July 14, 2024

Hunter Biden: What to Know About the Investigations Into Him

Hunter Biden: What to Know About the Investigations Into Him

Hunter Biden is at the center of a political storm like no other offspring of a President before him.

Ever since Joe Biden announced he was running for President in 2019, Republicans have scrutinized his son Hunter Biden’s bouts with drug addiction and his business dealings in Ukraine and China with an eye toward weakening his dad politically. President Donald Trump’s first impeachment was tied to a phone call in which he pressured Ukraine President Vladimir Zelensky to open an investigation into the Bidens.

Now that Republicans have taken the majority in the House and control investigative committees, the spotlight on Hunter Biden has intensified, as members of Congress investigate his business dealings and whether they had any impact on Joe Biden’s decisions as President or Vice President. Hunter Biden is also the subject of more than one criminal investigation.

Here’s what to know about Hunter Biden.


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Who is Hunter Biden?

Hunter Biden is the younger of President Joe Biden’s two sons with his first wife, Neilia Biden, who died in a car crash in 1972 with their one-year-old daughter Naomi. Hunter’s older brother Beau, a former attorney general of Delaware, died from brain cancer in 2015. Hunter graduated from Yale Law School and has worked as a lawyer, a lobbyist and investor. Hunter Biden served on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings from 2014 to 2019 and has worked on investments with Chinese companies. He is currently selling paintings through a New York art gallery.

Who’s investigating Hunter Biden?

The House Oversight Committee is planning to hold hearings that look at Hunter Biden and his business dealings with companies in China and Ukraine over the years and whether those actions influenced Joe Biden’s foreign policy decisions. Rep. James Comer, Republican of Kentucky and the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told TIME in October that the committee wasn’t investigating Hunter Biden for political reasons. “We’re investigating Hunter Biden because we believe he’s a national security threat, who we fear has compromised Joe Biden,” Comer said. President Biden denies being involved in Hunter Biden’s business dealings.

Comer’s committee held a hearing on Feb. 8 that questioned former Twitter officials on decisions the social media company made in October 2020 to temporarily suppress a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s business in Ukraine that was based on data from a laptop that allegedly belonged to Hunter Biden.

The House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jim Jordan, is planning its own set of hearings looking at Hunter Biden. So far, Jordan and fellow Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, have requested documents from former senior U.S. intelligence officials who, while out of government, wrote an open letter weeks before the 2020 election saying that published information allegedly from one of Hunter Biden’s laptops bore the “classic earmarks” of a Russian disinformation campaign. Some of the data and emails attributed to the laptop have since been authenticated by CBS News, The Washington Post and the New York Times.

With a poster of a New York Post front page story about Hunter Biden’s emails on display, Committee Chairman Rep. James Comer (R-KY), Rep. Jim Jordon (R-OH) and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) listen during a hearing before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee at Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Feb. 8, 2023. (Alex Wong—Getty Images)

With a poster of a New York Post front page story about Hunter Biden’s emails on display, Committee Chairman Rep. James Comer (R-KY), Rep. Jim Jordon (R-OH) and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) listen during a hearing before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee at Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Feb. 8, 2023.

Alex Wong—Getty Images

Hunter Biden is also reportedly the subject of criminal investigations into his tax filings and a statement he made on a form to purchase a handgun. In December 2020, weeks after President Biden won the 2020 election, Hunter Biden put out a statement that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware was investigating his “tax affairs.” “I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisors,” Hunter said in a statement at the time.

According to the Washington Post, federal agents have given the U.S. Attorney in Delaware information about the amount of income Hunter Biden declared on his taxes and that he reportedly answered “no” to a question on a gun purchase form in 2018 asking if he was using illicit drugs. By Hunter Biden’s own account in his memoir, he was using crack cocaine that year.

Could Hunter Biden face criminal charges?

It’s unclear. It will be up to prosecutors to decide whether there is enough evidence to bring charges against Hunter Biden and whether those crimes would warrant the time and resources that might be required in a criminal trial. The lead prosecutor who would be handling those questions is the U.S. Attorney in Delaware, David C. Weiss. Weiss served in that office under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and was named to run it by Trump. When Biden came into office, Weiss was allowed to remain in place.

If prosecutors charge Hunter Biden with tax evasion or filing a false return, he could face fines and jail time. A tax evasion conviction, where prosecutors must show that a person intended to avoid paying taxes they owed, can bring up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $100,000. A conviction of filing a false return has a maximum fine of $100,000 and a jail sentence of up to three years. Hunter Biden paid off a tax liability in 2021, according to The New York Times.

Then there’s how Hunter Biden reportedly filled out the gun purchase form in 2018, checking a box saying he wasn’t using drugs during a time he has publicly acknowledged he was. Lying on a Firearms Transaction Record is a felony and a conviction could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years. But prosecutors rarely bring such charges.

