Discover more from Letters from an American
May 10, 2023
This morning, federal prosecutors charged Representative George Santos (R-NY) with seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives, and one count of stealing public funds. The charges are tied to his campaign fundraising and unemployment fraud; prosecutors say he received about $25,000 in unemployment insurance benefits during 2020 and 2021, during the worst of the pandemic, when he was, in fact, making about $120,000 a year.
Santos pleaded not guilty and was released on $500,000 bail and immediately began to fundraise off his arrest.
This is another embarrassment for the Republicans. House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House, has championed Santos in ads as “the next generation of Republican leadership.” And today, while the House Republicans were in the midst of a press conference about their plan to crack down on unemployment fraud, news broke that one of their own has been charged with it. Ironically, Santos is a co-sponsor of the bill.
With the news about Santos this morning and the news last night of former president Trump’s liability for sexual abuse and defamation, the release this morning of a report from the House Judiciary Committee, led by Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), looked as if it was designed to be a distraction.
The report insisted that “that Hunter Biden’s laptop and emails were real”—by which the Republicans meant to say that the idea there was something incriminating on them was real—rather than possibly Russian disinformation, as a letter from former intelligence officials said when the story first broke. The report promised to prove that “senior intelligence community officials and the Biden campaign worked to mislead American voters.”
But the report was a bizarre effort. Despite the breathless allegations in it, the 65-page document seems to prove that the former intelligence officials who said the news story about the laptop had the hallmarks of a Russian disinformation effort believed what they were saying and went through the proper channels at the Central Intelligence Agency to clear their statement. The person who did appear to be trying to make a political statement was Trump’s loyalist director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe.
Journalist Marcy Wheeler carefully broke the report down piece by piece on Twitter (linked below if anyone’s interested), but she was one of the few media figures even to bother to mention it. Jordan is well known for crafting propaganda for right-wing media; perhaps that was his intention here.
A press conference the House Oversight Committee also held this morning got more attention than Jordan’s report, but it, too, was a fizzle. The committee announced the conference on Monday, May 8, when committee chair Representative James Comer (R-KY) promised supporters to unleash “judgment day” on the Biden White House. Republican members of the committee have made much of what they call “the Biden family’s influence peddling enterprise,” but today’s conference revealed nothing new: Biden’s son and brother and their associates worked with private companies that received about $10 million in investment from China and Romania. There is no evidence that those payments were illegal.
The “Biden family” is the term the right-wing Republicans are using to make it sound as if the president was part of the business dealings of his son Hunter and brother James, but they have turned up no evidence that President Joe Biden was part of their businesses or received any money in relation to them. Further, without evidence that the payments were illegal—and the Republicans have not charged that they were—they are relying on innuendo to smear the president.
The top Democrat on the committee, Jamie Raskin (D-MD), said that “there’s a lot of innuendo and a lot of gossip taking place and much of it is recycled from prior claims.”
When asked about the lack of evidence tying President Biden to corruption, Oversight Committee chair Representative James Comer (R-KY) said, “I don’t think anyone in America…would think that it’s just a coincidence that nine Biden family members have received money…. We believe that the president has been involved in this from the very beginning.” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) was clearer. He told Fox News Channel personality Maria Bartiromo, "You have to infer what's happening here...you're not gonna get necessarily hard proof."
The headline on a New York Times story about the report was hardly what Comer had hoped. It read: “House Republican Report Finds No Evidence of Wrongdoing by President Biden.”
Indeed, in the Washington Post, Philip Bump wrote, “The wider House Oversight’s net, the more often it catches Trump.” He noted that the Biden family doesn’t, in fact, have a family business. But, of course, the Trump family does have a business, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) estimates that Trump’s businesses made as much as $160 million when he was president. That doesn’t include the money his children—who, unlike Hunter Biden, were members of the administration—raked in both during his term and afterward, like the $2 billion investment a Saudi fund overseen by Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman made in Jared Kushner’s new private equity firm shortly after he left the White House.
