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A single line of a text message from James Biden to Hunter Biden that read, "I can work with you(r) father alone," does not prove President Joe Biden was "in business" with his son.
An investigators’ summary of the text message exchange shows that James Biden’s message was about family matters such as alimony and tuition, not business.
A text message emerged as a central point of contention during House Republicans’ first impeachment inquiry hearing into President Joe Biden, with members of Congress arguing about its authenticity and context.
During a Sept. 28 segment of Fox News’ "The Five," host Jesse Watters seized on the moment from the hearing held earlier that day. He quoted just one line from a December 2018 text message exchange between James Biden, the president’s brother, and Hunter Biden, the president’s son. It said, "I can work with you(r) father alone."
Watters said the line from the message shows that Joe Biden was "in business" with Hunter Biden. Republican lawmakers have been working to build a case that the president was involved in his son’s business deals.
"So there goes the, ‘I was never in business with my son,’" Watters said, referring to the White House’s response to those claims. "Because not only were you in business with your son, you were in business with your brother."
But Watters misleads by citing only a single line from the text exchange. An investigators’ longer summary of the message exchange that was included in an IRS whistleblower’s affidavit shows James Biden’s message to Hunter Biden was about personal financial matters, not business.
We contacted Fox News for comment, but received no reply.
Here’s how the discussion of the text message at the impeachment hearing unfolded.
During the Sept. 28 impeachment inquiry hearing, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., displayed an image that looked like an iPhone screenshot.
Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., showed this image during the Sept. 28, 2023, impeachment inquiry hearing. (Screenshot from C-SPAN)
"Hunter Biden was in a bad way, by the way," Donalds said, introducing the message. "He was really strung out. He lost a bunch of money. He needed help."
Later in the hearing, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said the image had been "fabricated" and was "not the actual, direct screenshot from that phone." She asked to share what she called the "full context" of the message exchange.
"What was brought out from that fabricated image excluded critical context that changed the underlying meaning," Ocasio-Cortez said, holding up a printed document that was a portion of the source material for the message Donalds had displayed.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., shows a printed document with part of Exhibit 402 from an Aug. 2, 2023, IRS whistleblower affidavit. (AP)
The text message exchange is from Exhibit 402 in an Aug. 2 affidavit submitted by Joseph Ziegler, an IRS whistleblower who was part of the agency’s criminal investigation into Hunter Biden. Ziegler described the exhibit as "a summary of WhatsApp messages" that he and the investigative team had drafted using "relevant messages from the various Electronic Search Warrant(s)."
Read in full, Exhibit 402 provides additional context for the messages between James Biden and Hunter Biden. Ellipses show that some information, deemed irrelevant by investigators, was left out. The exhibit detailed messages between James Biden, referred to as James B., and Hunter Biden, who is sometimes referred to as SM in investigation documents.
The investigators’ summary of the message exchange is below, copied exactly as it appeared in the affidavit exhibit, including typos. We put in bold the section that was highlighted by both Watters and Donalds:
SM says, "I can work when I’m in NYC all day every day for the next 3 months from 8-12z But I can’t pay alimony w/o Dad or tuitions or for food and gas. Really it’s all gone. I can go make it up in 15/20 days I’m sure, but he’s basically made it clear that he’s not paying alimony b/c Mom made clear that she won’t do it. Hallie wont allow me to be at the house or lend me or pay me back any money. Ashley moves into momoms house after I told dad that I would move in there. (...) That night I tell dad I want to probably stay in the area and specifically I wanted to live by you and teach my course at Penn and maybe develop another one (...)"
in which James B. responds, "This can work, you need a safe harbor. I can work with you father alone !! We as usual just need several months of his help for this to work. Let’s talk about it. It makes perfect sense to me. This is difficult to fully vet without talking. Will you please call me on w/A. We can develope a plan together. It can work. I’m going to try to call yo again please Ans. I can and I will. Crisis with Caroline , same problem with "P", and NY Post. Dealing with it as we speak. She is O K , I believe I have it under control !? I get back to you ASAP."
The summarized exchange shows that James Biden offered to work with Joe Biden to help Hunter cover alimony payments, tuition and the cost of food and gasoline. James Biden’s message is about Hunter’s personal financial matters, not about business deals.
After House Republicans released IRS whistleblower documents — including Exhibit 402 — on Sept. 27, White House spokesperson Ian Sams said on X, formerly Twitter, that the documents were "another total bust" and showed "zero evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden."
House Republicans in recent months have released financial records that show an intricate web of foreign payments made to Biden family business associates and at least three Biden family members, including Hunter Biden and James Biden. Those records have not provided evidence that foreign payments went to President Joe Biden or that the president committed wrongdoing.
Watters said James Biden’s text message to Hunter Biden that says, "I can work with you(r) father alone," shows that Joe Biden was "in business" with Hunter Biden.
But Watters took out of context a single sentence from a longer text exchange. An investigators’ longer summary of the message exchange shows James Biden offered to work with Joe Biden to help Hunter cover alimony payments, tuition and the cost of food and gasoline. The message was not about business deals.
We rate this claim False.
PolitiFact Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
House Committee on Ways and Means, Meeting on Documents Protected Under Internal Revenue Code Section 6103, Sept. 27, 2023
House Committee on Ways and Means, Whistleblower Disclosure Pursuant Supplemental Production of Records / Affidavit #1 – August 2, 2023 To 26 U.S.C. § 6103(f)(5) Statement Of Joseph Ziegler (Whistleblower X), Aug. 2, 2023
House Committee on Ways and Means, Joseph Ziegler (Whistleblower X) Affidavit #1 Exhibit 402 - Example of a WhatsApp Message between Hunter Biden and James Biden, Aug. 2, 2023
PolitiFact, Ramaswamy’s GOP debate rivals tied his business to China, Hunter Biden. What’s behind the attacks? Oct. 2, 2023
PolitiFact, Hunter Biden’s criminal case: What IRS whistleblowers said about Joe Biden, DOJ, June 27, 2023
C-SPAN, First Hearing on Biden Impeachment Inquiry, Part 1, Sept. 28, 2023
Fox News, IRS whistleblower notes memorialize DOJ's alleged rejection of special prosecutor in Hunter Biden case, Sept. 13, 2023
New York Post, Federal investigators explored charging Hunter Biden for sex trafficking crimes, Sept. 29, 2023
Internet Archive, The Five FOX News September 28, 2023 9:00pm-10:00pm PDT, accessed Oct. 5, 2023
USA Today, Biden: I never talked to son Hunter about overseas business dealings, Sept. 21, 2019
The Wall Street Journal, Hunter Biden’s Ex-Business Partner Alleges Father Knew About Venture, Oct. 23, 2020
The New York Times, Biden Spoke With Son’s Associates, but Not About Business, Former Partner Says, July 31, 2023
The New York Times, Joe Biden Announces 2020 Run for President, After Months of Hesitation, April 25, 2019
PolitiFact, Hunter Biden investigation: What's a special counsel, and why did Merrick Garland appoint one? Aug. 11, 2023
C-SPAN, House Ways and Means Committee Chair News Conference on IRS Whistleblowers Evidence, Sept. 27, 2023
White House spokesperson Ian Sams post on X, Sept. 27, 2023
The Washington Post, Backroom battles between IRS agents, prosecutors in Hunter Biden tax case, Oct. 3, 2023
Gary Shapley, Testimony to the House Committee on Ways and Means, May 26, 2023
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