All of this puts Justice Department prosecutors in a tough spot, says Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor. If the Justice Department decides not to bring charges against Hunter Biden, they are likely to be accused of turning a blind eye because the case involved the President’s son. If charges are brought for crimes that are rarely charged, then Hunter Biden could argue that he’s being singled out for unfair scrutiny that another person would not face.

“If there’s a decision not to charge, there’ll be criticism that the decision was infected by the fact that he’s the President’s son,” says Mariotti. “There is also a danger that if a prosecution is made on facts that would not ordinarily merit a prosecution, there’s a good chance the President’s son is going to argue that the only reason he’s being prosecuted is because of who his father is.”

“The DOJ’s reputation is going to be attacked regardless of what its decision is,” says Mariotti.

Did Joe Biden do business with Hunter Biden?

There’s little public information, if any, showing that Joe Biden was involved in Hunter Biden’s business transactions.

Rep. James Comer, the Kentucky Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee, says that his committee’s investigation will look into a 2017 email allegedly found on a laptop that allegedly belonged to Hunter Biden. The email includes discussion of setting aside a certain percentage of a deal for “the big guy.”

Comer claims the email text shows Joe Biden was aware of Hunter Biden’s business with a Chinese company. Comer also claims those business ties influenced President Biden’s policy choices toward China, but it is unclear how. Biden has kept the Trump-era tariffs on China in place and added new export controls on U.S. chipmaking technology since taking office. While he was campaigning for President in Iowa in September 2019, Joe Biden told reporters, “I have never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings.”

President Joe Biden and son Hunter Biden board Air Force One at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, NY, on Feb. 4, 2023. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds—AFP/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden and son Hunter Biden board Air Force One at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, NY, on Feb. 4, 2023.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds—AFP/Getty Images

Then there’s the long-running and debunked conspiracy theory that Joe Biden, when he was Vice President, demanded the Ukraine government fire the country’s top prosecutor to halt an investigation into a scandal-plagued Ukrainian energy company that had Hunter Biden on its board. This is the conspiracy theory Donald Trump was chasing when he withheld military aid and pressured Zelensky, Ukraine’s President, to open an investigation into the Bidens during the famous 2019 presidential phone call.

But Joe Biden wasn’t alone in encouraging the Ukraine parliament to oust the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin. Concerns that Shokin wasn’t doing enough to root out corruption were expressed by European diplomats and international organizations like the International Monetary Fund as well. The Ukrainian parliament voted to remove Shokin in March 2016. A 2020 Senate investigation led by Republicans found that Hunter Biden, his business partners, and their firms made millions of dollars doing business in Ukraine while Joe Biden was Vice President and those financial connections had “negatively impacted” diplomatic work in the country. But that same investigation uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden in the matter.

What about that “big guy” email?

Data purportedly from a laptop that allegedly belonged to Hunter Biden included a May 2017 email from one of his business partners laying out how percentages of equity from a proposed venture with a Chinese energy company could be divided. One line of that email asks the question, “10 held by H for the big guy?” Hunter Biden’s former business partner Tony Bobulinski, who was one of Donald Trump’s guests for a presidential debate in 2020, told Fox News that he believed “H” stood for Hunter and “the big guy” was Joe Biden. Beyond that, Fox News also reported that there was no evidence that any part of the business deals with the Chinese entities went to Joe Biden. It is also worth pointing out that in 2017, Joe Biden was no longer Vice President and was nearly two years away from announcing his candidacy for President.

What is there to know about Hunter Biden’s laptop?

The story of Hunter Biden’s laptop is a long saga.

The owner of a computer repair shop in Wilmington, Del. named John Paul Mac Isaac says that a man he believes to be Hunter Biden brought three laptops to his store in April 2019, according to an interview Mac Isaac gave to Fox News. Mac Isaac told Fox he has vision problems and “can’t be 100{18fa003f91e59da06650ea58ab756635467abbb80a253ef708fe12b10efb8add} sure” it was Hunter who dropped off the machines. On one of the laptops, Mac Isaac told Fox, he saw information that made him “concerned.” When the customer didn’t come back for the laptop, Isaac said an intermediary helped him reach out to the FBI. The FBI then made a copy of the laptop hard drive and later came back with a subpoena for the device itself and confiscated it, Mac Isaac told Fox. When Mac Isaac stopped hearing from the FBI, he told Fox, he eventually got in touch with Robert Costello, an attorney representing Rudy Giuliani, who has often served as Donald Trump’s personal lawyer. After that, computer files attributed to the laptop found their way to the New York Post, which published a story in October 2020 with the front page headline “Biden Secret E-mails.”

