Posts tagged with "President Joe Biden"

Ex-F.B.I. informant is charged with lying over Bidens’ role in Ukraine business

February 16, 2024

The special counsel investigating Hunter Biden has charged a former F.B.I. informant with fabricating claims that President Joe Biden and his son each sought $5 million bribes from a Ukrainian company—a stinging setback for Republicans who cited the allegations in their push to impeach the president, reports The New York Times.

The longtime informant, Alexander Smirnov, 43, is accused of falsely telling the F.B.I. that Hunter Biden—then a paid board member of the energy giant Burisma—demanded the money to protect the company from an investigation by the country’s prosecutor general at the time.

 

The explosive story, which seemed to back up unsubstantiated Republican claims of a “Biden crime family,” turned out to be a brazen lie, according to a 37-page indictment unsealed late Thursday in a California federal court, brought by the special counsel, David C. Weiss.

Smirnov’s motivation for lying, prosecutors wrote, appears to have been political. During the 2020 campaign, he sent his F.B.I. handler “a series of messages expressing bias” against Joe Biden, including texts, replete with typos and misspellings, boasting that he had information that would put him in jail.

Republicans pressured the F.B.I. to release internal reports after they learned of Smirnov’s claims. In May last year, Representative James Comer of Kentucky, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, threatened to hold the bureau’s director, Christopher Wray, in contempt if he did not disclose some details.

In July, after Wray complied, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa released a copy of an F.B.I. record that included the false allegation without naming Smirnov, or questioning its veracity.

He then described Smirnov’s claims as “very significant allegations from a trusted F.B.I. informant implicating then-Vice President Biden in a criminal bribery scheme.”

Comer, in a statement released after the charges against Smirnov became public, took no responsibility for spreading a claim that prosecutors suggested was a smear intended to hurt Biden politically.

Instead, he blamed bureau officials for privately telling the committee that their “source was credible and trusted, had worked with the F.B.I. for over a decade and had been paid six figures.”

But F.B.I. officials did not seem to think much of Smirnov’s allegations from the start, and requested he provide travel receipts to prove he attended meetings cited in his report. In 2020, they concluded that his claims did not merit continued investigation and told senior Trump administration officials in the Justice Department of that decision, prosecutors wrote.

Smirnov now faces two charges of making false statements and obstructing the government’s long-running investigation into the president’s troubled son. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.

The indictment did not say if Smirnov was a U.S. citizen, or specify his country of origin—only that he is a globe-trotting businessman who speaks Russian and who became an F.B.I. informant in 2010.

He was arrested in Las Vegas on Wednesday after disembarking from an international flight and detained pending a hearing on Tuesday, February 20.

The president’s son still faces indictments on a gun charge in Delaware and tax charges in California. But his lawyers said Smirnov’s indictment was proof that he was the target of a mendacious and politically motivated smear campaign.

“For months, we have warned that Republicans have built their conspiracies about Hunter and his family on lies told by people with political agendas, not facts,” Abbe Lowell, Hunter Biden’s lawyer, said in a statement. “We were right, and the air is out of their balloon.”

Research contact: @nytimes

‘How in the hell dare he?’ Biden strikes defiant tone on special counsel report

February 12, 2024

President Joe Biden forcefully defended himself against charges that he suffers from memory loss—delivering remarks on Thursday night, February 8, at the White House in response to Special Counsel Robert Hurs report on his handling of classified information, reports NBC News.

Hur’s report included characterizations of the president’s mental fitness, saying his memory was “significantly limited, both during his recorded interviews with the ghostwriter in 2017, and in his interview with our office in 2023.”

The report also said Biden did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died.

“How in the hell dare he raise that?” Biden said,—adding that when he was asked about son Beau’s death during the probe, he thought to himself that it “wasn’t any of their damn business.” Biden’s son died in 2015 from brain cancer.v

“I don’t need anyone to remind me when he passed away,” Biden said Thursday night, reiterating that he wears his late son’s rosary beads and honors him with a service every Memorial Day. The president often talks about Beau in speeches, especially in discussing loss and grief.

Biden also said, “My memory’s fine,” in response to a reporter’s question.

Later in his remarks, Biden mistakenly referred to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi as the president of Mexico. The flub took place when Biden was answering a question about the Israel-Hamas war, and it was the third time last week that he has mixed up heads of state.

Biden appeared hours after Hur released his report into the president’s handling of classified documents. Hur declined to prosecute the president, but he found that he “willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen.”

