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1 August 2023

The president’s Hunter Biden-shaped blind spot

Joe Biden’s treatment of his scandal-plagued son is an insult to voters – and a liability for Democrats.

By Sarah Baxter

At the G20 summit in Osaka in 2019, the then first daughter Ivanka Trump tried to insert herself into a conversation with Theresa May, the British prime minister, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund. To the glee of many who saw a video of the interaction, she got the brush-off. In June this year, the current first son Hunter Biden was present at a White House state dinner for Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister. There is no video record of him glad-handing VIPs, but we have all seen the photos of Hunter that were found on a laptop that he abandoned at a repair shop in 2019, which showed him naked, taking drugs and having sex with prostitutes. We’ve also read the emails suggesting he leveraged access to his father for business advantage. Imagine having to make polite conversation with this sleazebag.

President Joe Biden, Hunter’s doting father, told reporters with a straight face earlier this year: “My son has done nothing wrong. I trust him. I have faith in him.” The rest of us, not so much. Clearly, President Biden has a blind spot regarding his 53-year-old wayward son, but does he have to insult voters by showering Hunter with presidential perks, such as flights on Air Force One and trips to Camp David? Biden fondly claims Hunter is recovering from his addictions. This may be true as far as drug or alcohol abuse is concerned. But there is no sign Hunter has given up his lifelong habit of opportunism.

The scandals surrounding Hunter have morphed into a serious threat to Biden’s re-election prospects in 2024. He is bad news for the Democrats at a time when Bidenomics may finally be working: US inflation is at 3 per cent, unemployment at 3.7 per cent and the economy grew by 2.4 per cent in the last quarter. In late July, it was expected that Hunter would enter a plea deal with federal prosecutors, which required him to plead guilty to two misdemeanour counts for failing to pay his taxes on time in 2017 and 2018, and admit that he had illegally possessed a gun while being a drug user. The plea deal was anticipated to see Hunter agree to drug treatment and probation in lieu of a more serious felony charge and possible jail time. Republicans derided the arrangement as a “sweetheart deal” and were delighted when it fell apart after the presiding judge, Maryellen Noreika, raised questions over how much immunity from future prosecution the plea deal would give Hunter. Judge Noreika said she could not decide on the matter without further review.

The defence and prosecution have been given a month to reach a new agreement which addresses the judge’s concerns. A White House spokeswoman was obliged to say Hunter’s father would not pardon him. Meanwhile Hunter continues to build his career as an artist, with his paintings preposterously valued between $75,000 and $500,000. In July, it was reported that one of his works was purchased by an influential Democratic party donor, Elizabeth Hirsh Naftali, who was appointed by the Biden administration to the board of the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad last summer (it is not clear whether this came before or after her purchase). An Biden administration official told Business Insider that there was no connection between her art purchase and her appointment.

On top of this, the Republican-led House of Representatives Oversight Committee is forging ahead with its inquiry into whether President Joe Biden was improperly involved in his family’s foreign business practices during his tenure as vice-president. An interim report published by the committee in May 2023, found no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden. Allegations being investigated by the committee include foreign influence peddling by Hunter and the president’s brother James Biden (known as Jim), although the latter is not subject to any criminal investigation. Devon Archer, who alongside Hunter sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma in 2014, is currently giving evidence to the committee. Archer is in negotiations with the US Department of Justice on when he should report to prison to begin serving his sentence for a 2018 conviction in a conspiracy to defraud a Native American tribe. Yet would Hunter have been paid over $50,000 a month by Burisma if his father were not vice-president at the time? And why did Hunter grumble by text in January 2019 to his 29-year-old daughter Naomi that, “Unlike pop, I won’t make you give me half your salary”?

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[See also: Everything is wrestling]

Jim Biden was also at the Modi state dinner. So was Naomi, who married her sweetheart in front of her proud grandfather at the White House in November 2022. It was just another day in the life of everyday Biden folk. “We’re so close to our families. We always knew we would get married in someone’s backyard,” Naomi confided, exclusively, to Vogue. Indeed “pop” Biden is so besotted with his grandchildren that he claims to ring all six of them every day. Or should that be seven? 

Perhaps the biggest hit to Joe Biden’s integrity came when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd accused him on 8 July of neglecting Hunter’s four-year-old “love” child, Navy, who lives in Arkansas. The gallant Hunter had claimed to be so wasted that he could not remember having sex with Navy’s mother, Lunden Roberts. A DNA test in 2019 proved he was indeed the father, but Hunter succeeded in blocking Roberts from giving their daughter the Biden surname. In June Roberts and Hunter agreed on a child support settlement, which included Hunter reducing his child support payments of $20,000 to $5,000 a month, in return for gifting Navy some of his paintings (value: uncertain). 

Goaded by Dowd, who claimed the “president’s cold shoulder – and heart – is counter to every message he has sent for decades”, Joe and Jill Biden finally acknowledged Navy’s existence in People magazine on 28 July. They claimed Hunter was working with Roberts “to foster a relationship that is in the best interests of their daughter”, but made no mention of their own intentions towards Navy, citing the girl’s need for privacy. 

Please don’t tell me how Donald Trump’s family behaves – that his son-in-law Jared Kushner is being investigated by the same House Oversight Committee after an investment firm he founded in January 2021 received $2bn in investment from the Saudi government six months later, or that Jared’s real-estate mogul father Charlie Kushner was pardoned by Trump for witness tampering and tax evasion, after serving time in prison in the 2000s. I know it. Even worse is Trump’s own alleged misconduct: fomenting a coup, keeping classified documents, paying hush money to a porn star and sexual misconduct – the list goes on. 

Trump is the first US president to face criminal charges. But “whataboutism” over Hunter is crucifying Biden. The net result is to neutralise the impact of Trump’s alleged crimes. Since October 2020, when the contents of Hunter’s abandoned laptop were first made public, the Republicans have desperately tried to make voters care about Hunter’s misdeeds. So far they haven’t succeeded. But in 2024, American voters may well have to decide whether they are willing to put a man facing criminal charges in the White House; one who has already dangerously tested the bounds of democracy by refusing to accept that he lost the last election. 

Republican fury over Hunter has been stirred up to present a false equivalence to voters, reducing the choice at the next election to a case of picking your tribe: on one side is the Biden “crime family”; on the other the Trumps. Which one is subject to a hoax or witch hunt? They’re all the same, aren’t they? Certainly Hunter had a tough childhood after his mother Neilia and baby sister were killed in a car crash when he was three. Survivor’s guilt may never have left him or his father. But by now, Hunter is fully responsible for his own appalling conduct. We can’t expect the president to stop loving his son, but we can expect him to stop making excuses for him.

[See also: Why the EU has out-Trumped Trump]

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