In more substantive news, data released today from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that inflation is continuing to slow down. April marked the tenth month in a row of slower price increases for an annual pace slightly under 5%. Housing prices were the biggest contributor to that inflation.
Biden was in a Republican-held New York state district today, at SUNY Westchester Community College, to warn about the dangers of the Republican threats to crash the economy by refusing to lift the debt ceiling. He had won that district in 2020, and the Republican who took the seat there in 2022, Mike Lawler, won by less than a percentage point. Biden made it a point to distinguish, yet again, between extremist MAGA Republicans and reasonable Republicans, calling Lawler one of the latter.
As Jonathan Lemire, Lauren Egan, and Danielle Muoio Dunn wrote in Politico, it seems Biden is hoping to break the Republican phalanx against raising the debt ceiling by reaching out to Republicans whose reelection is in doubt, although Lawler said Biden told him he was not there to pressure him. The journalists noted that the White House recently called out the toll that McCarthy’s recent bill would take on the 18 congressional districts that Biden won and where Republicans were elected in 2022.
Today, Biden emphasized the enormous costs of the cuts the Republicans insist they require before they will permit a raising of the debt ceiling, including, Biden emphasized, 30,000 federal law enforcement officers: “11,000 FBI agents, 2,000 Border agents, DEA agents, and so on.”
He warned that the Republican plan will also cut veterans’ benefits and noted that the Republicans keep calling him a liar when he identifies cuts they are demanding. While the vagueness in their language enables them to insist they would not cut particular programs, Biden pointed out that the math doesn’t add up without huge cuts. Anything they intend to protect, they would have identified in writing. Until that happens, the necessary math says that we should assume everything is on the table.
If they don’t get those cuts, they say, they will crash the economy, costing 8 million Americans their jobs, according to Moody’s Analytics.
“This is a manufactured crisis,” Biden said. “And there’s no question about America’s ability to pay its bills. America has the strongest economy in the world, and we should be cutting spending and lowering the deficit without a needless crisis, in a responsible way.”
In contrast, former president Trump tonight pushed the country toward default, ignoring that his own massive tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations sent the deficit skyrocketing and that Congress raised the debt ceiling without conditions three times during his term to cover those shortfalls. “I say to the Republicans out there, Congressmen, Senators: if they don’t give you massive cuts, you’re going to have to do a default...Democrats will absolutely cave,” he said.
Trump was speaking at what CNN billed as a “Town Hall” in front of a crowd of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents, but the event quickly turned into a Trump rally. Trump played to the audience, which laughed at his attacks on E. Jean Carroll and cheered on the constant stream of lies that are by now a set performance. He steamrolled journalist Kaitlan Collins, who tried but could not counter his stream of lies. When he finished, the audience gave him a standing ovation.
A CNN media personality told Daily Beast media reporter Justin Baragona, “It is so bad. I was cautiously optimistic despite the criticism. It is awful. It’s a Trump infomercial. We’re going to get crushed.” A senior Trump advisor told senior NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Garrett Haake that the campaign team “is thrilled with how the night went.” The person called the event a “home run” and said “when the lefts melting down, we know it was a good day.”
Maybe. But according to legal analyst Andrew Weissman, Trump’s embrace of the January 6 rioters and promise to pardon them if he’s reelected feeds a potential case against him. He made similarly revealing comments about his theft and retention of documents marked classified. It was that very kind of indiscretion that enabled Carroll’s lawyers to beat him in court.
More important, though, while Trump’s base will love his performance, watching his lies and cruelty while his supporters laugh and cheer him on will remind voters of exactly what they worked so hard to reject in 2020. A Biden campaign advisor told NBC News White House correspondent Mike Memoli: “Weeks worth of damning content in one hour…. It was quite efficient." It might turn out that, as journalist Ana Navarro-Cárdenas tweeted, “[Joe Biden] is the winner of tonight’s town-hall.”
As Biden tweeted after the performance: “It’s simple, folks. Do you want four more years of that?”