The vitriolic exchanges between partisans regarding charges against the past president and family of the current president are obscuring scrutiny of another ethical question important to our national security.
According to reports, the U.S. and Germany have given a combined $127 billion to Ukraine during the war, while the Chinese coordinate with Russia. And yet, the Chinese gave $100 million to the University of Pennsylvania under the watch of the current U.S. ambassador to Germany. Confusing?
Yes, and it demands the current U.S. ambassador to Germany, Amy Gutmann, the former president of the University of Pennsylvania and founder of the Penn Biden Center where classified documents were found in January 2023, answer some questions from Congress.
It has been revealed that Penn used the Penn Biden Center for schmoozing with donors during the Biden 2020 presidential run throughout 2019 and 2020. Meetings also were confirmed to have taken place there with future members of Biden’s “kitchen cabinet,” including Antony Blinken.
A colossal problem surrounding the Penn Biden Center that has been largely brushed off is the audio of Ambassador Gutmann’s Senate confirmation hearing where she said she had no knowledge of Chinese money flowing into the university.
However, according to congressional testimony from Paul Moore, former head investigative counsel for the Department of Education during the Trump administration, there is a tape recording of the Penn Biden Center being discussed in an event in China coinciding with a massive influx of money being donated to the university while Gutmann was university president.
This claim goes against what the university said in the past, that “The Penn Biden Center has never solicited or received any gifts from any Chinese or other foreign entity.”
The Chinese money – apparently close to $100 million – was given to the university itself, but the Penn Biden Center’s name apparently was dropped all over the place in order to raise it.
How many of those donors actually visited the Penn Biden Center, and perhaps got a chance to see the president’s rarely used office, we won’t know without visitor logs that Penn may or may not provide to Congress. We also don’t know who might have looked in the locked closet where Biden’s classified unauthorized documents were stashed for almost six years.
The Chinese government of course knows about this money donated to Penn and where it came from. They also know whether Ambassador Gutmann was forthcoming with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about it during her 2021 confirmation hearing.
The $100 million question is, if Amy Gutmann is compromised by China with her denials and not being forthcoming about soliciting Chinese donations to Penn while she was visiting China during her tenure as Penn’s president, Is there a security risk that needs to be immediately addressed?
A major aspect of this problem is Gutmann’s current role in Germany as U.S. ambassador as Germany itself is central to military intelligence about Ukraine’s defensive war against Russia and U.S. aide to Ukraine. China, however, is coordinating with Russia.
Ambassador Gutmann should be brought back to Washington to testify before the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, as well as the Senate, about her past dealings with China. Members of Congress should do their job on this instead of simply pressuring current Penn President Liz Magill to answer questions about what happened at the school while Gutmann was at the helm. Gutmann is the U.S. ambassador, and the potential security risk.
Elite universities constantly argue that they are private and it’s none of the government’s business what they do, all while they take millions of dollars in federal subsidies and millions more from undisclosed foreign donors. These universities have been living off tax dollars for decades while amassing billion-dollar endowments. The least they can do is not pose a risk to our national security by being a gateway for foreign donors, and potentially also foreign intelligence officers, to get access to high level U.S. government officials.
The broader issue at work, however, is how Chinese money significantly influences universities throughout the U.S. The Justice Department had an investigation program into it, but Attorney General Merrick Garland closed the FBI’s so-called China initiative in February last year immediately after over 160 members of the University of Pennsylvania faculty and other universities signed an open letter calling for Garland to shut down the program.
These opponents of DOJ‘s China initiative used arguments against racial profiling as the excuse to nix the investigation. The faculty letter was part of a larger university battle against the program that included Penn, Harvard and the University of Minnesota.
The DOJ’s website lists a string of real criminal cases that the China initiative had brought against academics over a four-year span who were caught dealing with China on espionage charges or not disclosing foreign donations and other financial ties they were required to disclose. The DOJ should be capable of avoiding racial profiling and enforcing laws vital to our national security at the same time.
Even though Gutmann at her 2021 confirmation hearing acknowledged that Penn took some Chinese donations, she insisted it did not affect the university’s values. Guttmann also denied that Penn set up a Confucius Institute on campus linked to the Chinese government through funders.
The problem is that Confucius Institutes are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Chinese government influence in foreign universities. We still need to know what Ambassador Gutmann knew about the $100 million raised from China during the last few years of her Penn presidency and why she was unable to recall it in her Senate testimony.
It remains clear that our entire system of ethics in this country remains highly politicized. Democrats and Republicans focus on the other party while ignoring their own issues. The lesser of two evils strategy does not justify selective enforcement of our nation’s laws, and if we continue down this path of polarization, our nation could end up in dangerous waters.
Both the House Oversight Committee and Judiciary should be pursuing the truth, not partisan politics. For the good of our national security, Amy Gutmann must be called to testify about any possible ties to China, especially as she is serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany as the war in Ukraine continues.
John Pudner is president of Take Back our Republic Action.