The Memo: Hunter Biden twist brings new problems for president-elect
News that Hunter Biden is facing a Justice Department investigation into his finances has breathed fresh life into a story that seemed to be fading in the waning days of the presidential campaign.
It also presents new political challenges for his father, President-elect Joe Biden.
Some Republicans are already calling for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the matter. It seems unlikely, for now, that Joe Biden will accede to that request anytime soon after his Jan. 20 inauguration. But the controversy does, at the least, give conservatives a cause around which to rally from Day One of the Biden presidency.
It emerged on Wednesday that the younger Biden’s tax affairs have been under investigation since 2018. In a statement, he said he had learned of the probe the previous day. He insisted he was “confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisers.”
A statement released at the same time from the president-elect’s transition team said that Joe Biden was “deeply proud of his son, who has fought through difficult challenges” — an apparent reference to Hunter Biden’s struggles with addiction.
It is hard to gauge the exact importance of the news given how little is known about its specifics, or how much compelling evidence has been found over the past two years.
The New York Times reported that suspicions of money laundering had fueled the probe’s early stages but that this line of inquiry had “failed to gain traction” because of a lack of evidence.
The whole matter will undoubtedly be seen through a partisan lens, given President Trump’s insistence, especially in the run-up to the election, of wrongdoing on Hunter Biden’s part.
Another piece of context is the complicated tale of a laptop that the president-elect’s son apparently left at a Delaware repair shop — only for the store’s owner to ultimately pass a copy of the external hard drive to Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
The New York Post published stories based around the laptop’s contents, but the matter never really gained the race-changing attention the Trump campaign desired. Democrats cast aspersions on the laptop story, though the Biden campaign has not denied that the documents found were real.
Still, a cloud that the president-elect hoped might have been beginning to lift is once again hovering over him and his family.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Thursday called for the appointment of a special counsel.
“If Joe Biden becomes president then all of those prosecutors are in line to be fired next month. If there were ever circumstances that created a conflict of interest and called for a special counsel, I think those circumstances are present here,” Cotton said during an interview with Fox News Channel.
Cotton also alleged that the Biden family had been “trading on Joe Biden’s public office for 50 years” — the kind of allegation that is adamantly denied by the president-elect.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has also suggested that a special counsel might be appropriate.
Harry Litman, a former deputy assistant attorney general, said the investigation into Hunter Biden appears “broad and potentially quite serious” from the limited information now available.
He argued that the chief problem for the president-elect, once he is inaugurated, is that the issue is likely to be used as a handy weapon “for people in Congress to sort of beat him up.”
Mark Zaid, a D.C.-based attorney who specializes in national security and has represented clients from both parties, said some observers would have concerns that the Hunter Biden investigation is in itself “retaliation by the Trump administration.”
But, Zaid added, “presumably we will let the facts show what the facts are. I don’t have any concern that the Biden administration will interfere in any way with any Department of Justice investigation. I would imagine they will allow it to continue to reach whatever conclusion needs to be reached.”
Among conservatives, however, there is a very different view. Many argue that the mainstream media downplayed Hunter Biden’s troubles during the 2020 campaign. They will not be easily persuaded that Biden will give a free hand to an investigation of his son.
There are clearly legitimate questions about some of Biden’s son’s business dealings.
The New York Times on Wednesday noted earlier reporting that found Hunter Biden “was paid $50,000 a month or more to serve on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company owned by an oligarch who was widely seen as corrupt, advised a wealthy Romanian business executive facing corruption charges and invested in a private equity fund linked to the Chinese government.”
Hunter Biden has denied any wrongdoing, though he has acknowledged poor judgement in regard to his involvement with Burisma.
Even Democrats admit that the new details of an investigation will give conservatives — and conservative media — something fresh to rally around.
“We are going to see great activity … deriding Hunter Biden and Joe Biden, and accusing the family of the very same thing that Democrats have accused the Trumps of, which is financializing their offices at great cost to the nation,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf.
He also worried that if the matter is prolonged, the new president could face “tremendous pressure” from political opponents.
So far, the picture around Hunter Biden is anything but clear. But it is, at least, a headache his father could do without.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.