In This Episode
- The House Ethics Committee is officially investigating New York Rep. George Santos over whether he broke campaign finance laws. He’s also facing scrutiny over allegations of sexual misconduct from a prospective staffer.
- Lawmakers are sounding the alarm over TikTok, with some members of Congress calling for a total ban of the video-sharing app in the U.S. TikTok has been under scrutiny for its data privacy practices, and because its parent company is based in China.
- And in headlines: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a controversial bill prohibiting drag performances into law, Finland’s Parliament gave final approval for the country to join NATO, and a reported battery fire forced a Spirit Airlines flight to make an emergency landing in Florida.
- Washington Post: “Is TikTok really giving your data to China?” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/02/03/tiktok-delete-advice/
- What A Day – YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/@whatadaypodcast
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For a transcript of this episode, please visit crooked.com/whataday
Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday, March 3rd. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi. And this is What A Day where, unlike anyone who’s seen the clip going around from HBO’s The Idol, we are actually looking forward to the weekend.
Tre’vell Anderson: The TV show does not look very good, but Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Unproblematic icons.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, terrified of The Weeknd the man, but uh weekend as a concept? Big fan.
Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. [music break] On today’s show, Tennessee officially became the first state in the country to restrict drag performances. Plus, Bernie Sanders is raising the stakes to roast the CEO of Starbucks on Capitol Hill.
Priyanka Aribindi: But first, yesterday, the House Ethics Committee announced that they are officially investigating everyone’s favorite volleyball star, finance bro, and Jew-ish Congressman George Santos. We knew this was coming. Some of us are actually surprised that it took this long. But now this investigation is official and his office says he is fully cooperating. The Ethics Committee voted unanimously to set up an investigative subcommittee. It’s made up, of course, of four of the Democratic and Republican colleagues that Santos has to face every single day that he goes into work. I can’t imagine anything more humiliating, but I don’t think George Santos has a shred of shame. So maybe he does not feel the same way.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, this man has pretty much lied about his entire life story since we’ve known him on the national stage, he’s been a punch line for what feels like way too long. But can you tell us more about the specific focus of this investigation? They could be investigating him for a number of things at this point.
Priyanka Aribindi: Oh, they can. And they are. Santos is facing multiple state, local, and federal investigations at this time. But what they’re digging into with this one is whether he broke campaign finance laws during his 2022 congressional run, as well as the alleged sexual misconduct claims that are coming from someone who wanted to work in Santos’s congressional office. So part one of that is the campaign finance laws. The focus here is on whether he broke these by concealing his funding sources and using donor money to do things like pay his rent, for example. This has been out there for a while now. So late last year, CNN reported that federal prosecutors in New York were looking into the $700,000 in loans that Santos made to his own campaign. He claims that he got that money legally, but just two years earlier, he was making $55,000 a year. He had no assets on record. So people want to know where exactly all this money came from.
Tre’vell Anderson: Right.
Priyanka Aribindi: There was also a very suspicious trend on his campaign reports. Election law requires every expense over $200 to be properly documented. But according to a watchdog group, Santos’s reports included 40 expenses that were right under 200. 37 of them were actually 199.99, and several were at the same Italian restaurant. So definitely some shady shit going on over there. The sexual misconduct claim, on the other hand, comes from someone who wanted to work for Santos’s congressional office. But he claimed that Santos made an unwanted sexual advance towards him and that his job offer was withdrawn after he turned Santos down.
Tre’vell Anderson: What I find interesting is that he did not think that 199.99 was too on the nose.
Priyanka Aribindi: Was going to raise some eyebrows.
