Tangle is an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter where I offer both sides of the big story and answer reader questions from across the country. If someone forwarded you this email or you found this online, you can subscribe below.
Today’s read: 7 minutes.
Hunter Biden gets dragged into the impeachment trial, a question about politicians I respect and a story about immigration.
Joe Biden walking down the street with his son, Hunter. Photo: Ben Stanfield | Flickr
Both Google and Substack’s servers went down yesterday, so your issue of Tangle may have been late, appeared in your inbox with two different headlines, or not appeared at all. If you missed it, Tangle covered the explosive new allegations from John Bolton and the fight over witnesses in the impeachment trial. It was an important issue. You can read it here.
This video of never-Trump Republican Rick Wilson, New York Times columnist Wajahat Ali and CNN host Don Lemon mocking Trump and his supporters with fake southern accents has been viewed over 5 million times. It was shared by the president and many conservative media outlets and is causing quite the backlash.
What D.C. is talking about.
The Bidens. Yesterday, as the impeachment trial continued under the news of John Bolton’s new book, President Trump’s defense turned their attention to Joe and Hunter Biden. A central accusation in the impeachment trial is that President Trump withheld congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure Ukrainian officials to announce investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden. Trump’s team has denied a quid pro quo, but they have not denied that the president, his State Department team and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, were concerned about “corruption” in Ukraine — which included the actions of the Vice President when he headed American relations with Ukraine. Trump’s lawyers argued that Hunter Biden defied longstanding conflict of interest and corruption concerns by joining the board of Burisma, a natural gas company in Ukraine, while his dad was serving as Vice President. Trump’s lawyers argued that Trump’s interest in Ukraine and his desire for Ukrainian officials to investigate Burisma was not him targeting Joe Biden but instead rooted in legitimate concerns about corruption and nepotism. “What was Hunter Biden doing at Burisma in exchange for millions of dollars?” an attorney for Mr. Trump asked. “Nobody has ever investigated why.” In the meantime, Senate Republicans have embraced the attack line, with one Republican — Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey — going as far as offering a “one-for-one” witness swap where Democrats could call a witness like John Bolton forward if Republicans could call a witness of their own, likely Hunter Biden.
What the right is saying.
Burisma paid Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, $1 million a year while Joe Biden threatened to withhold a billion dollars in aid from Ukraine unless they fired the prosecutor investigating his son. Ukraine caved, the prosecutor was fired and Hunter Biden continued to work on the board of Burisma. This kind of corruption is exactly why President Trump didn’t want to hand over millions of dollars to Ukraine and instead asked President Zelensky to open investigations into what happened. It had nothing to do with hurting Joe Biden specifically but everything to do with legitimate concerns about how Ukraine did business and what would happen to the money. Hunter was serving on the board of that natural gas company with zero qualifications, zero experience abroad, zero experience in the region, except one: “He was the son of the vice president of the United States,” one of Trump’s lawyers said. Pam Bondi, another one of Trump’s attorneys, spent most of her time making the case that diplomats who served under Obama and with Joe Biden were also concerned about Hunter’s position on the board, and showed several old media clips to demonstrate all the people who thought it was an ethical lapse.
What the left is saying.
Some of them have praised the president’s defense. CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin said Pam Bondi “did an effective job of showing how sleazy the hiring of Hunter Biden was… He has given a great deal of money for a job he was unqualified for.” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who some Democrats fear will vote to acquit the president, said the defense team did a “good job” and are “making me think about things.” Others on the left were far less convinced. Some noted that Pam Bondi, who is defending Trump, took $25,000 from Trump and then helped his Trump University scandal disappear when she was attorney general of Florida. Others noted that when it came to nepotism, nobody did it better than the Trump’s: Jared and Ivanka Trump made $135 million last year, while Republicans complain about Hunter Biden making $1 million a year. Both represent the president on the world stage. Some have also noted that Republicans controlled the House and the Senate in 2014 when Biden was VP and Hunter worked for Burisma and did nothing to address it. Until now, when Biden is running against Trump. Of course, Democrats have long defended Joe Biden’s actions in Ukraine, noting repeatedly that he acted in the interests of the U.S. and global leaders — not for his son. Colin Kahl, who worked for Biden, started a Twitter thread yesterday making his own case.
