Krystal and Saagar go over the Biden administration’s major ethics issues when it comes to Hunter’s art sales
An ex-business partner of Hunter Biden, in a news conference organized by the Trump campaign, alleged that former Vice President Joe Biden was part of discussions around his son’s efforts to form an investment venture with a Chinese oil company.
The Biden campaign denied Joe Biden had any involvement in the venture or stood to gain by it.
In a statement to reporters Thursday, Anthony Bobulinski said that in 2017 Hunter Biden consulted his father about a planned venture with Chinese oil company CEFC China Energy Co. to invest in the U.S. and elsewhere. Mr. Bobulinski was also a partner.
The venture—set up in 2017 after Mr. Biden left the vice presidency and before his presidential campaign—never received proposed funds from the Chinese company or completed any deals, according to people familiar with the matter. Corporate records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show no role for Joe Biden.
“Joe Biden has never even considered being involved in business with his family, nor in any overseas business whatsoever. He has never held stock in any such business arrangements nor has any family member or any other person ever held stock for him,” said Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates in a statement.
Mr. Bobulinski said that he was rankled by Joe Biden’s public statements that he never discussed the international business activities of Hunter and other family members. He also cited nearly $5 million in payments that a Senate Republican report last month said CEFC made to Hunter Biden’s law firm as another reason to come forward.
Mr. Bobulinski said he took part in a meeting with Hunter, Joe Biden and Joe Biden’s brother James Biden in Los Angeles in 2017 when they discussed “the Biden family business plans with the Chinese, of which [Joe Biden] was plainly familiar at least at a high level.”
A Biden campaign spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a question about the alleged meeting with Mr. Bobulinski. James Biden and an attorney for Hunter Biden didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Bobulinski, who was a guest of Mr. Trump’s at Thursday’s debate in Nashville, didn’t take any questions after his statement or provide further details on any remarks made by the former vice president. He displayed three phones which he said contained information that he would hand over to the FBI. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee and the Senate Finance committee have received material from Mr. Bobulinski and are holding an informal interview with him on Friday.
The venture with CEFC, known as SinoHawk Holdings, was half held by Mr. Bobulinski, who served as chief executive, and four other partners—Hunter and James Biden; Rob Walker, a former Clinton administration official; and James Gilliar, a British national—according to the corporate documents reviewed by the Journal.
Text messages and emails related to the venture that were provided to the Journal by Mr. Bobulinski, mainly from the spring and summer of 2017, don’t show either Hunter Biden or James Biden discussing a role for Joe Biden in the venture.
Mr. Gilliar told the Journal: “I would like to clear up any speculation that former Vice President Biden was involved with the 2017 discussions about our potential business structure. I am unaware of any involvement at anytime of the former Vice President. The activity in question never delivered any project revenue.”
In the correspondence provided by Mr. Bobulinski, an email he received from Mr. Gilliar in May 2017 proposed a possible equity arrangement for the five partners. The email references “10 held by H for the big guy?” Mr. Bobulinski said the “H” referred to Hunter Biden and the “big guy” was Joe Biden. Mr. Gilliar didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did the other partner in the venture, Mr. Walker.
SinoHawk was created to find investments in the U.S. and elsewhere for CEFC, relying in part on James and Hunter Biden, as well as their partners, to make introductions to politicians and influential figures, according to company strategy documents.
Mr. Bobulinski, 48, who said he served four years in the Navy, leaving with the rank of lieutenant, said through his business ventures he met Mr. Gilliar, who brought him into the proposed venture.
CEFC, whose founder and chairman had a background in military intelligence, was in the midst of a rapid, well-funded global expansion that often made investments that dovetailed with the priorities of China’s president, Xi Jinping, and his global program to build infrastructure. Its founder, Ye Jianming, was put under investigation in China in 2018 and hasn’t been seen in public since. CEFC has gone into receivership and been put under control of the Shanghai government.
—Andrew Restuccia contributed to this article.
By early October, even people inside the White House believed President Trump’s re-election campaign needed a desperate rescue mission. So three men allied with the president gathered at a house in McLean, Va., to launch one.
The host was Arthur Schwartz, a New York public relations man close to President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr. The guests were a White House lawyer, Eric Herschmann, and a former deputy White House counsel, Stefan Passantino, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
Mr. Herschmann knew the subject matter they were there to discuss. He had represented Mr. Trump during the impeachment trial early this year, and he tried to deflect allegations against the president in part by pointing to Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine. More recently, he has been working on the White House payroll with a hazy portfolio, listed as “a senior adviser to the president,” and remains close to Jared Kushner.