White House officials concluded Thursday evening that Biden needed to address the special counsel’s most damning allegations head-on and express his anger about the report directly, according to two people familiar with the decision.

Senior Biden aides believed it was imperative for the president to call out what they viewed as purely political criticism from Hur because, they argued, the special counsel was concerned about potential blowback from conservatives for not charging Biden with a crime, one of the people said.

The White House staff also believed, as evidenced by the president’s fiery remarks about knowing when his late son Beau died, that the attacks on his memory were “way out of line” and “gratuitous,” the source said.

Biden on Thursday night reiterated the distinction the special counsels report made between his handling of classified documents and former President Donald Trump’s. Earlier in the day, he briefly addressed the report in a pre-announced speech, saying he was “especially pleased” that it “made clear the stark differences between this case and Donald Trump.”

In response to a reporter’s question Thursday night about what he would have done differently, Biden talked about the importance of overseeing the transfer of materials.

“I should have done that,” he said.

“I didn’t know how half the boxes got in my garage until I found out staff gathered them up and put them together and took them to the garage in my home,” he added.

But Biden pushed back against the report’s language that he “willfully retained” classified documents, saying such assertions were “not only misleading; they’re just plain wrong.”

Biden also denied sharing classified information, including with his ghostwriter.

“I guarantee you,” he said.

The pushback came in response to part of Hur’s report that details a recorded 2017 conversation Biden had with his ghostwriter, in which he said he “just found all this classified stuff downstairs,” according to the report. He told the ghostwriter in a recording, “Some of this may be classified, so be careful.”

The report also threw doubt on whether a jury would convict Biden had Hur decided to bring charges.

“We have also considered that, at trial, … Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory. Based on our direct interactions with and observations of him, he is someone for whom many jurors will want to identify reasonable doubt,” the report said. “It would be difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him—by then a former president well into his eighties—of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Congress approves bill barring any president from unilaterally withdrawing from NATO

Decembr 18, 2023

Congress has approved legislation that would prevent any president from withdrawing the United States from NATO without approval from the Senate or an Act of Congress, reports The Hill.

The measure, spearheaded by Senators Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida), was included in the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which passed out of the House on Thursday, December 14, and is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden.

The provision underscores Congress’s commitment to the NATO alliance—which was a target of former President Donald Trump’s ire during his term in office. The alliance has taken on revitalized importance under Biden, especially since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

“NATO has held strong in response to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s war in Ukraine and rising challenges around the world,” Kaine said in a statement.

He added that the legislation “reaffirms U.S. support for this crucial alliance that is foundational for our national security. It also sends a strong message to authoritarians around the world that the free world remains united.”

Rubio said the measure served as a critical tool for congressional oversight. “We must ensure we are protecting our national interests and protecting the security of our democratic allies,” he said in a statement.

Biden has invested deeply in the NATO alliance during his term, committing more troops and military resources to Europe as a show of force against Putin’s war. He also has overseen the expansion of the alliance, with the inclusion of Finland and ongoing efforts to secure Sweden’s full accession.

Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, has sent mixed messages on the alliance ahead of 2024. The former president’s advocates say his tough talk and criticisms of the alliance served to inspire member-states to fulfill their obligations to reach 2% of defense spending, easing the burden on the United States.

But Trump’s critics say the former president’s rhetoric weakens the unity and force of purpose of the alliance. And they expressed concerns that Trump would abandon the U.S. commitment to the mutual defense pact of the alliance—or withdraw America completely.

Research contact: @thehill

‘Watershed moment’ for U.S. rail as Biden gives $8.2B to train projects

December 11, 2023

President Joe Biden is a self-described train fan—commuting between Washington, D.C., and Delaware on Amtrak for decades when he was a U.S. senator. Now, in an effort to beef up U.S. passenger rail, his Administration is doling out more than $8 billion—including funds for two high-speed trains in California and Nevada, reports Forbes.

The Transportation Department’s Federal Railroad Administration is releasing $8.2 billion from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help fund ten passenger rail projects nationwide—including about $3.1 billion for California to complete the first 171 miles of its $100 billion bullet train system; and $3 billion for Brightline West, a 218-mile high-speed line from Las Vegas to suburban Los Angeles.

Additional grants will improve busy passenger rail corridors in Virginia, North Carolina and Washington, D.C., and upgrade Chicago’s Union Station.

Biden is to discuss the projects today in Las Vegas. The funds come from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and are the country’s biggest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak a half-century ago, White House Infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu told Forbes.

