Is Hunter Biden becoming a real problem for the president?

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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

(Illustration by Alicia Tatone; Photos: Getty Images)
(Illustration by Alicia Tatone; Photos: Getty Images)

What’s happening

Hunter Biden’s problems are nothing new. For decades, his tangled business dealings have been raising conflict-of-interest concerns for his dad, President Biden.

But in recent weeks, you’ve probably heard more about Hunter Biden’s problems than ever before — especially now that Donald Trump and his allies are seizing on them as a way of “shifting attention from the former president’s kaleidoscopic legal troubles,” as the New York Times recently reported.

The focus on the president’s son will only intensify now that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has elevated David Weiss — the Trump-appointed prosecutor who has spent years investigating Hunter Biden — to the status of special counsel, giving him additional leeway to probe Hunter’s foreign business dealings, drug use and taxes.

“The appointment of Mr. Weiss reinforces for the American people the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters,” Garland said Friday.

In late 2018, the FBI started to investigate Hunter for money laundering. The probe went nowhere. Two years later, Hunter announced that federal authorities had moved on to investigating his taxes.

The investigation seemed headed for a routine resolution when Hunter appeared in court on July 26 to accept a deal in which he would avoid prison by pleading guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and agreeing to enter a diversion program for a gun charge.

But the judge that day questioned some unusual aspects of the deal — in particular whether it granted Hunter blanket immunity from all future prosecution stemming from the federal investigation. Ultimately, the two sides agreed to return in a few weeks with a revised plea deal.

That spectacle was followed by a July 31 hearing of the U.S. House Oversight Committee, which has been investigating Hunter ever since Republicans took over earlier this year. During a closed-door session, Devon Archer, Hunter’s former business partner, testified that President Biden casually spoke to Hunter’s international business associates on a number of occasions, including while he was vice president, but that Biden was never directly involved in Hunter’s business dealings.

Why there’s debate

Do the latest developments simply represent more of the same old Hunter Biden tawdriness? Or do they mark the beginning of a new, riskier phase of the saga that could ultimately cause real political (or even legal) problems for the president himself?

Many Republicans insist on the latter. For months, they’ve argued that Hunter got a “sweetheart deal” from federal prosecutors under pressure to protect the president, who they claim is complicit in a long-running plot to profit from his position through his son’s shady dealings.

Democrats, in turn, point out that half a decade of investigations into Hunter Biden’s admittedly unsavory activities have yet to produce any evidence that the president was involved in his son’s alleged influence-peddling — or even that Hunter committed any crimes beyond the tax and gun charges.

What’s next

House Republicans have issued subpoenas to six banks, detailing millions that were paid to Hunter Biden and his business partners from overseas companies. They have also demanded that the Department of Justice provide information pertaining to Hunter’s plea deal.

In late July, prosecutors confirmed that Hunter is still under investigation for potentially violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires foreign lobbyists to update the DOJ periodically on their activities. And this week, prosecutor David Weiss told Garland that his investigation had “reached the stage” where he needed the added authority of special counsel to continue — suggesting more revelations (and possibly charges) to come.


Hunter Biden hasn’t gotten off easy — in fact, quite the opposite

“If these [tax and gun charges] are the only offenses, most prosecutors are going to say it’s not worth a federal case. [But with Hunter Biden,] everyone is paying attention, and the facts are not in dispute, so a failure to bring charges would create the perception that there was some sort of special treatment.” — Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University and a sentencing expert, to The New York Times

There are reasons to be suspicious of how the initial plea deal was structured

“Any immunity term should have been in the plea deal but instead was in the diversion agreement, where it wouldn’t be expected.” — The Editors, National Review

Hunter’s problems do reveal something unsettling about the president

“Joe Biden’s response to his wayward son conveys a softness, a permissiveness that damages his public reputation — and might cost him votes in an election where everything is at stake.” — Joe Klein, The Washington Post

Republicans now have more fodder to erode trust in the DOJ and its investigations of Trump

“Garland’s Justice Department … has made its supposed independence from politics its central pitch. At the same time … it is prosecuting the Biden administration’s leading opponent. The Hunter Biden saga will give Republican politicians a way to attack that prosecution without trying to defend Trump’s indefensible behavior.” — Jason Willick, The Washington Post

Hunter is still vulnerable legally — which means his father is still vulnerable politically

“A FARA prosecution has political implications for President Biden. To have his son acting as a foreign agent while they were traveling to the relevant foreign countries together on Air Force Two would make the President’s claims of ignorance about Hunter’s business even harder to believe.” — The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

To immunize themselves from Hunter’s 'sleaze,' Democrats must propose a code of conduct for presidential family members

“Proposing standards would at least allow Democrats to have an answer for Hunter Biden’s sleaze parade rather than having to excuse it.” — Jonathan Chait, New York