The three had pinned their hopes for re-electing the president on a fourth guest, a straight-shooting Wall Street Journal White House reporter named Michael Bender. They delivered the goods to him there: a cache of emails detailing Hunter Biden’s business activities, and, on speaker phone, a former business partner of Hunter Biden’s named Tony Bobulinski. Mr. Bobulinski was willing to go on the record in The Journal with an explosive claim: that Joe Biden, the former vice president, had been aware of, and profited from, his son’s activities. The Trump team left believing that The Journal would blow the thing open and their excitement was conveyed to the president.
The Journal had seemed to be the perfect outlet for a story the Trump advisers believed could sink Mr. Biden’s candidacy. Its small-c conservatism in reporting means the work of its news pages carries credibility across the industry. And its readership leans further right than other big news outlets. Its Washington bureau chief, Paul Beckett, recently remarked at a virtual gathering of Journal reporters and editors that while he knows that the paper often delivers unwelcome news to the many Trump supporters who read it, The Journal should protect its unique position of being trusted across the political spectrum, two people familiar with the remarks said.
As the Trump team waited with excited anticipation for a Journal exposé, the newspaper did its due diligence: Mr. Bender and Mr. Beckett handed the story off to a well-regarded China correspondent, James Areddy, and a Capitol Hill reporter who had followed the Hunter Biden story, Andrew Duehren. Mr. Areddy interviewed Mr. Bobulinski. They began drafting an article.
Then things got messy. Without warning his notional allies, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and now a lawyer for President Trump, burst onto the scene with the tabloid version of the McLean crew’s carefully laid plot. Mr. Giuliani delivered a cache of documents of questionable provenance — but containing some of the same emails — to The New York Post, a sister publication to The Journal in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Mr. Giuliani had been working with the former Trump aide Steve Bannon, who also began leaking some of the emails to favored right-wing outlets. Mr. Giuliani’s complicated claim that the emails came from a laptop Hunter Biden had abandoned, and his refusal to let some reporters examine the laptop, cast a pall over the story — as did The Post’s reporting, which alleged but could not prove that Joe Biden had been involved in his son’s activities.
While the Trump team was clearly jumpy, editors in The Journal’s Washington bureau were wrestling with a central question: Could the documents, or Mr. Bobulinski, prove that Joe Biden was involved in his son’s lobbying? Or was this yet another story of the younger Mr. Biden trading on his family’s name — a perfectly good theme, but not a new one or one that needed urgently to be revealed before the election.
Mr. Trump and his allies expected the Journal story to appear Monday, Oct. 19, according to Mr. Bannon. That would be late in the campaign, but not too late — and could shape that week’s news cycle heading into the crucial final debate last Thursday. An “important piece” in The Journal would be coming soon, Mr. Trump told aides on a conference call that day.
His comment was not appreciated inside The Journal.
“The editors didn’t like Trump’s insinuation that we were being teed up to do this hit job,” a Journal reporter who wasn’t directly involved in the story told me. But the reporters continued to work on the draft as the Thursday debate approached, indifferent to the White House’s frantic timeline.
Finally, Mr. Bobulinski got tired of waiting.
“He got spooked about whether they were going to do it or not,” Mr. Bannon said.
At 7:35 Wednesday evening, Mr. Bobulinski emailed an on-the-record, 684-word statement making his case to a range of news outlets. Breitbart News published it in full. He appeared the next day in Nashville to attend the debate as Mr. Trump’s surprise guest, and less than two hours before the debate was to begin, he read a six-minute statement to the press, detailing his allegations that the former vice president had involvement in his son’s business dealings.
When Mr. Trump stepped on stage, the president acted as though the details of the emails and the allegations were common knowledge. “You’re the big man, I think. I don’t know, maybe you’re not,” he told Mr. Biden at some point, a reference to an ambiguous sentence from the documents.
As the debate ended, The Wall Street Journal published a brief item, just the stub of Mr. Areddy and Mr. Duehren’s reporting. The core of it was that Mr. Bobulinski had failed to prove the central claim. “Corporate records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show no role for Joe Biden,” The Journal reported.
Asked about The Journal’s handling of the story, the editor in chief, Matt Murray, said the paper did not discuss its newsgathering. “Our rigorous and trusted journalism speaks for itself,” Mr. Murray said in an emailed statement.
And if you’d been watching the debate, but hadn’t been obsessively watching Fox News or reading Breitbart, you would have had no idea what Mr. Trump was talking about. The story the Trump team hoped would upend the campaign was fading fast.
The gatekeepers return
The McLean group’s failed attempt to sway the election is partly just another story revealing the chaotic, threadbare quality of the Trump operation — a far cry from the coordinated “disinformation” machinery feared by liberals.
