Biden’s ‘absolute’ defense of Hunter leaves media and Justice Department confused

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

These claims seem patently false – and they make the positions of 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 due to his previous coverage (or lack thereof). Weiss has called a long line of witnesses before a grand jury, and criminal charges against Hunter Biden are increasingly expected.

Nothing focuses the mind so much as an impending indictment.

So the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and other outlets were faced with the embarrassing prospect of an indictment based on a story they had previously suggested was either a non-story or Russian disinformation. Suddenly, in recent days, they’ve all rushed to declare the story legit, 18 months after the New York Post reported it in October 2020.

What quickly emerged, however, was a new narrative: None of this involves President Biden. On CNN, White House correspondent John Harwood said, “There is no evidence that Vice President Biden, or President Biden, has done anything wrong in relation to what Hunter Biden did. Anchor Brianna Keilar then added to point out that Harwood was making “an important distinction”.

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

Influence peddling has long been the way Washington’s elite gets rich. This common source of political corruption involves those close to powerful government figures who shake up companies or countries for access and influence.

The Bidens seem to stand out in this common practice, engaging in virtual family business. James Biden has been accused of marketing his connection to his brother. And in emails discovered on his abandoned laptop, Hunter Biden practically sold his father’s timeshares while dangling meetings and dinners for investors.

The key to any influence peddling scheme is to protect the principle. People were apparently told to avoid referring directly to President Biden. In an email, then-Hunter business partner Tony Bobulinski was instructed by Biden associate James Gilliar not to discuss the former veep’s connection to any deal: “Don’t mention that Joe is involved, it’s only when you [sic] are face to face, I know you [sic] know it, but they are paranoid.

Instead, the emails apparently refer to President Biden with codenames such as “Celtic” or “the big guy.” In one, “the big guy” is described as being eligible for a 10% discount on a deal with a Chinese energy company; other emails reportedly refer to Hunter Biden paying some of his father’s expenses and taxes.

Despite President Biden’s repeated claims that he knew nothing about these transactions, Bobulinski said he personally met with the senior Biden official to discuss Hunter Biden’s business activities. Bobulinski had been chosen by the family to manage these affairs.

As vice president, Joe Biden flew to China on Air Force Two with Hunter Biden, who arranged for his father to meet with some of his business interests. Hunter Biden’s financial interest in a China-backed investment firm, BHR Partners, was registered weeks after that 2013 trip. Yet President Biden has repeatedly insisted that he does not had ever discussed such a relationship with his son, a claim that Hunter Biden has contradicted.

There are emails from Ukrainian and foreign clients thanking Hunter Biden for arranging meetings with his father. There are photos of dinners and meetings that tie President Biden to these numbers, 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 drug addict. In his 2021 memoir, Hunter Biden admits he “drank a liter of vodka a day” and “smoked crack cocaine 24 hours a day”, until the start of his father’s 2020 presidential campaign. Russians, Chinese and foreigners would they give all this money to Hunter Biden, if not to influence his father?

The new account suggests that while Hunter Biden maintained one of the biggest influence peddling schemes in recent history, it did not involve the subject of that scheme – his father.

Even if President Biden was unswayed 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 have to believe Joe Biden did not express curiosity about how his addicted son was reaping millions from sources foreign?

The thing is, President Biden really didn’t have to ask: Hunter Biden had nothing to sell but affecting. All President Biden had to do to facilitate such programs was to be accessible – to allow his family to arrange face-to-face meetings and photo ops.

And that brings us to Garland’s untenable position.

It’s hard to imagine a stronger case for a special advocate. 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 these schemes. At the same time, the president “absolutely” maintains his denial that his son has done anything wrong or made money in China.

The White House statement this week reminds investigators that the president is heavily invested in this narrative and his denial of the now established facts.

That’s not to say Weiss, the U.S. attorney investigating Hunter Biden, won’t be independent in his efforts. However, the concern is the appearance of how a dispute could affect the investigation or limit the scope of any potential charges. Moreover, in the absence of a special advocate, it is unlikely that there will 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 declaring his son’s alleged wrongdoing to be “absolutely” wrong, including transactions that may have a personal and financial impact on the president. If Garland refuses to appoint a special advocate, he will absolutely break his promise.

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

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