Plus, why don't I think border walls work?
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
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- Turkey's general election appears headed for a May 28 runoff. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who began serving as prime minister in 2003 and became president in 2014, is being challenged by Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu. (The runoff)
- The expiration of Title 42 last week was followed by a surprising drop in border crossings, with official data showing encounters fell by about 50%. (The data)
- Daniel Penny, the man seen on video putting Jordan Neely in a chokehold on a New York subway, was charged with manslaughter. Penny was arrested and released on $100,000 bail. (The charges)
- Elon Musk confirmed the hiring of Linda Yaccarino as Twitter's new CEO. Yaccarino is the former chief of advertising at NBCUniversal. (The hire)
- Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said a student loan repayment pause will end no later than June 30. (The payments)
The Biden investigation. Last week, the House Oversight Committee released an interim report saying it had unearthed evidence that Biden's family members, associates, and their related companies received more than $10 million from foreign entities. The alleged payments were made between 2015 and 2017, during and after President Biden's term as vice president.
Oversight Committee chair James Comer (R-KY) released the 36-page interim report, which was written by Republicans on the committee, and accused the Biden family members of using a "complicated network" of more than 20 companies and incremental payments over time to conceal large financial transactions. Hunter Biden, in particular, received millions from these foreign companies, including some with criminal ties. Hunter Biden is currently being investigated by federal prosecutors for tax crimes and his business dealings overseas.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Comer spoke at length about payments from individuals in China and Romania.
"I don't think anyone in America who's watching C-SPAN or any other network covering this would think that it's just a coincidence that nine Biden family members have received money for this influence-peddling scheme," Comer said. "We believe that the president has been involved in this from the very beginning, obviously. We're going to continue to look."
Comer did not identify any direct or indirect payments to President Biden himself. He told reporters that they've gathered records subpoenaed from four banks so far but believe transactions were passed through as many as 12, adding that this was just the start of their investigation. House Republicans say the investigation will help them identify flaws in ethics and disclosures laws, allowing them to strengthen reporting requirements for elected officials’ family members.
On Twitter, White House spokesman Ian Sams said Comer offered no evidence of any wrongdoing by President Biden and countered that Republicans did not show any evidence his policy decisions were influenced by "anything other than U.S. national interests." Sams accused Republicans of "microwaving old debunked stuff."
"Instead of redoing old investigations that found no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Biden, Rep. Comer should do the same examination of the many entities of former President Trump and his family members," Abbe Lowell, who represents Hunter Biden, said in a statement.
Today, we're going to examine some arguments from the right and left about the 36-page report released by House Republicans on the transactions of foreign cash to the Biden family. Then, I'll give you my take.
What the right is saying.
- Many on the right insist this story has legs and that the Biden family is being exposed for profiting off of his time in office.
- Some say the current lack of a direct link to the president doesn't mean these revelations aren't damning.
- Others criticize the media for its lack of curiosity or coverage of this story.
In Fox News, David N. Bossie said "the walls are closing in" on the Biden family corruption.
Comer and his "dogged Republican colleagues" just "came forward with factual evidence against President Biden and his extended family that make President Richard Nixon’s Watergate investigation and President Bill Clinton’s Whitewater investigation look like traffic infractions by comparison," Bossie said. Comer showed how Biden's family members and business associates set up a "tangled web" of corporations to "receive more than $10 million" from foreign nationals and companies in China and Romania.
"The explosive allegations made public Wednesday aren’t just claims or opinions; the Comer Committee is simply reporting to the American people what official bank records are indicating took place," he wrote. "The oversight committee’s mantra that 'bank records don’t lie' is an inconvenient fact that President Biden can’t explain away by simply denying these transactions ever took place. By insinuating these records are false, Biden is in essence accusing reputable financial institutions of keeping phony records."
The Washington Examiner editorial board said Biden thinks it's "just fine" that his family monetized his time in office.
"Although the liberal media have largely tiptoed around the story until now, they will not be able to do so much longer," the board said. "Comer has found a lot more than anyone expected in such a short time, and there's just too much there to ignore." These payments, including a 3.16-carat diamond, were made to Biden family members "whose ability to earn money from such sources legitimately is not immediately obvious." Comer did not present any records indicating "the president himself" personally received money nor was aware of the transactions, "but even his staunchest defenders can't expect anyone to believe he didn't know" about them.
