Below is my column in USA Today on what the Menendez indictment might say about the Hunter Biden investigation. From the luxury cars to massive amounts of money to even their choice of counsel, the two scandals have striking similarities.
Here is the column:
In February 2019, Sen. Bob Menendez was having nightmares. The Democratic senator from New Jersey said he was haunted by a question that “keeps me up at night” — whether President Donald Trump was compromised by the Russian government because of past secret dealings.
Menendez’s restless nights also may have had something to do with the fact that at the time, he was allegedly accepting lavish gifts from various sources in exchange for using his Senate seat to bestow favors.
The indictment of Menendez and his wife last week included details of alleged bribes that went to the senator in exchange for revealing sensitive, nonpublic information to Egyptian contacts less than a year before his sleep-deprived speech.
Menendez denied the accusations on Friday. However, even if half of this indictment is true, Menendez is toast. He was able to dodge a bullet in 2017 when a jury hung over a separate series of corruption charges involving lavish gifts. This time, the Justice Department says it has photos of thousands of dollars in cash stuffed in clothing, a luxury car, gold bars and other gifts.
That would keep anyone up at night, but there may be one other insomniac this week: Hunter Biden’s lawyer Abbe Lowell.
The Menendez indictment likely proved chilling reading for Lowell, who not only represents President Joe Biden’s son but also represented Menendez in his prior bribery trial.
There are striking similarities between the Menendez and Biden cases.
While Hunter Biden was allegedly selling access to and influence with his father, he also allegedly received massive payments. His associate Devon Archer told Congress that they were selling the Biden family “brand,” and that Joe Biden was “the brand.”
Like Menendez, Hunter Biden allegedly received a luxury car from his foreign clients. For the senator, the Justice Department says it was a $60,000 Mercedes-Benz. For the president’s son, investigators say it was a $142,000 Fisker sports car.
Indeed, the alleged object of these payments was influence with then-Vice President Biden, when he was the presiding officer of the Senate. Menendez was one of the nation’s most powerful senators at the time.
There are also dealings that reference Hunter Biden and his associates in the Menendez matter. When the senator was trying to arrange for Joe Biden to host a foreign event, an aide to Menendez reportedly reached out to Hunter Biden’s associates.
While the president’s son is accused of peddling influence, in Menendez’s case, it is his wife who is accused of acting as a go-between with those trying to buy the senator’s attention. Nadine Menendez allegedly had lunches and countless communications with people, who, according to the indictment, sought favors from the senator.
Nadine Menendez allegedly knew the co-defendants before she married the senator in 2020. The couple met at an IHOP, but he fittingly proposed to her in 2019 at the Taj Mahal on a trip to India. The setting for the proposal would foretell the lavish gifts to come.
Like Hunter, she is accused of marketing her ability to deliver access to her husband. In March 2020, she allegedly texted an Egyptian official that “anytime you need anything you have my number and we will make everything happen.”
There is of course a major difference between the Biden and Menendez cases: Menendez and his wife are being criminally charged for their alleged influence peddling.
The Justice Department has not only let the statute of limitations run out on the most serious tax charges against Hunter Biden, but it also has not charged the president’s son under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Despite charging figures like Paul Manafort for similar accusations, prosecutors have avoided charges in the Biden case that would put Hunter at the center of a corruption prosecution. Instead, they sought an embarrassing “sweetheart deal” that collapsed in court.
In the Menendez case, investigators left no stone unturned in tracing gifts and money. In the Biden case, a special agent with the IRS testified before Congress that the Bidens were tipped off on planned searches and an attempt to interview the president’s son.
As the Justice Department grinds Menendez into a fine powder, it is likely to draw more attention to the relatively light touch shown Hunter Biden. It is, as Menendez said on the Senate floor in 2019, the type of thing that keeps you up at night.
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Forget Ron DeSantis: Walt Disney has a much bigger problem
The company’s political woes are a sideshow to the one key issue Bob Iger has to solve.
Walt Disney has a massive, but solvable, problem.
The company's current skirmishes with Florida Gov. DeSantis get a lot of headlines, but they're not having a major impact on the company's bottom line.
DeSantis has made Walt Disney (DIS) - Get Free Report a target in what he calls his war on woke, an effort to win right-wing support as he tries to secure the Republican Party nomination for president.
That effort has generated plenty of press and multiple lawsuits tied to the governor's takeover of the former Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney's legislated self-governance operation. But it has not hurt revenue at the company's massive Florida theme-park complex.
Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger addressed the matter during the company's third-quarter-earnings call, without directly mentioning DeSantis.
"Walt Disney World is still performing well above precovid levels: 21% higher in revenue and 29% higher in operating income compared to fiscal 2019," he said.
And "following a number of recent changes we've implemented, we continue to see positive guest-experience ratings in our theme parks, including Walt Disney World, and positive indicators for guests looking to book future visits."
The theme parks are not Disney's problem. The death of the movie business is, however, a hurdle that Iger has yet to show that the company has a plan to clear.
Disney needs a plan to monetize content
In 2019 Walt Disney drew in more $11 billion in global box office, or $13 billion when you add in the former Fox properties it also owns. In that year seven Mouse House films crossed the billion-dollar threshold in theaters, according to data from Box Office Mojo.
This year, the company will struggle to reach half that and it has no billion-dollar films, with "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" closing its theatrical run at $845 million globally.
(That's actually good for third place this year, as only "Barbie" and "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" have broken the billion-dollar mark and they may be the only two films to do that this year.)
In the precovid world Disney could release two Pixar movies, three Marvel films, a live-action remake of an animated classic, and maybe one other film that each would be nearly guaranteed to earn $1 billion at the box office.
That's simply not how the movie business works anymore. While theaters may remain part of Disney's plan to monetize its content, the past isn't coming back. Theaters may remain a piece of the movie-release puzzle, but 2023 isn't an anomaly or a bad release schedule.
Consumers have big TVs at home and they're more than happy to watch most films on them.
Disney owns the IP but charges too little
People aren't less interested in Marvel and Star Wars; they're just getting their fix from Disney+ at an absurdly low price.
Over the past couple of months through the next few weeks, I will have watched about seven hours of premium Star Wars content and five hours of top-tier Marvel content with "Ahsoka" and "Loki" respectively.
Before the covid pandemic, I gladly would have paid theater prices for each movie in those respective universes. Now, I have consumed about six movies worth of premium content for less than the price of two movie tickets.
By making its premium content television shows available on a service that people can buy for $7.99 a month Disney has devalued its most valuable asset, its intellectual property.
Consumers have shown that they will pay the $10 to $15 cost of a movie ticket to see what happens next in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Star Wars galaxy. But the company has offered top-tier content from those franchises at a lower price.
Iger needs to find a way to replace billions of dollars in lost box office, but charging less for the company's content makes no sense.
Now, some fans likely won't pay triple the price for Disney+. But if it were to bundle a direct-to-consumer ESPN along with content that currently gets released to movie theaters, Disney might create a package that it can price in a way that reflects the value of its IP.
Consumers want Disney's content and they will likely pay more for it. Iger simply has to find a way to make that happen.
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