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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 17 July 2024

Questions about Hunter Biden’s conduct may be harder for White House to dismiss as politically motivated

Collapse of plea agreement and appointment of special counsel brings new life to Biden son's case

Peter Baker Washington Published 13.08.23, 10:53 AM
Hunter Biden

Hunter Biden Reuters file picture

They thought it was over, that they could put it in the rearview mirror. All that Hunter Biden had to do was show up in a courtroom, answer a few questions, sign some paperwork and that would be it. Not that the Republicans would let it go, but any real danger would be
past.

Except that it did not work out that way. The criminal investigation that President Joe Biden’s advisers believed was all but done has instead been given new life with the collapse of the plea agreement and the appointment of a special counsel who now might bring the President’s son to trial.

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What had been a painful but relatively contained political scandal that animated mainly partisans on the Right could now extend for months just as the President is gearing up for his re-election campaign. This time, the questions about Hunter Biden’s conduct may be harder for the White House to dismiss as politically motivated. They may even break out of the conservative echo chamber to the general public, which has largely not paid much attention until now.

It remained unclear whether Hunter Biden faces criminal exposure beyond the tax and gun charges lodged against him by David C. Weiss, the prosecutor first appointed in 2018 to investigate him by President Donald Trump’s attorney-general. It may be that attorney-general Merrick B. Garland’s decision to designate Weiss a special counsel with more independence to run the inquiry means that there is still more potential legal peril stemming from Hunter Biden’s business dealings with foreign firms.

Yet it may amount to less than meets the eye in the long run. Weiss’s announcement abandoning the plea agreement he originally reached with Hunter Biden on the tax and gun charges means he could take the case to trial in states other than Delaware, where he is US attorney and has jurisdiction. Some analysts speculated that requesting special counsel status may be about empowering him to prosecute out of state.

A trial by a jury of Hunter Biden’s peers would be a spectacle that could prove distracting and embarrassing for the White House while providing more fodder to the President’s Republican critics. The President’s advisers were frustrated as a result and resigned to months of additional torment, even if they were not alarmed by the prospect of a wider investigation.

“After five years of probing Hunter’s dealings, it seems unlikely that Weiss will discover much that is new,” said David Axelrod, who was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “On the other hand, anything that draws more attention to Hunter’s case and extends the story into the campaign year is certainly unwelcome news for the President’s team.”

As it happened, Garland’s appointment of Weiss as special counsel did not solve part of the problem it was meant to address. A special counsel designation is intended to insulate an investigation from politics, but the attorney-general’s decision still drew fire from Republicans who derided the choice of Weiss because he had signed off on the original plea agreement, which they had described as a “sweetheart deal”.

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