden.

“Based on my analysis, it is a deepfake,” Malik told PolitiFact.

Malik said that in machine-generated content, he scrutinizes the speaker’s pitch. In a normal conversation, the speaker’s emotions and thought processes change – and their pitch changes too.

“It doesn’t stay constant. It’s changing every moment,” Malik said, adding that Biden’s voice in the TikTok recording was monotone.

He also looked at high-frequency bands from the audio. Those fade in real voice, he said, but not in machine-generated content. Finally, he said that sentences in natural speech differ in length, but in machine-generated speech like this they are shorter.

Our statement

A TikTok video claiming it may be a leaked clip of an audio recording between Biden and Hur contains audio and a transcript that differs from the official transcript released by the Justice Department.

According to a Justice Department official, Hur confirmed that the official transcript accurately reflects the audio interview, which the department has so far refused to release.

There are no credible news reports about the leak of any part of the audio recording. The Justice Department and three deepfake experts said the audio is deepfake.

The claim is incorrect.

PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this fact check.

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