Tre’vell Anderson: You know. Like this is not a Black Friday sale.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Tre’vell Anderson: Okay. So what could come of all of this?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So the subcommittee could recommend further action by Congress, including his expulsion. I mean, a bunch of people in Congress, even other New York state Republicans, as well as people in his district, have already called on Santos to resign. A two thirds vote is needed for any member of Congress to be expelled. It’s happened before, but usually people who are, you know, facing scandals with any amount of shame resign before it gets to that point. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who is basically powerless in his caucus, cannot afford to lose a single vote, said that Santos should be removed if the ethics panel finds wrongdoing. So let us please remember that, store that in your back pocket. Hold him to that, because I doubt George Santos is coming out of this investigation squeaky clean. That does not seem to be the direction this is going in.
Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely not. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and there is a lot of smoke over here.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it’s a fucking wildfire.
Tre’vell Anderson: So we will stay tuned to that. All right. So I wanted to revisit a headline we mentioned earlier in the week about the social media platform, TikTok.
Priyanka Aribindi: Okay.
Tre’vell Anderson: So we shared that federal agencies were told by the White House this week that they have 30 days to remove the app from all government owned devices. This directive from the Biden administration came after the House of Representatives banned TikTok back in December on all of their devices. And it’s all because of growing national security concerns regarding TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance, which is based in China. The new news here as of this week is that the GOP has since basically forced through a new bill in the House that could lead to a ban on the app for the entire country.
Priyanka Aribindi: Okay, I’m going to need you to back up there because that sounds very extreme. I feel like I know a bunch of people who are not going to be okay with that. [laughter] What exactly is the big national security concern here?
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. So as I mentioned, TikTok’s parent company is based in China. Because of that, officials believe the company could potentially give the Chinese government access to our user data. National security experts also fear that Beijing could use the app to spread misinformation and disinformation or otherwise manipulate the algorithms who control what users in the U.S. see. And I know this might sound kind of, you know, tinfoil hat conspiracy theory-esque, but keep in mind here that, you know, the U.S. just shot down a spy balloon from China a couple weeks ago. So we know they’ve been minding our business and that we know at length at this point about how social media can and has been used by various bad actors to influence and sway what we got going over here in our neck of the woods socio politically.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right.
Tre’vell Anderson: Earlier this month, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the Chinese government requires companies doing business there to basically turn over the keys to their data, adding later that, quote, “The data obtained today could be used in new and frightening ways tomorrow.” She went on to say, quote, “I don’t use TikTok and I would not advise anybody to do so.”
Priyanka Aribindi: A little too late for that. Sorry. [laughter[
Tre’vell Anderson: It is very late for that uh for a lot of folks. But mind you, you know, more than half of the states here in the U.S. have already restricted the use of TikTok on state phones and other devices, as has Canada and a number of top European Union institutions. So the concern, it’s not just a U.S. thing. It’s fairly widespread at this point.
Priyanka Aribindi: Got it. Okay. And definitely doesn’t seem crazy to me to want this for government devices.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yes.
Priyanka Aribindi: That makes a lot of sense. And we know that U.S. China relations are strained, to say the very least. Has China had anything to say about all of these bans?
Tre’vell Anderson: Well, China, as you might expect, is pushing back on the allegation. You know, they push back on most allegations, including the one [laughter] from the spy balloon.
Priyanka Aribindi: Ah.
Tre’vell Anderson: But you know, we’ll leave that to the side. So their foreign ministry spokesperson said, quote, “We firmly oppose the wrong practice of the United States who generalize the concept of national security, abuse state power, and unreasonably suppress firms from other countries.” Now, we, the U.S., will get a chance to hear directly from TikTok’s CEO. They’re set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee later this month about the platform’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party, its consumer privacy and data security practices, and its impact on young people. But like I mentioned, the GOP in the House isn’t really waiting for that. Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee forced through a bill Wednesday that could effectively ban TikTok from all mobile devices in the U.S. despite united opposition from Democrats. The legislation would grant the president new authorities to ban foreign owned apps and would require sanctions on companies with ties to TikTok or other Chinese owned apps. By the way, in case you’re wondering, the U.S. has more than 100 million monthly active users on the app. You and I are among that 100 million.
Priyanka Aribindi: Oh, yes.
