The Biden administration-to-be has a full agenda of challenges and problems; unfortunately, one that won’t go away as easily as it should is Hunter Biden.
During the presidential campaign, the Trump forces tried to vilify Joe BidenJoe Biden46 percent of voters say Trump should concede immediately: poll Michigan county reverses course, votes unanimously to certify election results GOP senator: Trump shouldn’t fire top cybersecurity official MORE with baseless charges that he sought to help his son’s foreign business interests and maybe even secretly pocket payoffs. They were lies, as most every reputable news organization and knowledgeable observer reported.
Yet the Vice President’s son’s actions were questionable, and history suggests critics will make sure it shadows his father’s administration. Remember Whitewater, which was a small Arkansas land deal in which Bill and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMichelle Obama: ‘So proud’ of Barack Obama for memoir The data reveals foreign influence and pollsters are 2020’s biggest losers Democracy at risk? Folks, that’s a bunch of malarkey MORE lost money: It morphed into an overzealous prosecutor bringing impeachment charges against President Clinton for lying about sex.
There was Benghazi, where four Americans — including the U.S. ambassador — were murdered by Libyan terrorists. The Republicans launched multiple investigations, costing millions of dollars, trying to pin the blame on the then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The travesty became clear when Clinton, in 11 hours of testimony, slam-dunked the Republicans’ point man, Congressman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySunday shows preview: Joe Biden wins the 2020 election Sunday shows preview: Election integrity dominates as Nov. 3 nears Tim Scott invokes Breonna Taylor, George Floyd in Trump convention speech MORE of South Carolina. Yet, as Rep. Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse GOP votes to keep leaders in place Feehery: A possible House Speaker conundrum for Democrats Press: Where is Jim Baker when we need him? MORE (R-Calif.) boasted, Republicans achieved their objective of dragging down her public standing.
If Republicans keep control of the Senate, Homeland Security chair Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonColorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus Grassley tests positive for coronavirus Ted Cruz slams fellow senator as a ‘complete ass’ over wearing mask MORE (R-Wis.), is intent on going after Biden. He’s not the brightest bulb, but he’s a strident partisan who faces a tough reelection next year and therefore needs to energize the Trump base. The easiest path is smearing Biden.
There are clear realities: Vice President Biden acted properly, admirably, in these controversies. His son, Hunter, did not — though there is no indication that Hunter did anything illegal.
The Trump and Johnson attacks on Joe Biden are deceitful. As Vice President, he pressured the Ukrainians to fire a corrupt prosecutor as a condition of U.S. assistance. That American policy was embraced by the Europeans, the International Monetary Fund, Ukraine reformers, and leading congressional Republicans. Forcing the government to dump a corrupt prosecutor was not welcome news for a shady energy company like Burisma; Hunter Biden was on their board.
When that doesn’t cut, the smear-Biden brigade alleges that the former vice president could have been slated for a payoff in a 2017 investment venture with a shady Chinese oil company. They cite a disgruntled former Hunter Biden partner and a mysterious laptop that supposedly belonged to the younger Biden.
This has all the hallmarks of Trump-orchestrated propaganda. “The corporate records reviewed by the Wall Street Journal show no role for Joe Biden,” the paper reported. Joe Biden was seriously weighing a presidential run then. Does anyone seriously believe he would have taken a secretive payment from a foreign interest?
Hunter is a different tale.
Again, there is no evidence he did anything illegal, but for years he has sought to trade on the family’s political name, consorted with dubious characters and hyped his influence. He has suffered far more setbacks and problems than successes. There still are a few unanswered questions about his service on the Ukrainian energy company, a position for which he had no qualifications. His attempted deals — seemingly unsuccessful — in China also raise questions.
Ron Johnson and allies will seize on all this to keep “Joe Biden scandals” alive, to discredit the Democratic administration. That’s the familiar playbook.
American intelligence officials have raised suspicions there may be another force at work: the Russians, always eager to sow confusion and create political chaos in America.
Some Biden supporters say, ‘Hey, this was litigated in the campaign; it’s over.’ They note that former White House counsel and Biden adviser Bob Bauer explained that Joe Biden had an agreement not to discuss Hunter’s business interests — and to pressure him on Ukraine or other dealings would have violated that firewall. Further, they say, Hunter Biden has vowed not to work with any foreign interests when his Dad is president.
The answer to these defenses is two words: Whitewater, Benghazi.
The lesson from each is the same: They are coming after you, and you had better be prepared.
What to do? Clearly this doesn’t call for a special counsel, as Joe Biden’s major offense was misplaced loyalty to his son. To counter what promises to be a protracted drumbeat from the likes of Trump and Johnson, there’s a case to enlist a respected outsider, a former prosecutor or prominent law school dean, to examine all this and issue a full report.
It might embarrass that the former vice president didn’t curb his son’s business activities and bring more pain to the fragile Hunter. It also might help put this fake scandal to rest.
To make sure it stays at rest, Hunter Biden should avoid any business deals that could be affected by the federal government. His days of trading on the family name must end.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.