"A classic form of corruption is to hire politicians' family members to lucrative do-nothing jobs for which they are unqualified," and that's what this looks like. While the left is running "an orchestrated campaign" to persecute Clarence Thomas "for receiving a few baubles from a close friend of many decades," the Biden family are "literally pocketing millions in cash derived from foreign companies," including a hostile government with which Joe Biden must deal with as president.
In The Hill, Jonathan Turley criticized the media blackout of the story.
"Despite showing nine Biden family members allegedly receiving funds from corrupt figures in Romania, China and other countries, The New Republic quickly ran a story headlined 'Republicans Finally Admit They Have No Incriminating Evidence on Joe Biden.' For many of us, it was otherworldly," he said. "A decade ago, when then-Vice President Joe Biden was denouncing corruption in Romania and Ukraine and promising action by the United States, massive payments were flowing to his son Hunter Biden and a variety of family members, including Biden grandchildren."
First, Turley wrote, the media ignored the Hunter Biden laptop story, and then dismissed it as Russian disinformation. "Now that the House has released corroboration in actual money transfers linking many in the Biden family, the media is insisting that this is no scandal because there is no direct proof of payments to Joe Biden," Turley said. "Putting aside that this is only the fourth month of an investigation, the media’s demand of a direct payment to President Biden is laughably absurd. The payments were going to his family, but he was the object of the influence peddling."
What the left is saying.
- Many on the left say the claims are still a lot of hot air, and Republicans can't seem to pin anything on Biden.
- Some argue there is no evidence the president did anything illegal, and this amounts to a lot of innuendo and hypocrisy.
- Others say these payments deserve investigation, and just because they aren't illegal doesn't mean there isn't a story here.
In The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson said the GOP "has a whole lot of nothin'" on Joe Biden.
"Republicans who have been trying for years to 'prove' that President Biden is somehow corrupt made a big show Wednesday of revealing their smear campaign to be a shameless, empty exercise in rumor and innuendo," Robinson said. You can just listen to Fox News host Steve Doocy explain it. '“You don’t actually have any facts to that point,' Doocy said Thursday [to Comer], who was trying to sell the idea that the president, his brother James and his son Hunter were part of some shadowy influence-peddling scheme. 'And the other thing is, of all those names, the one person who didn’t profit is — there’s no evidence that Joe Biden did anything illegally.'"
It wasn't the reaction Comer had hoped for, since he's been promising to "dig up some kind of dirt" on Biden, Robinson added. Comer produced "zero evidence for the central 'influence peddling' allegation that he makes yet — as Fox News host Doocy pointed out — cannot cite facts to support: that Biden, while serving as vice president, took action to enrich his family members or 'associates.'"
In The Daily Beast, Matt Lewis said to investigate the Biden family corruption allegations wherever they may lead.
"We have long known that Hunter Biden, as well as Joe’s brothers (Frank and James), cashed in on their famous father and brother," Lewis said. But this report "ups the ante" because it "indicates that 1) the scope of family who profited is larger (including even Hallie Biden, Beau Biden’s widow, who was also linked to Hunter Biden), 2) the money came from foreign entities (including Chinese nationals and Romanian businessmen), and 3) some of the payments occurred while Joe Biden was serving as vice president."
Familial payoffs are "all too common and typically legal" in today's politics. "Despite the ubiquity of this corruption, you might think that such charges would arouse the interest of my fellow journalists—particularly considering these allegations involve the sitting president of the United States," Lewis said. "And mostly, you’d be wrong." It's unknown if Biden "ever actually used his position as vice president to repay the favors," but focusing on that, rather than the "very sketchy circumstantial evidence," is itself a form of bias.
In MSNBC, Hayes Brown said the GOP "has to keep pretending" its Biden investigations are legit.
Comer promises repeatedly "to be this close to proving that Biden and his family have secretly enriched themselves during his time in government," Brown said. While they threw around "plenty of insinuations and accusations," they "offered little in the way of evidence to back up their claims." If you take Comer at face value, maybe he really is concerned about the national security implications of immediate family members 'receiving millions of dollars from foreign nationals, foreign companies, or foreign governments without any oversight.'"