Some copies of the laptop’s data that made it to various news organizations had changed hands repeatedly and been accessed by multiple computers, which made the entire trove hard to authenticate. But several news organizations have been able to confirm the authenticity of some of the information attributed to the laptop. Photos and videos attributed to the laptop and shared online also allegedly show Hunter Biden naked, using drugs and having sex. Republicans have taken to calling it “the laptop from hell.”

Hunter Biden disembarks from Air Force One at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York, on Feb. 4, 2023. (Elizabeth Frantz—Reuters)

Hunter Biden disembarks from Air Force One at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York, on Feb. 4, 2023.

Elizabeth Frantz—Reuters

In a new, aggressive legal strategy in response to the coverage of the laptop’s contents, Hunter Biden recently hired defense lawyer Abbe Lowell, who has sent letters asking prosecutors to investigate those involved in copying and sharing the contents of the laptop. On Feb. 1, acting on Hunter Biden’s behalf, Lowell asked the attorney general of Delaware, Kathy Jennings, to investigate Mac Isaac for “unlawfully” accessing Hunter Biden’s personal data and distributing that data to “the political enemies” of Joe Biden. Lowell sent a similar request to Matthew Olsen, the assistant attorney general for national security at the Department of Justice.

“These letters do not confirm Mac Isaac’s or others’ versions of a so-called laptop,” Lowell said in a statement to TIME. “They address their conduct of seeking, manipulating and disseminating what they allege to be Mr. Biden’s personal data, wherever they claim to have gotten it.”

Did Twitter temporarily suppress stories about Hunter’s laptop?

Yes. In October 2020, Twitter executives temporarily blocked users for two days from sharing a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s business in Ukraine based on emails attributed to Hunter Biden’s laptop. Internal Twitter emails released to Michael Shellenberger show that the FBI had been warning Twitter about a potential Russian disinformation operation to release hacked data in advance of the November 2020 presidential election, and Twitter executives debated whether the data used in the Post story was a part of a “hack-and-leak” operation. Twitter also temporarily suspended the accounts of then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Donald Trump Jr., and the Trump campaign for sharing the story. The suspensions were reversed, and Jack Dorsey, the Twitter co-founder who was its CEO at the time, wrote it was “unacceptable” to block the sharing of the story link without explaining why.

Republicans investigating Twitter’s actions accused the social media company of allowing itself to become an arm of the federal government’s effort to suppress a news story. But Twitter’s actions didn’t stop readers from finding the story directly at the New York Post’s website and the story was still widely read and discussed at the time.

Speaking to lawmakers during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Feb. 8, Twitter’s former deputy general counsel James Baker denied that Twitter was acting at the behest of the FBI when it blocked the sharing of the Post story. (Baker previously had been the general counsel for the FBI.) “I am aware of no unlawful collusion with or direction from any government agency or political campaign on how Twitter should’ve handled the Hunter Biden laptop situation,” Baker said.

What does Hunter Biden’s drug use have to do with all of this?

During the years when Hunter Biden was working on deals with Chinese companies and serving on the board of the Ukraine energy company Burisma, he was also in a cycle of drug addiction, rehab and relapse that spanned 15 years. In his 2021 memoir, Beautiful Things, Hunter describes in detail his crack cocaine binges, his confrontations with his family about returning to rehab, and his eventual sobriety and escape from “the Crackocalypse” when he married his current wife Melissa in May 2019.

Anecdotes of Hunter Biden’s drug use and photos purportedly from his laptop have been highlighted by Biden critics to suggest that Joe Biden is compromised by Hunter’s actions. Joe Biden has spoken openly about his son’s struggles with drug addiction. “This is a kid who got—not a kid, he’s a grown man—he got hooked on, like many families have had happen, hooked on drugs. He’s overcome that. He’s established a new life,” Biden said in an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN in October 2022.

Does any of this implicate President Biden in wrongdoing?

It does not. What is known about Hunter Biden’s business deals with Ukrainian and Chinese companies creates an impression that he was making a lot of money off the prestige of being Joe Biden’s son, but there isn’t evidence that Hunter Biden’s business transactions have influenced decisions that Joe Biden made as Vice President or as President. There is also no clear evidence that money from Hunter Biden’s business dealings ever made their way to Joe Biden’s accounts. (House Republicans have alleged they don’t have that evidence because of obstruction from the Biden Administration.)

President Joe Biden hugs first lady Jill Biden, his son Hunter Biden and daughter Ashley Biden after being sworn-in during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. (Carolyn Kaster—AP)

President Joe Biden hugs first lady Jill Biden, his son Hunter Biden and daughter Ashley Biden after being sworn-in during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021.

Carolyn Kaster—AP

Hunter Biden’s business connections and history of drug addiction are fodder for cable news appearances and committee investigations now that Republicans hold the gavel in the House. “There’s no real evidence. It’s very performative,” says Asha Rangappa, a former FBI agent and now a senior lecturer at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. “It’s creating a lot of insinuations and then having a big hearing about it.”

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