But it’s also about a larger shift in the American media, one in which the gatekeepers appear to have returned after a long absence.
It has been a disorienting couple of decades, after all. It all began when The Drudge Report, Gawker and the blogs started telling you what stodgy old newspapers and television networks wouldn’t. Then social media brought floods of content pouring over the old barricades.
By 2015, the old gatekeepers had entered a kind of crisis of confidence, believing they couldn’t control the online news cycle any better than King Canute could control the tides. Television networks all but let Donald Trump take over as executive producer that summer and fall. In October 2016, Julian Assange and James Comey seemed to drive the news cycle more than the major news organizations. Many figures in old media and new bought into the idea that in the new world, readers would find the information they wanted to read — and therefore, decisions by editors and producers, about whether to cover something and how much attention to give it, didn’t mean much.
But the last two weeks have proved the opposite: that the old gatekeepers, like The Journal, can still control the agenda. It turns out there is a big difference between WikiLeaks and establishment media coverage of WikiLeaks, a difference between a Trump tweet and an article about it, even between an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal suggesting Joe Biden had done bad things, and a news article that didn’t reach that conclusion.
Perhaps the most influential media document of the last four years is a chart by a co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, Yochai Benkler. The study showed that a dense new right-wing media sphere had emerged — and that the mainstream news “revolved around the agenda that the right-wing media sphere set.”
Mr. Bannon had known this, too. He described his strategy as “anchor left, pivot right,” and even as he ran Breitbart News, he worked to place attacks on Hillary Clinton in mainstream outlets. The validating power of those outlets was clear when The New York Times and Washington Post were given early access in the spring of 2015 to the book “Clinton Cash,” an investigation of the Clinton family’s blurring of business, philanthropic and political interests by the writer Peter Schweizer.
Mr. Schweizer is still around this cycle. But you won’t find his work in mainstream outlets. He’s over on Breitbart, with a couple of Hunter Biden stories this month.
And the fact that Mr. Bobulinski emerged not in the pages of the widely respected Journal but in a statement to Breitbart was essentially Mr. Bannon’s nightmare, and Mr. Benkler’s fondest wish. And a broad array of mainstream outlets, unpersuaded that Hunter Biden’s doings tie directly to the former vice president, have largely kept the story off their front pages, and confined to skeptical explanations of what Mr. Trump and his allies are claiming about his opponent.
“SO USA TODAY DIDN’T WANT TO RUN MY HUNTER BIDEN COLUMN THIS WEEK,” the conservative writer Glenn Reynolds complained Oct. 20, posting the article instead to his blog. President Trump himself hit a wall when he tried to push the Hunter Biden narrative onto CBS News.
“This is ‘60 Minutes,’ and we can’t put on things we can’t verify,” Lesley Stahl told him. Mr. Trump then did more or less the same thing as Mr. Reynolds, posting a video of his side of the interview to his own blog, Facebook.
The media’s control over information, of course, is not as total as it used to be. The people who own printing presses and broadcast towers can’t actually stop you from reading leaked emails or unproven theories about Joe Biden’s knowledge of his son’s business. But what Mr. Benkler’s research showed was that the elite outlets’ ability to set the agenda endured in spite of social media.
We should have known it, of course. Many of our readers, screaming about headlines on Twitter, did. And Mr. Trump knew it all along — one way to read his endless attacks on the establishment media is as an expression of obsession, a form of love. This week, you can hear howls of betrayal from people who have for years said the legacy media was both utterly biased and totally irrelevant.
“For years, we’ve respected and even revered the sanctified position of the free press,” wrote Dana Loesch, a right-wing commentator not particularly known for her reverence of legacy media, expressing frustration that the Biden story was not getting attention. “Now that free press points its digital pen at your throat when you question their preferences.”
On the other side of the gate
There’s something amusing — even a bit flattering — in such earnest protestations from a right-wing movement rooted in efforts to discredit the independent media. And this reassertion of control over information is what you’ve seen many journalists call for in recent years. At its best, it can also close the political landscape to a trendy new form of dirty tricks, as in France in 2017, where the media largely ignored a last-minute dump of hacked emails from President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign just before a legally mandated blackout period.
But I admit that I feel deep ambivalence about this revenge of the gatekeepers. I spent my career, before arriving at The Times in March, on the other side of the gate, lobbing information past it to a very online audience who I presumed had already seen the leak or the rumor, and seeing my job as helping to guide that audience through the thicket, not to close their eyes to it. “The media’s new and unfamiliar job is to provide a framework for understanding the wild, unvetted, and incredibly intoxicating information that its audience will inevitably see — not to ignore it,” my colleague John Herrman (also now at The Times) and I wrote in 2013. In 2017, I made the decision to publish the unverified “Steele dossier,” in part on the grounds that gatekeepers were looking at it and influenced by it, but keeping it from their audience.