Tre’vell Anderson: And I’ll note that Trump tried to ban TikTok back in 2020 unsuccessfully.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, okay. This feels like a real divide that people should be made aware of. Democrats want you to be able to watch fun videos on your phone. Republicans want to steal [laughing] that from you but okay, to the real heart of the matter. I think something on everybody’s mind. Does this mean that we have to delete TikTok? What do we do?
Tre’vell Anderson: So that’s going to be up to you, up to the individual to decide. What we know is that TikTok is not, for example, collecting as much data from us as companies like Facebook or Google. It’s still a lot, to be clear, but not as much as Facebook or Google.
Priyanka Aribindi: Got it.
Tre’vell Anderson: And since last summer, the company has routed all U.S. data to cloud services run by Oracle, one of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley. So theoretically, I guess there’s supposed to be some distance between the parent company’s ability to access the data. If the Chinese government were to force them to do so, is what we’re supposed to believe from all of this. But again, it’s not clear if the parent company, if prompted by the Chinese government, could or would pass on any data they may have or, for example, push out info on the platform to U.S. users that the Chinese government might want them to do. There is this great Washington Post story that we’ll link to in the show notes that can help folks decide if they should delete the app or not. But for the average person, your individual risk for the data we know TikTok is collecting is fairly low. It is not likely that Chinese officials are interested in minding your business out there. But if you’re a government worker, a Chinese citizen overseas, or some other high profile person, even some journalists.
Priyanka Aribindi: Uh oh.
Tre’vell Anderson: There you go. Then maybe the potential of your data getting into Chinese government hands is something to be concerned about. Of course, though. We’re all always being tracked by so many companies, choose any major company and they probably got some data about you that you didn’t know that you agreed to give them. And so in some senses, as The Washington Post article says, deleting TikTok alone is like putting your pinky finger in a very large leak.
Priyanka Aribindi: Hmm. Okay. I’m going to have to weigh uh my desire to uh be thought of as a high profile person [laughter] with my desire to not delete TikTok. But you’ve given us a lot to think about. Thank you very much for that, Tre’vell.
Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. That’s what I’m here for. That was the latest for now. [music break] Let’s get to some headlines.
Priyanka Aribindi: A jury in South Carolina yesterday found Alex Murdaugh guilty of murdering his wife and son in 2021. Murdaugh, who comes from a prominent family of lawyers, was accused of carrying out the fatal shootings as a distraction from his own financial crimes. Over the course of a six week trial, Murdaugh admitted on the stand that he lied to investigators and even cheated his own clients, but denied any involvement with the murders. He’ll be sentenced later today. He faces at least 30 years behind bars, though state prosecutors have said that they will seek a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Tre’vell Anderson: I need everyone in my home state to stop carrying on, because every time we do a headline about South Carolina, it’s somebody in some foolishness. I don’t like it.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Please quit it, everybody.
Tre’vell Anderson: Cut it out. As expected, Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Lee, signed a bill into law that restricts drag performances. As we told you on Tuesday’s episode, this gives the volunteer state the infamous distinction of being the first state to enact such a law which goes into effect April 1st. Governor Lee also signed a separate bill that completely bans gender affirming care for trans youth and penalizes doctors for providing those medical services. That law takes effect this summer, and anyone under 18 taking medication as part of their transition will have to stop taking it by next March. The ACLU and other civil rights organizations have vowed to sue the state over the health care restrictions.
Priyanka Aribindi: I hope their suit is successful because this is–
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah.