“This is kind of a watershed moment in the history of rail in the United States of America,” Landrieu said. “As the president has often said, when he talks about Xi Jinping and China and competing with them, the United States ought to have world-class high-speed rail and this is a pretty good stake in the ground toward that goal.”

Japan debuted its shinkansen bullet trains six decades ago, and high-speed rail now connects major cities across Europe, South Korea, Taiwan; and especially China, which has a sprawling 26,000-mile system. New train lines also race across Morocco, the Saudi Arabian desert, and Indonesia’s Java island at 180 miles per hour or more.

The fastest train in the U.S. is the Acela on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor network between New York and Boston, topping out at 150 mph in limited segments. (The Biden Administration announced $16.4 billion of Infrastructure Law funding last month to upgrade tracks, bridges, and tunnels; and faster new trains to help Acelas travel at up to 160 mph.)

Brightline West, created by private equity billionaire Wes Edens and operating passenger trains connecting Orlando to Miami, intends to run at up to 200 mph through the desert when it opens by 2028.

California’s system, built mainly on an elevated viaduct, aims to run trains at up to 220 mph in its initial Central Valley corridor connecting the cities of Bakersfield, Fresno, and Merced. That segment could open as early as 2030.

Brightline West and California plan to operate their trains on renewable power—mainly from solar farms—and promote them as much greener forms of transportation than driving or flying.

“There’s no turning back now – America’s high-speed rail revolution is coming,” Ray LaHood, former U.S. Transportation Secretary and co-chair of the U.S. High Speed Rail Coalition said in a statement. “With climate disasters bearing down on us, it’s time to kick these transformative, planet-saving projects into high gear.”

Edens is studying additional places to build more bullet trains, putting them alongside existing highway corridors connecting major cities with ground-level tracks to reduce construction costs. These include systems connecting Atlanta to Charlotte, cities in Texas and Los Angeles and San Diego, although Brightline hasn’t announced plans to move ahead with those projects.

“This is [an] historic moment that will serve as a foundation for a new industry and a remarkable project that will serve as the blueprint for how we can repeat this model throughout the country,” Edens said by email earlier this week after Brightline’s federal grant was announced.

Research contact: @Forbes

GOP’s plan to fund Israeli war with IRS cuts raises questions

November 1, 2023

A Republican plan to fund an aid package to Israel via cuts to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) budget has sparked a debate among politicians, experts, and commentators, reports Newsweek.

Under the leadership of new House speaker Mike Johnson, the U.S. House of Representatives seeks to provide $14.3 billion in aid to Israel by cutting funding to the revenue service for the United States federal government—which is responsible for collecting U.S. federal taxesusing some of the increased funding earmarked for it through President Joe Biden‘s Inflation Reduction Act.

Responding, some have raised concerns that Republicans are using the aid as a political opportunity to cut funding to the IRS. Typically, Congress doesn’t cut funding elsewhere to make room for emergency aid or spending.

Indeed, under Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, the agency’s funding was boosted by $80 billion to improve taxpayer services and pay for more enforcement actions against wealthy tax cheats. But, due to Republican opposition, Biden and House Republicans agreed to repeal roughly $20 billion of that $80 billion as part of a deal in May.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a statement accusing Republicans of “politicizing national security” and calling their bill a non-starter.

Meanwhile, Rosa DeLauro, the ranking Democratic representative on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement: “House Republicans are setting a dangerous precedent by suggesting that protecting national security or responding to natural disasters is contingent upon cuts to other programs.”

Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement, “Support for defending Israel should not come with conditions…When your neighbor’s house is on fire, you don’t haggle over the price of the garden hose,” she wrote.

Meanwhile,  Biden initially had requested the House pass a $106 billion package that would include aid for Israel, Ukraine, and border security.

Johnson, who voted against aid for Ukraine before he was elected House speaker last week, had said he wanted aid to Israel and Ukraine to be handled separately. He has said he wants more accountability for money that has been sent to Kyiv and that supporting Israel in the aftermath of the Hamas attack on October 7 should be the U.S.’s top security priority.

“I understand their priority is to bulk up the IRS, but I think if you put this to the American people and they weigh the two needs, I think they’re going to say standing with Israel and protecting the innocent over there is in our national interest and is a more immediate need than IRS agents,” Johnson said in a Fox News interview.

At an event on Monday at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center, Senator Mitch McConnell urged support for Ukraine.