"But when you think about it for more than two seconds you can see why there will be little appetite among the GOP to actually make these legislative changes," Brown said. "Even if they could make any new tweaks to the law retroactive to any point in time when Biden was in office and Hunter was operating his businesses that are under scrutiny, those changes would then also cover the Trump administration. That would be too embarrassing given how the Trump Organization operated as a funnel for foreign money to pour into the family’s bank accounts during those years."
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- This is a big story, and Republicans have come forward with evidence that raises a lot of questions.
- Just because this isn't novel doesn't mean it isn't a scandal.
- Many in the left-leaning press are setting a ridiculous bar for what would make this story damning for Biden.
There is clearly a lot of damning information here.
Let's be clear about what we know so far: The House Oversight Committee is saying it has uncovered a labyrinth of bank transfers and wires that amount to more than $10 million going to the Biden family from foreign sources. Based on the structure of the transactions and the accounts receiving them, it's clear the recipients were trying to conceal their existence. It is also clear, based on the accounts the money was sent from (which were also complex layers of corporate entities) that the senders were likewise trying to conceal their existence. There are three things worth spelling out:
First, Foreign entities in China and Romania were sending a lot of money to members of the Biden family, and there is very little public understanding of why. In other words, we can't say, "Oh, this transaction was sent because Beau Biden's widow was working as a consultant for company X." There is no clear or obvious explanation.
Second, We know that Hunter Biden was at least attemping to rope his father into foreign cash flow from China. Included in the emails from his laptop were references to "the Big Guy" getting a 10% cut of one Chinese deal Hunter was trying to orchestrate. It appears that the deal fell apart, but paired with the fact that this newly revealed money was coming from Chinese entities, it certainly raises some questions.
Third, Joe Biden lied. He claimed in the 2020 presidential debate that his son has never made money from China. He also claimed it was "not true" that family members received more than $1 million from a Chinese firm. Both of those statements were false. When called out on these lies, aides to Biden told The New York Times he was "speaking colloquially" and "pushing back generally" on claims he had been corrupted by Chinese money, which is one hell of a euphemism for falsely denying something or lying.
All of this deserves investigating. As Matt Lewis wrote (under "What the left is saying"), the fact that this is common doesn’t change that and it definitely doesn't mean this won’t become a giant scandal. The ridiculous bar being set by outlets like The New York Times or The New Republic, who apparently won't be convinced something shady is going on unless someone directly deposits money into Joe Biden's account, is laughable. A wire transfer to President Biden labeled “bribery” is not the bar this story needs to clear to matter.
While this doesn’t look good for Biden, what the president does have going for him is twofold: First, there is not yet any indication his policy efforts as president or vice president were influenced. Generally speaking, Biden was criticizing Romania and China as corrupt regimes during his time in office, not enabling corruption there. And Republicans haven't shown anything that says differently, like Biden giving favor to these companies or countries while they showered his family members in cash.
Second, his press team can keep pointing to political hypocrisy. It is classic "whataboutism," but Biden and his allies are right to note that the Saudis invested two billion dollars in the start-up hedge fund launched by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. And they did that after Trump treated Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with kid gloves following the murder of Jamaal Khashoggi. Comer, who claims to be interested in ushering in more oversight of family members (which I support!) has said he has no interest in investigating Kushner or Trump's conduct. I’d be curious to probe why that’s his position if it weren’t so obvious.
So: Yes, families profiting off a president or a well-known politician is common. But just because this is a common scandal doesn't mean it isn’t a scandal. But what is uncommon is just how many family members appear to have been taking some of this foreign cash, especially given how early we are into this investigation.
Comer should keep digging. Even though I’m skeptical that Comer’s push to increase legislative oversight for this kind of corruption is genuine and non-partisan, this is a real story no matter his motivation. As Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) noted, the big unanswered question is: Why? Why would foreign entities be giving millions to Biden's family members if they weren't getting something in return, or didn't think they were going to? And why would Biden's family members try so hard to conceal these transfers?
The answers to those questions are key to the investigation, and I’m very curious to hear what they are.
Your questions, answered.
Q: Why do you say a wall won't work when it works everywhere else? It sure works in Israel. We need everything we can to keep our borders safe. It is so sad to see this administration destroying this great country. I am 85 years old and I never thought I would live to see the USA being destroyed by our government... You say you try to walk the line on political stuff. While you are not a real lefty you certainly favor the left point of view.
