Hunter Biden’s latest indictment brings an uncomfortable ordeal to the forefront for his father

Date:


Washington
CNN
 — 

President Joe Biden is confronting the prospect of his son Hunter facing an embarrassing legal ordeal next year amid a host of other political obstacles in a possible rematch with Donald Trump.

The additional criminal charges brought by the Justice Department against Hunter Biden on Thursday, though expected, nonetheless amounted to a reminder of the personal strain the president will face as he gears up for the coming campaign.

Months after a plea agreement for Hunter Biden collapsed in a Delaware courtroom, reality has set in among Biden’s team that his son’s legal problems – and the ensuing revelations about his lifestyle and struggles with addiction – will remain in the news cycle for months to come as the legal process plays out.

Prosecutors’ portrait of Hunter Biden’s unbridled vice – funded, in part, by leveraging the Biden family name – presents a deeply problematic image at a moment when Republicans are searching for ways to damage the president politically. Those GOP efforts have in no small part been driven by a desire to distract from the four indictments leveled at Trump, the current Republican presidential front-runner.

Biden’s aides argue vociferously that any comparisons with the former president’s legal problems are in bad faith since the charges are of vastly differing levels of severity and Trump is himself running for president while Hunter is not. So far, no evidence has emerged showing President Biden benefited from his son’s foreign business dealings. And Biden’s team is confident voters will make their decision for reasons other than the president’s troubled son.

Still, the unveiling of the special counsel’s second case against Hunter Biden comes at an inopportune moment, as the election year looms and Biden’s vulnerabilities are laid bare. His approval ratings have slumped as the American public continues to feel pessimistic about the health of the economy and increasingly question Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war – a conflict that has been an overwhelming focus for the White House over the last two months.

The latest jobs report on Friday, which showed yet another month of solid growth, served as one more reminder of a seemingly intractable problem for the Biden White House: A robust economy, by any measure, that still isn’t translating to optimism for most Americans.

And this week, Biden – on several occasions – injected some ambiguity about his reelection rationale. “If Trump wasn’t running, I’m not sure I’d be running,” he told donors.

The next day, Biden was asked by CNN whether he believed any other Democrat could defeat Trump other than him. He responded: “Probably 50 of them.”

“I’m not the only one who could defeat him. But I will defeat him,” Biden said.

Those comments appeared to dilute a key argument his advisers make about his reelection bid: that Biden is best – or at the very least, uniquely – suited to take on Trump.

There was a time over the summer when Biden and his orbit believed Hunter’s legal ordeal would end with a plea deal and that the family would be able to close a dark chapter and move on.

Those hopes were dashed when the agreement fell apart and, weeks later, a special counsel was appointed to oversee the investigation into the president’s son, opening the prospect of prolonged legal battles overlapping with Biden’s run for reelection.

There is nothing to indicate the president himself plans to distance himself from his son, who resides in California but has on occasion spent time at the White House. Hunter was included in the family’s Thanksgiving gathering on Nantucket last month and was seen on shopping outings in town. He stood next to his father during a Christmas tree lighting on Black Friday.

This week’s tax charges, the second indictment against Hunter Biden this year, include salacious details about how the president’s son was spending money on “drugs, escorts and girlfriends, luxury hotels and rental properties, exotic cars, clothing, and other items of a personal nature” — all while avoiding paying tax.

Many of the details of Hunter’s reckless spending were already known, detailed in a candid memoir that tracked his journey through addiction. Over the summer, the president and first lady acknowledged for the first time a daughter Hunter fathered while in the grips of addiction.

In public, Hunter Biden’s representatives are arguing that their client’s legal troubles have little to do with substance – and everything to do with who his father is.

“Based on the facts and the law, if Hunter’s last name was anything other than Biden, the charges in Delaware, and now California, would not have been brought,” Biden’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, said in a statement Thursday on the heels of the latest indictment.

Many in Biden’s orbit suggest Hunter Biden’s legal issues will not be a driving concern for voters heading into next year’s elections. In a Monmouth poll taken in September, only about a quarter of the electorate – 27% – said Hunter Biden’s legal issues would make them less likely to vote for the incumbent. And a Reuters survey of Americans taken around the time of Hunter Biden’s plea agreement found 58% said the development wouldn’t impact their likelihood to vote for the president.

