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UPenn think tank under further scrutiny regarding possible Chinese influence

GOP-led congressional committee intends to investigate matter

President Joe Biden’s think tank, the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement funded by the University of Pennsylvania, remains under intense scrutiny in the wake of revelations that Biden stored a batch of classified documents there.

Critics have raised questions about the president’s former D.C.-based center, of which little is known. These concerns have led to Congressional House inquiries on the center’s funding and who exactly had access to the building.

In an ongoing investigation of the documents, House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) sent a letter Jan. 18 to University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill requesting all materials “related to foreign influence at UPenn and the Penn Biden Center.”

“The Committee is concerned about who had access to these documents given the Biden family’s financial connections to foreign actors and companies,” Comer wrote, specifically referring to China.

The letter claimed “UPenn received tens of millions of dollars from anonymous Chinese sources” and that following the Penn Biden Center’s founding in February 2018, the university’s Chinese donations “more than tripled.”

Apart from the university’s donation data, the letter also requested a list of persons with keycard access to the Penn Biden Center and a visitor log of all who met with Biden at the center.

Asked to weigh in on the significance of the inquiry, Peter Roff, a media fellow at the Transatlantic Leadership Network, said that “Mr. Comer’s letter raises some important questions that should have been answered candidly and long ago.”

“We know from the fundraising history of groups like the Clinton Global Initiative – and now the Biden Center – that foreign powers make donations with what can be inferred is the intention to influence policy outcomes,” Roff said, noting “this is a separate issue from the potential mishandling of classified documents” that he believes Congress should investigate.

Additionally, Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who once served as the chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told the Washington Examiner that Congress should further question former UPenn President Amy Gutmann about China’s involvement in the university, and possibly the center, under her tenure.

“This is a center set up by a university president who raised tens of millions [of dollars] from the Chinese,” Painter said. “I don’t think that [Biden] willingly turned over classified information to the Chinese, but I’d be a little surprised if Chinese agents didn’t get into that place.”

Gutmann previously testified about the university’s funding during her Senate confirmation hearing to become the U.S. ambassador to Germany in 2022.

“The University of Pennsylvania has stood strong against accepting any gifts that would threaten academic freedom or threaten national security,” she said at the hearing.

Gutmann (pictured) was one of 10 UPenn employees to become Biden administration officials.

The others included U.S. ambassador to Canada David Cohen, former chair of UPenn’s board of trustees, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, former managing director of the Penn Biden Center, Comer’s letter stated.

“The American people deserve to know whether the Chinese Communist Party, through Chinese companies, influenced potential Biden Administration policies with large, anonymous donations to UPenn and the Penn Biden Center,” Comer said.

This isn’t the first time the Republican congressman requested UPenn records.

Comer, along with Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), penned a letter in January 2021 asking for “financial and communications records” to “better understand the scope of potential foreign influence at the University of Pennsylvania’s Biden Center.”

UPenn did not respond to The Fix’s request for comment.

In addition to the Oversight and Accountability Committee’s investigation of the academic institution and its branch office, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jordan said recently his congressional panel is looking into the Justice Department’s actions relating to the mishandling of the sensitive files, according to The Hill. 

MORE: Penn president set for high-profile ambassador gig after paying Biden $900K for vaguely defined professor post

MORE: Another Penn VIP gifted with ambassador nod from Biden, who raked in $900K from university

IMAGE: Numena Studios / Shutterstock

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About the Author
David Zimmermann -- Grove City College