President Joe Biden received unwelcome news when the Justice Department made the prosecutor investigating his son a special counsel, a move that ensured Hunter Biden’s legal issues will remain front and center in the 2024 election.
(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden received unwelcome news when the Justice Department made the prosecutor investigating his son a special counsel, a move that ensured Hunter Biden’s legal issues will remain front and center in the 2024 election.
Biden’s allies were hopeful a plea agreement between Hunter Biden and Delaware US Attorney David Weiss would allow the president to move past his son’s legal troubles as much as possible, even as congressional Republicans pursued their investigations. But Weiss’s new role as special counsel, announced Friday, is sure to extend the saga into the heart of the presidential campaign.
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Weiss will have broad powers to investigate the tax and gun crimes that were at the center of the plea deal that collapsed in court last month, as well as whether Hunter Biden violated foreign lobbying or other laws in his involvements with companies in Ukraine and China.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a Friday news conference the investigation into the president’s son is “ongoing,” indicating it could last months longer and possibly into 2024.
Read More: Hunter Biden Probe Widens With Special Counsel Appointment
Weiss will now write a report, and Garland said he would release a public version. Even if he stops short of prosecuting Hunter Biden, the report could draw negative attention to the presidential son’s conduct at a time when his father is asking voters for four more years in the White House.
The developments reinforce that legal issues will figure prominently in the presidential election. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is under multiple federal and state indictments and Biden himself faces a special counsel inquiry into his handling of classified material.
Republican strategist Doug Heye said the appointment of a special counsel validates the GOP’s long-running scrutiny of Hunter Biden.
“This just gives credence to what Republicans were saying,” Heye said.
Trump and his allies were quick to go on the offensive following Garland’s announcement. The Trump campaign issued a statement reviving many of the accusations the former president has made about his successor and Hunter Biden.
Yet Biden defeated Trump in 2020 even as the former president constantly leveled accusations against his son. The president’s allies do not see a special counsel probe changing the minds of voters more concerned with issues like inflation or abortion rights.
“If people have a strong opinion on the Hunter Biden story, then they have already made up their mind which party they are voting for,” Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha said.
Hunter Biden’s legal troubles and business dealings have been a hot-button issue for years. Republicans have repeatedly highlighted his issues to muddy the waters as Trump faces grave legal peril stemming from his alleged role in attempting to overturn the 2020 election, handling of classified documents and improper business practices.
Earlier: Biden Says He ‘Never Talked Business’ With Son Hunter’s Partners
To be sure, Republicans have failed to substantiate their most explosive accusations: that Biden was involved in and financially benefited from his son’s business dealings — and used the powers of his office to do favors for Hunter Biden and his associates.
Biden has repeatedly denied he discussed business with his son and his associates, most recently on Wednesday when he said “I never talked business with anybody.”
There’s also potential for overreach. Trump’s first impeachment stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials to dig up dirt on the Bidens before the 2020 election.
Early reaction to Weiss’ appointment from some top Republicans was negative, despite the risk it presents for Biden. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy asked how Weiss could be “trusted” given that he brokered a “sweetheart deal” with Hunter Biden, and pledged Republican probes will continue.
The appointment was announced just as prosecutors revealed in court that plea talks with Hunter Biden had reached an “impasse.” They told a judge that they believed the tax charges could not “resolve short of a trial.”
Under the failed plea deal, the younger Biden would plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax crimes committed in 2017 and 2018 and enter into an agreement with prosecutors to avoid prison for owning a gun while being addicted to an illegal drug.
Even if Weiss does not charge Hunter Biden with additional crimes, he could still be a political liability for his father. Half of Americans believed Hunter Biden was receiving favorable treatment from prosecutors because he is the president’s son, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released in late June.
Biden’s allies said Weiss’ appointment shows he has authority to make decisions in the investigation and is not being directed by the president’s administration. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said it “stands in stark contrast to former President Trump’s repeated efforts to use the Justice Department and Attorney General as his personal lawyer.”
Yet there are also difficult optics for the president, who has publicly stuck by his son in a way that has made even some supporters uncomfortable. Hunter Biden attended a state dinner at the White House in June, at which Garland was also in attendance, for example.
Other supporters have applauded how Biden has defended Hunter, saying it highlights his image as a loyal family man. Hunter Biden is the president’s only remaining son, following the 2015 death of Beau Biden. As he recovers from an addiction to crack cocaine, Hunter Biden has remained close to his father.
–With assistance from Ryan Teague Beckwith.
(Updates with court proceeding, in 17th paragraph.)
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