“Right now, loud voices on both sides of the aisle are suggesting that American Fleadership isn’t worth the cost. Some say our support for Ukraine comes at the expense of more important priorities, but as I’ve said every time I’ve got the chance, it’s a false choice,” he said. “America is a global superpower with global interests, and enemies of democracy around the world like nothing more than to outlast our resolve to resist Russian aggression.”

The House Rules Committee is expected to consider the Republican Israel bill on Wednesday, November 1. It will need bipartisan support to become law.

Research contact: @Newsweek

‘Weaklings:’ Donald Trump targets Mark Meadows over report that he will flip

October 26, 2023

Donald Trump targeted his former White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, on Wednesday, October 25—insinuating that Meadows would be a weakling and a coward if he testifies against the former president, reports USA Today.

In a pair of Truth Social posts, Trump said he does not believe Meadows would turn on him—but noted that his former chief of staff has been threatened with prosecution and might be tempted by an immunity agreement.

“Some people would make that deal, but they are weaklings and cowards, and so bad for the future our Failing Nation,” Trump said. “I don’t think that Mark Meadows is one of them, but who really knows?”

Trump is facing pressure to be careful with what he says about Meadows, or any other potential witness in the 2020 election case against him.

The reason? U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan hit the former president with a partial gag order that prohibits him from attacking witnesses, prosecutors, and court personnel.

Trump sought to undermine Meadows a day after a news report that he is talking to Special Counsel Jack Smith‘s office in the federal case charging the former president with trying to steal the 2020 election.

ABC News said Meadows has told Smith and his prosecutors that “he repeatedly told Trump in the weeks after the 2020 presidential election that the allegations of significant voting fraud coming to them were baseless, a striking break from Trump’s prolific rhetoric regarding the election.”

Smith’s office is responsible for the federal indictment that  essentially charges Trump with trying to steal the 2020 election from President Joe Biden, including with claims of voter fraud that he knew to be false.

In his Truth Social posts, Trump denied Meadows’ reported assertions, and pointed out that Meadows defended Trump’s election complaints in his book.

“Mark Meadows NEVER told me that allegations of significant fraud (about the RIGGED Election!) were baseless,” Trump claimed. “He certainly didn’t say that in his book!”

Research contact: @USATODAY

Biden says he will deliver ‘major’ speech about Ukraine

October 6, 2023

President Joe Biden said Wednesday, October 4, that he would deliver a “major” speech about funding for Ukraine and “why it’s critically important for the United States and our allies that we keep our commitment,” reports NBC News

Biden made the comments in response to a question from NBC News about whether he was worried about the United States being unable to deliver aid to Ukraine because of the disarray on Capitol Hill. He took questions from the media following his planned remarks on student debt.

“I’m going to make the argument that it’s overwhelmingly in the interest of the United States of America that Ukraine succeed,” Biden said.

Biden argued that his Administration’s focus on international coalition-building has improved the U.S.’s position. “They’ve strengthened us across the board—not just as it relates to Ukraine, whether it’s Japan and South Korea or whether it’s what’s happening in Europe itself,” Biden said. “And so I think that it’s clear to the vast majority of the foreign policy community on both left and right that this has been a valuable exercise for the United States of America to increase the support we have around the world.”

The Republican Party has become increasingly divided over U.S. aid to Ukraine, and the issue was part of the standoff in the House that nearly led to a government shutdown. The 45-day continuing resolution that averted the shutdown ultimately did not include any new Ukraine aid, to the dismay of many Democrats.

Asked how long the support could continue without additional funding, Biden said that America can back Ukraine in “the next tranche,” adding that “there is another means by which we may be able to find funding for that.” He declined to go into details about the funding source, as did Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at the news briefing.

Jean-Pierre, who also declined to provide additional information about the speech, reiterated that it would be a “major mistake” to walk away from Ukraine.

“What we want to make very, very clear is that we cannot walk away from our commitment. We cannot,” Jean-Pierre said. “It would be a major mistake.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Trump has been privately encouraging G.O.P. lawmakers to impeach Biden

September 13, 2023

On a sweeping patio overlooking the golf course at his private club in Bedminster, New Jersey, former President Donald Trump dined Sunday night with a close political ally, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), reports The New York Times.  

Over halibut and Diet Cokes, Greene brought up an issue of considerable interest to Mr. Trump—the push by House Republicans to impeach his likely opponent in next year’s election.

“I did brief him on the strategy that I want to see laid out with impeachment,” Greene said in a brief phone interview with the Times.