Other polls show ethics concerns casting a shadow over the president.

A CNN poll conducted by SSRS in September found a majority of Americans, 61%, say they think that Biden had at least some involvement in Hunter Biden’s business dealings, with 42% saying they think he acted illegally and 18% saying that his actions were unethical but not illegal.

Another 38% said they don’t believe Joe Biden had any involvement in his son’s business dealings during his vice presidency. Just 1% believe Biden was involved but did not do anything wrong.

A 55% majority of the public says the president has acted inappropriately regarding the investigation into Hunter Biden over potential crimes, while 44% say that he has acted appropriately.

Earlier this week, Biden was asked if he interacted with so many of his son and brother’s foreign business associates, and the president responded: “I did not – they’re lies.”

Yet witness testimony has revealed the president has had various interactions with his son’s business partners. The majority of these claims stem from a business associate of the president’s son, Devon Archer, who testified to the House Oversight Committee earlier this year that there were “maybe 20 times” when Joe Biden was placed on speakerphone during meetings with his and Hunter Biden’s business partners. However, Archer said “nothing” of importance was ever discussed during those calls.

There were also dinners that Joe Biden attended with Hunter Biden and some of his foreign business associates at Cafe Milano in Washington, though Archer testified that business was not discussed during the meals, telling lawmakers, “We ate, and kind of talked about the world, I guess, and the weather, and then everybody left.”

Despite no evidence that Joe Biden benefited from his son’s foreign business dealings, his surface-level interactions that overlapped with his son’s business activities continue to provide fuel to his political opponents.

It’s a headache of which House Democrats are well aware. While House Democrats are confident they can defend President Biden against the inquiry, and the White House has continued to issue blanket denials, many have wished for a clearer strategy against the GOP allegations and how to message on Hunter Biden, a known sensitive topic in the West Wing.

Democrats continue to maintain that Republicans are moving forward with their impeachment inquiry to help Trump beat Biden in 2024.

“They are completely trivializing and destroying the meaning of impeachment,” the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, Rep. Jamie Raskin, said Thursday. “Impeachment is an extraordinary constitutional remedy that is reserved for high crimes and misdemeanors: grave offenses against the public order. And they obviously don’t have that for Joe Biden, but they want to trivialize it so he can — so Donald Trump can say, Oh, well, you know, he’s been impeached twice but there’s also an impeachment investigation going on during the campaign against Joe Biden, and so it’s fraudulent like everything else.”

The White House’s public stance on the president’s son has remained tight-lipped. Officials have declined to weigh in on individual developments, referring to the Justice Department and Hunter’s legal team, and insist only that Joe Biden loves his son.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that she will not comment on the new charges against Hunter Biden but said that the president “loves his son and supports him as he continues to rebuild his life.”

“The president has said this before and he will continue to say, which is that he loves his son and supports him as he continues to rebuild his life. But I’m going to be really careful and not comment on this and refer you to Department of Justice or my colleagues at the White House Counsel,” Jean-Pierre said during a gaggle with reporters on Air Force One on Friday.

Few issues are more sensitive inside the Biden White House than the president’s son. Only the smallest inner circle of advisers around the president is said to have anything resembling an unvarnished view of how Biden is processing Hunter’s struggles, from his addiction battles to the latest round of legal woes.

That has largely left Hunter Biden and his team to go on their own offense, accusing Republicans and others of trying to use his addiction issues for political profit.

“They are trying to, in their most illegitimate way, but rational way, they’re trying to destroy a presidency,” Hunter Biden said in a podcast released Friday. “And so, it’s not about me, and [in] their most base way, what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to kill me, knowing that it will be a pain greater than my father could be able to handle and so therefore destroying a presidency in that way.”

Hunter Biden’s interview with musician Moby on “Moby Pod” offered some of his most in-depth public remarks about how he internalizes the Republican led attacks against him. The podcast was recorded before the recent indictments, a source close to Hunter Biden told CNN. The pair met through their addiction recovery and are “good friends.”

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