Priyanka Aribindi: –all very scary. Iran’s president has ordered an investigation into what some fear is a wave of deliberate attacks against young female students. Since November, hundreds of girls have fallen ill at schools around the country after they reported smelling gas. It’s not clear if all the incidents are connected, but senior officials in Iran believe that the affected students were intentionally poisoned. At least one official said that it may be an orchestrated effort to shut down girls education, and that has already rattled many Iranians because women’s education hasn’t been challenged since the Islamic Republic was established in 1979. Activists also fear that it may be retaliation over the recent anti-government protests that swept through the country last year, which were led by women and girls. This is so scary.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. Finland is another step closer to joining NATO, but it may have to enter the alliance without one of its close Nordic neighbors. On Wednesday, the Finnish parliament overwhelmingly approved the country’s bid. But it’s now up to lawmakers in Hungary and Turkey to give their blessing. 28 other NATO countries have already approved Finland’s entry, but membership requires the approval of all 30 countries within the alliance. Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden had pledged to join NATO together. Since both countries are uncomfortably close to Russia, but there’s been a hold up for Sweden’s bid. Turkey isn’t happy with Sweden because it won’t extradite over 100 Kurdish exiles who face terrorism charges. Hungary is expected to weigh in later this month, though its prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has taken issue with Sweden and Finland because the governments of both countries have called him out for setting up an authoritarian regime. Oops.
Priyanka Aribindi: Big oops.
Tre’vell Anderson: A real big one.
Priyanka Aribindi: Prepared to get roasted Starbucks. There is a labor movement, a brewing. A National Labor Relations Board judge ruled this week that coffee empire Starbucks displayed, quote, “egregious and widespread misconduct against its employees trying to unionize in Buffalo, New York.” The company was ordered to reinstate a number of workers who were let go at 21 stores in that area and post a notice in its locations across the country, reiterating their workers rights to form a union along with a detailed list of union busting tactics that the company must refrain from doing. Interim CEO and failed presidential candidate Howard Schultz, who has been a vocal critic of the unionization effort, recently turned down a request from Senator Bernie Sanders to answer to a Senate committee that oversees labor issues. But Schultz may need to get ready to feel the burn because Sanders moved to subpoena him to legally compel him to appear before lawmakers anyways. It feels like those invitations are really more of a formality, like not something you could say no to. The committee will vote on the subpoena next Wednesday.
Tre’vell Anderson: In life, three things are certain. Death, taxes, and total chaos for the bargain seeking passengers of America’s thriftiest airline. A Spirit Airlines flight from Dallas to Orlando was grounded in Jacksonville, Florida, Wednesday after a battery in a passenger’s luggage spontaneously combusted, causing a fire in the overhead bin. Luckily, among the passengers who booked the flight thinking, why not. I’ll pay less what’s the worst that could happen, was a retired fireman who, with the assistance of the on flight crew sourced water and a bucket, All told, the small fire took 20 minutes to completely extinguish.
Priyanka Aribindi: That’s kind of a long time.
Tre’vell Anderson: 20 minutes is a very long time for a quote unquote, “small fire”.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah what?
Tre’vell Anderson: But I wasn’t there. So what do I know? Also, probably putting water on a fire from a battery is not a good idea. But I don’t know.
Priyanka Aribindi: This is fire safety you know, and I don’t. [laughter]
Tre’vell Anderson: Where is Smokey the Bear when you need him? Okay. [laugh] Once the plane landed safely in Jacksonville, the airline arranged ground transportation to take them the rest of the way to Orlando and issued refunds and vouchers for the diverted flight. As the old saying goes, Spirit Airlines, why not roll the dice again?
Priyanka Aribindi: What a crazy thing to do. You guys just experienced a fucking fire on our plane. But here, try us again. I’m sure you’ll love it. [laughter] Like what? Just give them their money back. [laughter]
Tre’vell Anderson: And those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]
Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday, WAD squad. And today we’re bringing back our segment, rent free. Here to join us today is Crooked associate editor Julia Claire. Welcome back.
Julia Claire: Hi. Thanks for having me again.
Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. So, Julia, it’s been another busy news week with a whole lot of foolishness out there. But what’s the one headline that’s been living rent free in your brain this week?
Julia Claire: Well, you know, there’s been so much as you said, there’s been so many really lofty, important news stories. But what I think we all can agree that the most important news story of the week is that the president and the first lady ordered the same dish at a restaurant and it has broken the damn Internet.
