On May 18, former Vice President Joe Biden and billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman were both attending a dinner at The SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference, a large investment conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. At some point, the two men had some exchange of words. On these facts, everyone agrees. But what exactly was said, and how angry Biden was, depends on who you ask.
The story was first reported by Charlie Gasparino for Fox Business, on June 23rd. Here’s their account of what went down:
…during a private VIP dinner that night the question of why Biden didn’t run for president in 2016 was raised once again, by former Florida governor and 2016 GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush, who asked Biden “why didn’t you run?”
Biden explained that part of the decision stemmed from the death of his son Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015. The room grew quiet as Biden became emotional, and said: “I’m sorry…I’ve said enough.”
That’s when Ackman blurted out “Why? That’s never stopped you before.”
Clearly a face-punchable offense.
According to this version of the story, Biden first ask the people near him, “Who is this asshole?” then turned to Ackman and said, “Look, I don’t know who you are, wiseass, but never disrespect the memory of my dead son!”
Fox said they reached out to Biden for comment and that a spokesperson “would not dispute the substance or the wording of the comments attributed to the former vice president”.
But soon different versions began to circulate. According to Page Six, Ackman’s comments had nothing to do with Biden’s son, but were a response to Biden’s comments on Donald Trump.
The witness told us that “Biden replied, ‘I am going to have to be careful what I say’ [referring to Trump],” and Ackman quipped, “After all these years, why start now?” Ackman was referring to Biden’s outspoken nature, we’re told.
According to a witness, towards the end of the dinner as tensions rose, Biden made a fist, held it up to Ackman’s face, and said, with forceful irony, “If I could, I’d punch you in the face.”
But even this exchange is in dispute. New York Magazine, in a piece titled “What Really Happened Between Joe Biden and Bill Ackman,” ran this version of the event, which quoted unnamed sources who were supposedly seated at the table.
Ackman was seated next to Biden, who was holding court at the start of the dinner. Biden was talking about Trump, saying, “The president has to be able to keep his word,” which he said Trump has not done. At that point 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan, seated across the table, challenged Biden. “The same could be said of the Obama administration,” Logan countered, using the red line in Syria as an example, according to several attendees. “You did nothing,” she said, according to these people.
“Biden was irritated,” says one person at the table, who said this exchange happened within five minutes of the beginning of the dinner, setting a tense tone that is unusual for these events. “It was very hostile, very in-his-face,” says another attendee. “It clearly unsettled him.”
Biden started talking about Syria and then maneuvered the conversation back to Trump. “At this point, I’m not going to say anything more,” Biden said.
That’s when Ackman chimed in.
Then Ackman said to Biden, “Why start doing that now?”—a reference to the vice-president’s well-known penchant for speaking his mind. One source at the table tells New York he heard it as an attempt to lighten the mood. Ackman confirms that this was his intent.
“Who’s this wiseass,” Biden then said. He turned to Ackman and added, “Do you want to take this outside?”
Ackman thought Biden was kidding, and others in attendance had the same impression.
The article goes on to say that Biden was asked about his decision to not run for President later in the evening, and at that time he did mention the death of his son, but that this was completely separate from the earlier conversation.
What all these wildly varying accounts have in common is that each one claims to have eyewitnesses who were in attendance on the night in question, but in every case, those witnesses chose to remain anonymous.
Thus far, Biden has yet to comment, but Ackman has stated that he has “enormous respect for Vice President Biden” and that “it is unfortunate that a totally false press report would suggest otherwise.”
For their part, Skybridge released a statement to New York Magazine calling the Fox version of the story “extremely inaccurate.”
Several senior employees of SkyBridge Capital and SALT Conference speakers—including leading business professionals, television personalities and investors – who were present at the dinner can verify that Mr. Gasparino’s account is extremely inaccurate. As such, for the first time in nine years, we feel it necessary to provide comment on the Salon Dinner.
While Vice President Biden was providing his commentary on Syria and the red line, the conversation suddenly shifted to the 2017 election and current administration, with Vice President Biden being asked to comment. The context of the conversation was the current political environment and administration; not, the untimely death of Beau Biden. In fact, that subject did not come up until later in the evening.
Again, given Mr. Gasparino’s inaccurate account and breach of confidentiality, we have felt it necessary to issue this statement. Note–we will have no further comment on this matter.
A full version od their statement can be found at the end of the New York Magazine article.
H/T Page Six