This outcome from Hunter’s work is exactly why he should have never held this job. It looks bad, it is bad, and there’s a good (political) reason for Republicans to make it the focus. It’s just the kind of “swampy” D.C. stuff that made so many Americans resent Congress, resent Obama and resent the way our government works. Former Republican Justin Amash encapsulated my feelings with this quote: “Hunter Biden is like a lot of unimpressive people in public life, including the Trumps—trading on his name for power. But if Trump believed an illegality occurred, then why didn’t the administration open a proper DoJ investigation instead of pushing Ukraine for an announcement?”
If you want a rundown of the Hunter Biden saga, I highly suggest this New Yorker piece, which is a brilliant work of journalism. It also details Hunter’s struggles with addiction, something that is a crucial part of his story and one worth considering to get the full picture. This, by the way, undercuts many claims on the right that the “media” didn’t cover this — it has. In fact, it was the far left that was up in arms back in 2014 when a lot of this was going on. BUT — and this is a big but — I really do believe #TeamTrump and his allies in the Senate have overplayed their hand here.
To steal a word from Joe Biden himself, it’s “malarkey” to pretend that Biden was acting in his son’s interest. Global leaders were all uniting against the Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who had opened an investigation into Burisma, the company Hunter Biden sat on the board of. They were united against him because he wasn’t tough enough against corruption — not because he was rooting it out. And Biden did threaten to withhold a $1 billion loan guarantee, but he did that years after the investigation into his son’s company was dormant and because he wanted more investigations into Ukrainian corruption, not fewer. All of this is evidenced by the fact the International Monetary Fund (IMF), just months after Biden withheld that loan, also threatened to delay $40 billion in aid unless Ukraine stepped up its corruption fight. The European Union, too, was pressuring Ukraine to remove Shokin.
Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma was a big ethical lapse and Joe Biden should absolutely pay the price politically for this.
That position is part of a larger story of Hunter Biden’s life that includes plenty of other poor judgment calls. Whether Joe Biden should take blame for those is up to you.
President Trump’s own children are currently profiting from international businesses while they represent the U.S. on the global stage in a way that is exponentially more dangerous than Hunter Biden’s nepotism.
There is not much evidence that Trump was interested in “Ukrainian corruption” for any other reason than to hurt Biden politically, the top threat to his campaign.
Joe Biden forced out the prosecutor who had investigated Burisma not to protect his son, but because the United States was joining dozens of other countries who worried that Ukraine needed to be more aggressive fighting corruption.
Last night, Republican Senator Agnus King said he thinks “there will be more than 4” Republicans who cross the aisle and potentially vote to allow witnesses in the impeachment trial. “My bold prediction is there will be 5 or 10.” This morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham indicated that he would support a move to enter John Bolton’s book manuscript into the Senate record in a classified setting. It’s unclear if this is designed to prevent Bolton from testifying while appeasing calls for his evidence to be submitted, but it appears the report from yesterday is, in fact, moving the needle. Right now, Republicans are scheduled to vote on witnesses Friday, when President Trump’s defense team is done making its arguments.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: You can ask questions too. All you have to do is reply to this email and write in. I love hearing from readers — don’t be shy!
Q: I’ve seen you write a lot about your cynicism for politicians and how they conduct themselves. I’m curious if there are members of Congress that you respect or look up to? Or maybe members of Congress you view as being more honest than others?
- Tiannah, Los Angeles, CA
Tangle: This is an interesting question that has made me reflect a bit about both my writing and how I view some of the folks I report on. First off, I want to say that I generally think the majority of politicians who are serving in Congress have fair to good intentions. Politicians have a bad reputation, but the path toward becoming a member of Congress is not easy. You sacrifice your family’s privacy, you often spend months away from home, you don’t exactly get rich (though many politicians have found lucrative post-Congress careers), and you're constantly under attack from the press and under pressure from your constituents. I don’t think I’d ever want to run for office given all of those things. A lot of politicians in Congress might be there because they have higher aspirations (becoming president or seeking out power), but I genuinely believe many are there after careers in public service and because of a real, tangible desire to change the world for the better (how they see fit).