Priyanka Aribindi: Pasta gate. We got to know, what’s your take on this? Like, do you think they are crazy or do you think this is something that flies?
Julia Claire: Here’s the thing. It’s tearing the Internet apart. People are saying, oh, this is like a sociopathic thing to do. No, it’s not. It’s an old person thing to do. My man is 80. My man is 80 years old. God bless him. He’s only got a few thousand more meals left in him. [laughter]
Priyanka Aribindi: No.
Julia Claire: He wants to order what he wants to order. Okay, I say this from a position of authority because I for many years waited tables at a restaurant where the median age of the clientele was soft 75. We had an early bird special, and once people of a certain age find a dish that they like, they’re not deviating. They say this is my dish.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s theres forever.
Julia Claire: They say, I come to this restaurant and I order this dish and my life is great and I’m unburdened by student loan debt.
Tre’vell Anderson: Well, can we note that like the dish in question, right? It’s this sausage rigatoni moment, right?
Priyanka Aribindi: Sounds pretty yummy.
Tre’vell Anderson: Which sounds delicious.
Priyanka Aribindi: I kind of understand being like, I want enough to have as this meal like, I don’t want to share so, like, let’s just get our own.
Julia Claire: Yeah.
Priyanka Aribindi: I kind of get it.
Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely.
Julia Claire: I think it’s the mark of a very healthy, egalitarian relationship. I’ll say that, because everyone’s saying, [laughter] oh, you know, you order two different entrees and then you share. And you know what, Joe and Dr. Jill, they say, No, [laughter] I’m pushing back against convention.
Priyanka Aribindi: They’re not getting bullied into getting the shittier dish. Everyone’s happy.
Julia Claire: No.
Priyanka Aribindi: They’re excited.
Julia Claire: They both love–
Tre’vell Anderson: Right.
Julia Claire: –their sausage pasta dish. Let the president and the first lady eat their delicious red hen pasta dish.
Tre’vell Anderson: [laugh] I also read somewhere that this dish is like the restaurant’s specialty. It’s like their signature.
Julia Claire: Yeah.
Tre’vell Anderson: Why would you not want to get the signature dish?
Julia Claire: Again. My man is 80. Nothing but the best for [laughter] 80 year old Joe Biden.
Priyanka Aribindi: I think the three of us should go and all order the pasta individually–
Julia Claire: Yes.
Priyanka Aribindi: –just to see like if it was worth [laughing] the hype. If that was the right decision for our dinner.
Julia Claire: A Crooked Media investigative report.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Julia Claire: At the Red Hen. We’re going to bust this case wide open. [laughter]
Priyanka Aribindi: I’m into it, Julia. Let’s do it. That was Crooked associate editor Julia Claire. She works tirelessly through this news cycle to bring you What A Day’s nightly newsletter, which, if you haven’t already, you can subscribe to at Crooked.com/subscribe. Julia, thank you so much for being here. We love having you. This is great.
Julia Claire: Thank you guys so much and I’ll see you next time there’s a hard piece of hitting news.
Priyanka Aribindi: Totally.
Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. [laughter] [music break] That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, tip your barista and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading and not just the Spirit Airlines flammable bag policy like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
[spoken together] And just buy coffee somewhere else.
Priyanka Aribindi: Listen, it’s everywhere. It’s not hard to find.
Tre’vell Anderson: Literally, on every other corner, you can find a nice little independent cafe perhaps to get your coffee from.
Priyanka Aribindi: You’ll be okay. You’ll be okay.
Tre’vell Anderson: Support small businesses.
Priyanka Aribindi: Agreed. [music break] What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jocey Coffman and our executive producers are Lita Martinez, Michael Martinez, and Sandy Girard. Production support comes from Leo Duran, Ari Schwartz, and Matt DeGroot with additional promotional and social support from Ewa Okulate, Julia Beach and Jordan Silver. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.