This fall, top media and tech executives were bracing to refight the last war — a foreign-backed hack-and-leak operation like WikiLeaks seeking to influence the election’s outcome. It was that hyper-vigilance that led Twitter to block links to The New York Post’s article about Hunter Biden — a frighteningly disproportionate response to a story that other news organizations were handling with care. The schemes of Mr. Herschmann, Mr. Passantino and Mr. Schwartz weren’t exactly WikiLeaks. But the special nervousness that many outlets, including this one, feel about the provenance of the Hunter Biden emails is, in many ways, the legacy of the WikiLeaks experience.
I’d prefer to put my faith in Mr. Murray and careful, professional journalists like him than in the social platforms’ product managers and executives. And I hope Americans relieved that the gatekeepers are reasserting themselves will also pay attention to who gets that power, and how centralized it is, and root for new voices to correct and challenge them.
Joe Biden’s son is under scrutiny for his business dealings and tumultuous personal life.
Coming amid concerns by GOP lawmakers that they will be sidelined or shut out of the impeachment inquiry into Trump, McCarthy criticized Pelosi for the “swiftness and recklessness” which House committee chairs have proceeded with the impeachment inquiry and pleaded with the House speaker to ensure Republican participation in the proceedings.
“Unfortunately, you have given no clear indication as to how your impeachment inquiry will proceed – including whether key historical precedents or basic standards of due process will be observed,” McCarthy said in his letter. “In addition, the swiftness and recklessness with which you have proceeded has already resulted in committee chairs attempting to limit minority participation in scheduled interviews, calling into question the integrity of such an inquiry.”
Hours after McCarthy’s letter was posted, Pelosi responded with her own note suggesting Democrats would not be hitting pause anytime soon. She wrote that “existing rules of the House provide House Committees with full authority to conduct investigations for all matters under their jurisdiction.”
Pelosi added: “We hope you and other Republicans share our commitment to following the facts, upholding the Constitution, protecting our national security, and defending the integrity of our elections at such a serious moment in our nation’s history.”
On Thursday night, McCarthy fired back. “Your proclamations of fairness fall flat when you deny a process that provides it. Simply put, you are failing to meet the basic standards of due process observed by past speakers of the House,” he wrote in a letter. “Without transparent and equitable rules and procedures, the American people will forever understand this sham process for what it is—the fulfillment of a partisan goal to reverse the 2016 election.”
McCarthy’s complaint about limiting Republican participation is a reference to reports that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., was limiting Republicans’ ability to ask questions during Thursday’s testimony by former U.S. envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker.
In his initial letter to Pelosi, McCarthy asked a number of questions, including whether Pelosi plans to hold a full House vote on authorizing the impeachment inquiry, whether she plans to grant subpoena powers to both the committee chairs and the ranking members, and whether she’ll allow Trump’s lawyers to attend the hearings.
After concerns were first raised about an “equal playing field” during the Volker session, Fox News is told Democrats made concessions and agreed to equal representation from Democratic and Republican counsels in the room. However, even though there are representatives from the Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees, only the Intelligence Committee can ask questions.
Volker – who resigned from his post last week — testified Thursday in a closed-door interview about an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint about a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s family’s dealings in the country.
Volker was expected to voluntarily give a transcribed interview before the Schiff-led Intelligence Committee as part of its impeachment inquiry into whether Trump abused his authority by asking Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden, a leading candidate for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Trump is being investigated amid claims that he threatened to withhold $400 million in military aid unless Ukraine investigated Biden, his son Hunter, and their business dealings in the country.
The House minority leader’s letter earned him the praise of President Trump, who also took the opportunity to slam the Democrats who opened the impeachment inquiry into him.
McCarthy’s questions come a day after the leading Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, said in a letter to Chairman Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., that despite statements made by Pelosi and other Democrats, “there is not a ‘House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry” because the entire House has not voted on the matter.
Citing House Rules X and XI, McCaul said that until Congress members from both parties vote to create a special impeachment task force to carry out proceedings, “Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff lacks the jurisdiction to investigate the Department of State’s conduct of United States foreign policy toward Ukraine. That prerogative belongs to our Members.”
“Official impeachment inquiries are initiated by the adoption of a House resolution empowering or creating a committee or task force to undertake such activities,” McCaul continued. “In both the Nixon and Clinton cases, the Judiciary Committee debated and reported a resolution authorizing the Judiciary Committee to investigate whether there were sufficient grounds to impeach the President, which was then debated and voted on by the full House of Representatives. There have been no such debates or votes in this Congress.”