All that being said, when I first read your question a few people did immediately come to mind. I respect Rep. Justin Amash a lot, the ex-Republican independent from Michigan. Amash is one of the few people who has genuinely stuck to his principles in the post-Trump era and — while I disagree with him on a lot — I think he’s a pretty honest guy who is resisting the urge to sell out. Chuck Grassley is a Republican senator from Iowa who I also respect. He is 86 now, and can often seem a bit out of his league or behind on the times, but he just strikes me as a genuinely decent guy with a good sense of humor who is willing to work across the aisle. I also respect him a lot for his long track record of protecting government whistleblowers who try to expose corruption and respect him even more for sticking to his guns on that when he was under immense pressure during this impeachment fiasco to punish a whistleblower.
I also respect and view Bernie Sanders as honest. During his presidential runs he has been a bit dodgy on certain questions (like how to pay for some of his plans), but he’s also been brutally honest and just said: “I don’t know.” A lot of people t respect Bernie for being “consistent” over all his decades in office, but that doesn’t really appeal to me. If anything, I think the world changes and Bernie’s perspective being unchanged is a knock on him — not a credit to him. But he reminds me a lot of the old Jewish grandfathers I knew growing up and I appreciate that he embraces his status as a curmudgeon with big, radical plans. I also think he genuinely, truthfully cares about the poor and suffering in America, even if you don’t believe his plans on how to address that will work or are realistic.
Thinking of a more moderate Democrat, Tammy Duckworth comes to mind. She’s the Illinois senator who lost both of her legs fighting in the Iraq War. The reason I list Sen. Duckworth here is because of a phone call we had a couple of years ago. I interviewed her for a story I was working on and I just found her extremely candid on the phone call and totally open with me about the path she took to get to office. It’s an interesting story if you want to read it, and I’ve always just held her in high regard since that phone call.
There are others, but this accounts for two independents (Amash and Sanders), one Republican (Grassley) and one Democrat (Duckworth), so I think I’ll stop there in the interest of Tangle’s balance!
A story that matters.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision to begin allowing the Trump administration to enforce limits on immigrants who are likely to become dependent on government benefits. The Department of Homeland Security had announced it was expanding the definition of “public charge” to include immigrants who would be dependent on government benefits like Medicaid or food stamps. Previously, an immigrant was a “public charge” only if they relied on the government for income. The ruling means that anyone who would require certain forms of government assistance for more than 12 months over a three year period will now be defined as a public charge, and immigration officials have long had the right to block immigrants who fall into a public charge category. It’s a substantial change to how the U.S. views immigrants, especially those struggling financially. Ken Cuccinelli, the Trump-picked acting deputy secretary of the DHS, says the new rules reinforce "the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful here in America." Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ripped the decision as “shameful” and said “America shouldn’t have a wealth test for admission. It’s a place where millions of people are descendants of immigrants who came with nothing and made a life.” Click.
$2.5 million. The amount of money Bernie Sanders is slated to spend on ads in California and Texas, the first “Super Tuesday” spending of his campaign.
$40 million. The amount of money the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outraised the National Republican Congressional Committee by in 2019, causing Republican Kevin McCarthy to declare “they are kicking our ass.”
$7.6 million. The amount of money Democratic challenger Sara Gideon reportedly raised in her 2020 challenge against Susan Collins.
$8.5 million. The amount of money raised by Republican incumbent Susan Collins by the end of 2019’s Q3 as she prepared for her 2020 challenge from Sara Gideon.
1.8 million. The number of people who have signed a Change.org petition for the NBA to change its logo to the late Kobe Bryant.
38. The number of states who have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment after Virginia joined the party yesterday.
1st. Bernie Sanders’ position in both Iowa and New Hampshire, according to the RealClearPolitics national average of polling data.
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Have a nice day.
It’s estimated that 650,000 people will be released from prison this year. The vast majority of them will be rearrested or violate their parole within five years and be sent back to prison. Prison rights activists say that’s because America’s jails are woefully failing when it comes to training, preparing and aiding incarcerated individuals for their re-entry back into everyday life. A program in Tallahassee is trying to change that. The Last Mile is teaching prisoners how to code from inside jail so they are able to get a job when they’re released. In the 10 years of its existence, there has been zero recidivism (or return to prison) for its 100 graduates. That’s compared to the country’s national recidivism rate of 83%. You can read more about the program here.