Biden’s ‘absolute’ defense of Hunter leaves media and Justice Department in a muddle

“We absolutely stand by the president’s comment.” With those words, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield reaffirmed that President Biden maintains his son Hunter Biden did “nothing [that] was unethical” and never “made money” in China.

Those claims appear demonstrably false — and they make the positions of both the media and Attorney General Merrick Garland absolutely untenable.

For the media, the ongoing investigation of Hunter Biden by U.S. Attorney David Weiss in Delaware has presented a growing danger of self-indictment over its prior coverage (or noncoverage). Weiss has called a long line of witnesses before a grand jury, and there is growing expectation of criminal charges against Hunter Biden.

Nothing concentrates the mind as much as a looming indictment.

Thus, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media faced the embarrassing prospect of an indictment based on a story they previously suggested was either a nonstory or Russian disinformation. Suddenly, in recent days, they all rushed to declare the story legitimate, 18 months after the New York Post reported it in October 2020.

What quickly emerged, though, was a new narrative: None of this implicates President Biden. On CNN, White House correspondent John Harwood declared, “There is zero evidence that Vice President Biden, or President Biden, has done anything wrong in connection with what Hunter Biden has done.” Anchor Brianna Keilar then added for emphasis that Harwood was making “an important distinction.”

It was important, but not because it was true. While many media figures now willingly admit the legitimacy of Hunter Biden’s abandoned-laptop story, they are avoiding what the emails found on that laptop actually contain. Hundreds of emails appear to detail a multimillion-dollar influence-peddling enterprise by the Biden family, including Hunter Biden and his uncle James Biden.

Influence peddling has long been the way Washington’s elite enriches itself. This common source of political corruption involves the relatives of powerful government figures who shake down corporations or countries for access and influence. 

The Bidens would seem to be standouts in this common practice, engaging in a virtual family business. James Biden has been accused of marketing his connection to his brother. And in the emails discovered on his abandoned laptop, Hunter Biden practically sold timeshares of his father by dangling meetings and dinners for investors. 

The key in any influence peddling scheme is to protect the principal. People apparently were told to avoid directly referring to President Biden. In one email, Tony Bobulinski, then a business partner of Hunter’s, was instructed by Biden associate James Gilliar not to speak of the former veep’s connection to any transactions: “Don’t mention Joe being involved, it’s only when u [sic] are face to face, I know u [sic] know that but they are paranoid.” 

Instead, the emails apparently refer to President Biden with code names such as “Celtic” or “the big guy.” In one, “the big guy” is discussed as possibly receiving a 10 percent cut on a deal with a Chinese energy firm; other emails reportedly refer to Hunter Biden paying portions of his father’s expenses and taxes. 

Despite President Biden’s repeated claims he knew nothing about these dealings, Bobulinski has said he personally met with the senior Biden to discuss Hunter Biden’s business activities. Bobulinski had been selected by the family to handle these deals.

As vice president, Joe Biden flew to China on Air Force Two with Hunter Biden, who arranged for his father to meet some of his business interests. Hunter Biden’s financial interest in a Chinese-backed investment firm, BHR Partners, was registered within weeks of that 2013 trip. Yet, President Biden repeatedly insisted that he never discussed such dealings with his son, a claim Hunter Biden has contradicted

There are emails of Ukrainian and other foreign clients thanking Hunter Biden for arranging meetings with his father. There are photos from dinners and meetings that tie President Biden to these figures, including a 2015 dinner with a group of Hunter Biden’s Russian and Kazakh clients.

It is important to note that when these foreign interests were clamoring to give Hunter Biden millions of dollars, he was, by his own admission, a hopeless addict. In his 2021 memoir, Hunter Biden admits he was “drinking a quart of vodka a day” and “smoking crack around the clock,” up until his father’s 2020 presidential campaign began. So why would Russian, Chinese and other foreign figures give Hunter Biden all of this money, if not to influence his father?

The new narrative suggests that, while Hunter Biden maintained one of the largest influence-peddling schemes in recent history, it did not involve the object of that scheme — his father. 

Even if President Biden was not influenced by all of this, it’s hard to believe he didn’t know his son was selling access. In his book, Hunter Biden claims his father repeatedly intervened due to his addictions — and yet we are to believe that Joe Biden did not express curiosity about how his addicted son was raking in millions from foreign sources?

The point is that President Biden really did not have to ask: Hunter Biden had nothing to sell but influence. All President Biden had to do to facilitate such schemes was to be accessible — to allow his family to deliver face-to-face meetings and photo ops. 

And that brings us to the untenable position of Garland. 

It is hard to imagine a stronger case for a special counsel. Any effort to investigate Hunter Biden’s dealings will lead investigators to encounter repeated references to the president and how he may have benefited from those schemes. At the same time, the president is “absolutely” standing by his denial that his son did anything wrong or made any money from China.

The White House statement this week serves as a reminder to investigators that the president is heavily invested in this narrative and his denial of now-established facts. 

This is not to say that Weiss, the U.S. Attorney investigating Hunter Biden, will not be independent in his efforts. However, the concern is the appearance of how a conflict might affect the investigation or limit the scope of any potential charges. Moreover, absent a special counsel, there is unlikely to be a report on these apparent influence peddling schemes.

Garland pledged to protect the Justice Department from such conflicts and to avoid even the appearance of political influence. He now has a president stating that alleged wrongdoing by his son is “absolutely” untrue, including dealings possibly impacting the president personally and financially. If Garland declines to appoint a special counsel, he will absolutely fail on his pledge.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

Tags Conflict of interest Corruption David Weiss Department of Justice foreign influence Hunter Biden Hunter Biden emails Hunter Biden investigation hunter biden laptop Influence peddling Joe Biden Kate Bedingfield Merrick Garland Special counsel Tony Bobulinski

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