Trump’s dinner with Greene came just two nights before House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced his decision on Tuesday, September 12, to order the opening of an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, under intense pressure from his right flank.

Over the past several months, Trump has kept a close watch on House Republicans’ momentum towards impeaching Biden. Trump has talked regularly by phone with members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus and other congressional Republicans who pushed for impeachment, according to a person close to the former president who was not authorized to publicly discuss the conversations. Trump has encouraged the effort both privately and publicly.

Greene, who has introduced articles of impeachment against Biden, said she told Trump that she wanted the impeachment inquiry to be “long and excruciatingly painful for Joe Biden.”

She would not say what Trump said in response, but she said her ultimate goal was to have a “long list of names”—people whom she claimed were co-conspirators involved in Biden family crimes. She said she was confident Trump would win back the White House in 2024 and that she wanted “to go after every single one of them and use the Department of Justice to prosecute them.”

A person familiar with Trump’s thinking said that, despite his eagerness to see an inquiry move forward, the former president has not been twisting McCarthy’s arm. Trump has been far more aggressive in pushing several members to wipe his own impeachment record clean, the person said—potentially by getting Congress to take the unprecedented step of expunging his two impeachments from the House record.

Trump has not been expressing concern about the possibility that the McCarthy impeachment effort might backfire and benefit Biden, according to two people with direct knowledge of his private statements over several months. Instead, he wondered to an ally why there had been no movement on impeaching Biden once he learned that the House was back in session.

When asked for comment, Trump’s communications director, Steven Cheung, pointed to the former president’s public statements about impeaching Biden. The former president’s public commentary on the possibility of a Biden impeachment has escalated from wistful musings about the Justice Department’s supposed inaction to explicit demands.

“They persecuted us and yet Joe Biden is a stone-cold criminal, caught dead to right, and nothing happens to him. Forget the family. Nothing happens to him,” the former president said at a rally in March.

Research contact: @nytimes

U.S. airlines adding Maui flights to help residents, visitors flee

August 14, 2023

Major U.S. carriers are adding flights to help passengers flee Maui as one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history continues to decimate parts of the island, reports Fox Business.

A spokesperson for Hawaiian Airlines told Fox Business that it wasextending its operations on Thursday, August 10, with six additional flights to Honolulu from Kahului to help evacuate travelers affected by the brush fires on Maui. The fires were driven by fierce winds from a hurricane and have already killed at least 36 people.

Officials in Hawaii warned Thursday that the death toll could rise—with the fires still burning and teams spreading out to search charred areas.

Hawaii already added nine extra flights on Wednesday between Honolulu and Kahului to accommodate departures out of Maui, in addition to supporting emergency response efforts.

“The safety of our guests and employees, including teammates who live and work on Maui, is our priority. We are working closely with the state of Hawaiʻi to support the transportation of first responders and supplies and help with the overall emergency response as best as we can,” the spokesperson continued.

United Airlines went as far as canceling all of its inbound flights to Maui so that planes can fly empty and “be used as passenger flights back to the mainland.”

American Airlines said it also added another flight and upgraded an aircraft “to ensure customers evacuating OGG [Kahului Airport] are able to do so.”

Delta Air Lines also is operating “extra sections out of Maui” to get people out of the impacted region.

Southwest Airlines, the second-largest carrier of Hawaii air travelers, also said it added service on Wednesday and Thursday, and plans to do so again Friday.

Beyond adding more flights, airlines are also providing travel waivers to give customers more flexibility to make travel changes without incurring any extra fees. Delta went as far as instituting fare caps.

Hawaiian is also offering $19 main cabin fares out of Maui to facilitate urgent travel needs. Since the state is discouraging non-essential travel to the area, the carrier is helping travelers change their flights or get a refund.

American said customers whose travel plans are affected by the wildfires can “rebook without fees, cancel, or receive a refund.”

In a Facebook post, Governor Josh Green asked Hawaii’s residents to provide all the emotional and financial support they can to residents of the town of Lahaina and Maui in general, calling the wildfires “the deadliest natural disaster the state has seen in generations.”

President Joe Biden also spoke about the Hawaii wildfires while traveling in Utah—pledging that federal disaster response will ensure that “anyone who’s lost a loved one or whose home has been damaged or destroyed is going to get help immediately.”

Biden promised to streamline requests for federal assistance and said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was “surging emergency personnel” on Maui. He also ordered all available Coast Guard and Air Force personnel on the island to work with the Hawaii National Guard to help.

Research contact: @FoxBusiness