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Hunter Biden, the president’s weak spot

Republicans are using Joe Biden’s son’s business and legal troubles to smear the Democrat’s image

Joe Biden EEUU United States
U.S. President Joe Biden with his son Hunter Biden last June in Washington.Andrew Harnik (AP)
Miguel Jiménez

“I was a crack addict and that was that.” The story of Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s 53-year-old son, including his descent into addiction, is one of the U.S. president’s weak spots. Republicans are trying to use Hunter Biden to smear the Democrat leader’s image. This is nothing new. The campaign against Hunter Biden began when Donald Trump was president. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy into investigating Hunter Biden led to the first impeachment trial against him. Now that the Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives, they want to turn the tables. Last week, they launched a formal impeachment inquiry into Biden over his alleged involvement in his son’s overseas business affairs. This is despite the fact that they have not found any compelling evidence against the president and that the acts under investigation took place before Biden was president.

In addition to hurting his campaign, the legal troubles of Hunter Biden — who was indicted last week for allegedly lying about his drug use when he bought a .38-caliber Colt Cobra — are also taking an emotional toll on the president. Joe Biden has lost two of his four children and struggled to recover Hunter from his self-destructive spiral. He has always supported him, especially in his lowest moments, even though it may have hurt his approval ratings.

The accident that destroyed and united the family

In Hunter Biden’s 2020 memoir, Beautiful Things, the president’s son says he comes “from a family forged by tragedies and bound by a remarkable, unbreakable love.” His first memory is from when he was two years old: he is sitting in the back of the family’s spacious white Chevy, next to his brother Beau, who is a year older than him. His mother Neilia is at the wheel, and his one-year-old sister, Naomi, is in the front seat. They were going to pick up a Christmas tree. But at an intersection, the car was hit by a tractor-trailer carrying corn cobs. It was December 18, 1972. His mother and sister died almost instantly. Hunter suffered a serious skull fracture. The first thing he remembered after the accident was waking up in the hospital, next to his brother Beau. That accident brought the two brothers and their father together: “The most profound love I’ve ever known,” Hunter wrote of the relationship between the three.

The Bidens faced tragedy again in 2015, when Beau — an Iraq war veteran and the attorney general of Delaware, with a promising political career ahead — died from a brain tumor at the age of 46. Hunter Biden says that is what triggered his descent into drug abuse. “I’m an alcoholic and a drug dealer. I’ve bought crack cocaine on the streets of Washington, DC, and cooked up my own inside a hotel bungalow in Los Angeles. I’ve been so desperate for a drink thank I couldn’t make the one-block walk between a liquor store and my apartment without uncapping the bottle to take a swig,” he wrote in his memoir after recovering.

Hunter had had a successful professional career. He graduated from Yale and Georgetown University, rose to the rank of executive vice president at financial services company MBNA (later bought by Bank of America) and was appointed by George W. Bush to the Amtrak Board of Directors. He worked as a lobbyist in Washington, founded investment firms and — in an appointment that, unexpectedly, has marked the recent history of the United States — was a director of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy firm, from 2014 to 2018. Hunter Biden assumed the position when his father was vice president and earned $50,000 a month.

“I’ve worked for someone other than my father. I rose and fell on my own,” Hunter Biden maintained in his memoirs. “I have done serious work for serious people. There’s no question that my last name has opened doors, but my qualifications and accomplishments speak for themselves. That those accomplishments sometimes crossed my father’s sphere of influence during his two terms as vice-president — how could they not?”

Republicans have unsuccessfully tried to directly link Biden with his son’s businesses. But the most that their investigations have been able to demonstrate is that Biden, when he was Barack Obama’s vice president, once said hello on the phone to Hunter’s partners and attended a dinner with them. Joe Biden claims that he has never been involved with his son’s business affairs, although it is difficult to think Hunter would have been appointed to positions, such as the one at Burisma, if he were not the son of the then vice president.

In his memoirs, Hunter describes how he was attacked by the Republican Party during the 2020 presidential campaign. “I became a proxy for Donald Trump’s fear that he won’t be reelected,” he wrote. “He pushed debunked conspiracy theories about work I did in Ukraine and China, even as his own children had pocketed millions in China and Russia and his former campaign manager sat in a jail cell for laundering millions more from Ukraine.”

“Trump believed that if he could destroy me, and by extension my father, he could dispatch any candidate of decency from either party, all while diverting attention from his own corrupt behavior,” he added.

A lost computer, in the hands of Trump's lawyer

In 2020, the president’s son took his laptop to be repaired at a repair store in Wilmington, Delaware, where the family lives. He forgot to pick it up. A copy of its contents, with tens of thousands of emails, text messages and photographs, including some containing sordid sexual content, reached the hands of Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York and Trump’s lawyer. The content ended up on the front page of the New York Post, including a message that the vice president was going with his son to a dinner with his partners. The Biden campaign argued it was Russian disinformation to influence the elections (and initially managed to get social media moderates to silence the story). Republicans saw it as definitive evidence against Biden, even though it wasn’t at all.

Biden clearly won the 2020 presidential election, even if Trump refused to recognize the result. The day after taking office, lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene, Trump’s loyal squire, filed articles of impeachment against Biden over his alleged role in Hunter Biden’s businesses. But it was too soon. Republicans instead launched an investigation that has been trying to find evidence against Biden for months, but to no avail. They have an anonymous tip to the FBI that Biden received bribes from Ukraine. But the allegation is unverified and was dismissed by FBI investigators. They have bank account transactions that were flagged suspicion, but that did not warrant further investigation. They have testimonies that Biden greeted one of his son’s associates on the phone and apparently attended a dinner.

In a 2020 election debate, Biden said his son didn’t do business in China, which turned out not to be true. But it’s unclear whether he was lying or simply didn’t know. The president claims that he has never discussed business with his son. He said that he only told him that he hoped he knew what he was doing when he accepted the position at Burisma. Is that talking business with your son? Does it justify an impeachment?

Trump, indicted four times for 91 charges

The White House has launched a legal and communications offensive to discredit the Republican accusations. Democrats believe it is a political battle, in which, in the absence of evidence and compelling arguments, Republicans want to prolong the probe as long as possible. With Trump indicted four times for 91 charges, the Republicans are trying to spread the allegation that there is a “culture of corruption” surrounding the Biden family. The president, meanwhile, is avoiding the topic. “I get up every day, not a joke, not focused on impeachment,” he said last week when asked about the issue. “I’ve got a job to do.”

The indictment against Hunter Biden is another blow for the president, who has repeated said his son “has done nothing wrong.” It is likely that the trial will take place in the midst of the race for the presidential elections, which will take place next year on November 5. And new charges against Hunter Biden cannot be ruled out, even if they are for the two minor tax crimes for which Hunter was willing to plead guilty before the pact with the prosecution collapsed.

“I’ve faced and survived worse. I’ve known the extremes of success and ruin,” said Hunter Biden in his 2021 memoir, published after the Republican smear campaign. “I’m not going anywhere.”

For the Bidens, the impeachment inquiry is yet another personal and political hurdle.

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