— Anonymous from Corona, California
Tangle: I'll respond to the accusation of bias the way I always do: 1) The same newsletter you are saying revealed my favoritism for the lefty point of view drew a ton of criticism from people on the left, saying I was parroting conservative talking points on immigration. 2) My positions are issue-dependent, not tribe-dependent. I find myself on both sides of the aisle every hour of every day, including today, when my position on our main story is much more aligned with the right than the left.
As for the wall: First, I'd push back on the idea that Israel's walls are working. Israel is now a country completely surrounded with walls and fencing, and while they “work” in some places (to deter illegal immigration), they don’t in others. Obviously, the purpose of Israel’s border wall is to deter more than just immigration (and is to say nothing of the vast differences in Israel’s size and the demand to immigrate there), but I'm not going to sit here and pretend erecting walls has somehow helped bring stability to their country. I definitely would not trade the current situation Israel has with its neighbors for ours.
Second, Israel’s wall is just one example, so we should care about whether walls around the world have worked — and they haven’t. Globally, border walls have mostly rerouted migrants, not stopped them. And in doing so they've pushed migrants to turn to smugglers to circumvent detection.
Third, what we already have isn’t working. Trump completed 455 miles of 18 to 30-foot steel barriers along the border, bringing us to a total of 700 miles of border barrier. If that had been effective, then we should have seen illegal immigration and crossings go down as a result. But the opposite has happened, and with Trump’s barriers still up the border situation is now worse than ever. Immigrants use cheap ladders to get over it, free climb it, cut through it, or just tunnel under it. Some just walk up to the wall and ask to be arrested so they can claim asylum, which was probably the most predictable part of the whole thing.
As I've written before, constructing a border wall also means destroying some of the most beautiful parts of the southwestern United States, allowing the government to seize privately owned land from people, and spending lots and lots of money to construct and keep up such barriers takes resources away from more effective uses. Simply put: Our money would be much more effectively spent on more agents, judges, technology, and enforcement.
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This week's video:
On Friday, we published an entire newsletter breaking down some of our editorial policy decisions and announcing a few changes to our language use. It is one of the most engaged posts we've ever published, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. If you missed it, you can read it here.
Under the radar.
A former executive of ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, said the Chinese government "maintained supreme access" to data stored in the U.S. The claim was made in a lawsuit filed by Yintao Yu, the former executive, on Friday. It comes as federal officials are weighing whether to ban TikTok from the U.S. over security concerns and data privacy. Yu said ByteDance "has served as a useful propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party." Axios has the story.
- 40%. The percentage of Americans who approve of the job President Biden is doing, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.
- 26%. The percentage of voters who approve of Biden's handling of immigration.
- 63%. The percentage of registered voters who said they would prefer Congress focus on rising costs and health care rather than investigating the Biden administration, according to Public Policy Polling.
- 62.3%. The percentage of U.S. workers satisfied with their job according to a new survey from The Conference Board, the highest share since the survey began in 1987.
- 5+ million. The number of Ukrainians who have returned to Ukraine after fleeing since the outbreak of the war.
- One year ago, we had just taken an honest look at the 2,000 Mules documentary.
- The most clicked link in Thursday's newsletter was the "Quick hits" story about the Biden investigation, which we covered today.
- Warning: The 7 doomsday scenarios of the debt ceiling.
- Nothing (well, a little) to do with politics: Brittney Griner dropped 10 points in her first game back in the WNBA.
- Take the poll. What do you think of Republicans' investigation into Biden? Let us know.
Have a nice day.
The world's oldest dog just celebrated his 31st birthday. A few weeks ago, the Guiness Book of World Records recognized a 23-year-old chihuahua living in Ohio as the oldest living dog in the world. But shortly after, a Portuguese family came forward with evidence that their dog Bobi is much older — having a birthday of May 11, 1992. Not only did Bobi get crowned the oldest living dog, he got crowned the oldest dog ever on record, beating out a 29-year-old Australian cattle dog who died in 1939. Bobi is a purebred "Rafeiro do Alentejo," which is a kind of Portuguese livestock guardian dog. His secret? Bobi eats human food and drinks a half liter of water a day, his family said. He's never been on a leash, and spent his life far from the cities. EuroNews has the story.
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