How the White House is bracing for congressional investigations and potential charges against Hunter Biden

·5 min read
President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
  • President Joe Biden has stood by his son Hunter as he reportedly awaits possible criminal charges.

  • But the White House faces a complicated communications challenge if federal agents move forward.

  • One expert said the "best thing politically" for the president would be for his son to plead guilty.

President Joe Biden has stood by Hunter Biden and expressed pride in how his son has overcome his drug addiction even as possible criminal charges await him.

But the White House faces a complicated communications challenge if federal agents investigating Hunter Biden move forward with charges against him on tax crimes and a false statement on a gun application.

Biden's likely response would be to try to "walk the line of being a father supporting his son while being the President who must not publicly criticize or challenge the indictment," Adam Goldberg, special associate counsel to former President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s, said in an email to Insider.

"If Hunter disputes the charges, Biden's answer to the question about whether he believes his son will need to be supportive while publicly expressing respect for the prosecutors and the court system – not an easy message to craft," said Goldberg, who co-founded the strategic communications firm Trident DMG.

In a CNN interview that aired in October, Biden responded for the first time to reports from The Washington Post that federal agents think they have enough evidence to charge Hunter. "I love him. He's on a straight and narrow, and he has been for a couple years now," Biden told CNN host Jake Tapper.

More recently, Biden was asked during a November 9 news conference after the midterm elections about his message to Republicans who want to investigate his family.

"Lots of luck in your senior year, as my coach used to say," he responded. "Look, I think the American public wants us to move on and get things done for them."

Republicans, who will control the House next Congress, announced on November 17 that their investigation into Hunter Biden will expose influence peddling by his father. "This is an investigation of Joe Biden," House Oversight Committee ranking member James Comer told reporters. Comer said he would dig into records and transactions as chairman that he claims will link the president to foreign powers.

No evidence to date has suggested that Hunter Biden's work influenced his father's policy decisions.

"Instead of working with President Biden to address issues important to the American people, like lower costs, congressional Republicans' top priority is to go after President Biden with politically-motivated attacks chock full of long-debunked conspiracy theories," Ian Sams, spokesperson for the White House Counsel's Office, told Insider in an email.

"President Biden is not going to let these political attacks distract him from focusing on Americans' priorities, and we hope congressional Republicans will join us in tackling them instead of wasting time and resources on political revenge," he continued.

The White House declined to comment on the ongoing federal criminal probe.

The US Attorney in Delaware, David C. Weiss, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, will decide whether to press charges against Hunter Biden.

Experts say one thing the White House must not do is contact the Justice Department about the case.

Goldberg said such communication would be "unthinkably unethical and stupid." It's possible that Attorney General Merrick Garland could give the White House Counsel a heads up "immediately" before an indictment, but that's unlikely, he said. The White House is most likely to learn about an expedited indictment from Hunter or his lawyers, he said.

"DOJ has standard processes for tax investigations, and this should be handled the same as any other tax investigation, free from even the appearance of political intervention," said Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics.

More than 30 Senate Republicans, in a September letter to Garland, demanded that Weiss be extended special counsel protections to "investigate an appropriate scope of potentially criminal conduct."

If there is a special counsel appointed, there would be a "hellish political fight" over who should be appointed and the investigation would likely be long and "ever-widening," Goldberg said.

It would be easier for Biden politically to attack a special prosecutor or an independent counsel "because presidents have attacked them routinely," Goldberg said, but that's only a benefit if there's an actual indictment. Right now, it's much better for there not to be one, he said.

The fact that Weiss is a Trump appointee would potentially give Biden the political option of defending Hunter and criticizing the indictment, but the president would be unlikely to do that, he added.

"If there's going to be an indictment, the best thing politically for Biden (though not necessarily for justice) would be for Hunter to plead guilty, which allows Biden to fully support him without risking being seen as undermining DOJ," Goldberg said. "I can't fathom political considerations playing into Hunter's decision on that front (if there needs to be one), in part because I don't think Biden would ever want Hunter to worry about that."

Republicans have long been itching to investigate Hunter Biden. Mark Corallo, a Republican and former Justice Department spokesman during the second Bush administration, told Insider the investigation "reeks of politics" and blamed the national media for a "disgraceful lack of interest."

But Goldberg said the House investigation "will do three things: cause a lot of people to spend a lot more money on lawyers; force potential witnesses to decide whether to testify or plead the 5th; and create a political circus guaranteed to backfire on the Republicans." And, he added, if they want to "rally Democrats and enable them to defend Hunter while alienating the middle, this is perfect."

Eric Schultz, who served as deputy White House press secretary during the Obama administration, said Republicans had nothing to show for their previous Hunter Biden investigations the last time they had subpoena power.

"If Republicans want to continue down that road, I think it's disgusting and cynical, especially given their approval of the last President's kids profiteering while serving in White House positions – but I mostly think it's a foolish use of their own time since we already know how the story ends," he said.

This story has been updated.

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