Shortcuts / 19 January 2023

The Hunter Biden saga

If all you know about Hunter Biden is that he’s the son of President Joe Biden and he’s a bit controversial, this episode of Squiz Shortcuts will fill in the blanks. And he’s going to be someone to know about because a big spotlight is about to fall on him as the political cycle heats up ahead of next year’s presidential election. So in this Squiz Shortcut, we’ll get you across who he is, what his critics say about him, and how it could play out.

Why will Hunter Biden be someone to watch this year?
The first reason is that federal prosecutors in the US could decide soon whether to indict him on tax and gun charges. And even if they don’t he’s not home and hosed… That’s because hostile congressional hearings into claims that have been made against him are 99% guaranteed to happen this year.  

Why will there be congressional hearings?
Let’s step it back a bit to the results of last year’s midterms. The Democrats – President Joe Biden’s party – did well in those elections. They retained power in the Senate, but they did lose control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans. 

So now the Republicans are using their control in the House of Reps to get stuck into the Bidens?
You got it. 

Before we get into politics, who is this Hunter Biden guy anyway?
He’s the 2nd child from Biden’s marriage to Neilia Hunter – his full name is Robert Hunter Biden, and he was nearly 3yo when tragedy struck. 

What happened?
He was in the car with his mother, older brother Beau and baby sister Naomi when they had an accident – that was in December 1972. His mother and sister were killed. And in 2015, tragedy struck again… Beau – who was a bit of a rising star on the cusp of a big political career – died of brain cancer. 

That would have been difficult…
Yep, and that’s when Hunter’s life really went off the rails. His marriage ended with his ex citing his spending on drugs, alcohol and strip clubs, leaving the family with no money to pay the bills. And it was later uncovered that he fathered a child with an exotic dancer – it was an encounter he later said he couldn’t remember. 

Anything else to note?
Hunter also began a relationship with his brother’s widow, Hallie Biden – that relationship lasted 2 years. He said they bonded over the shared grief of losing Beau. Just a couple of weeks after that ended, he married South African filmmaker Melissa Cohen after a 6-day romance. 

Geez, that’s a lot in a brief period of time…
It was, and during all of that, Hunter was in and out of rehab. 

How does that all relate back to why he could be in trouble with the feds?
So they’ve been investigating whether he lied about his drug use when purchasing a handgun. And there’s a probe into his tax affairs.

Do we know the specifics?
Authorities aren’t that forthcoming about why they’re investigating someone, but reports say at one point, he owed the tax office US$2 million. That’s said to have been paid with a loan from a friend, but there are still questions about whether he breached money laundering laws in his business dealings in foreign countries.  

And was his dad – now-US President Joe Biden – involved in any of this?
That’s what Republican lawmakers have been asking. It was in his first job in the finance sector after he graduated from Yale that questions started to be asked about potential conflicts of interest to do with his father, who was then a US Senator.

What kinds of conflicts of interest are we talking about?
Whether it was finance laws that Joe helped push through, clients that Hunter lobbied for when he set up his business, or the dodgy hedge fund he was involved in that was found to be a Ponzi scheme – there have been many questions about that intersection of Hunter’s business dealings and what his dad knew/helped with.

What about when Biden was vice president?
That was between 2009 and 2017 in the Obama administration. There are questions about Hunter’s dealings with Chinese businesspeople during this time, including a big oil project funded by a billionaire who was ultimately detained by Chinese authorities on corruption charges and subsequently went missing. But that’s not the most controversial matter… 

So what takes the cake?
Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine. In 2014, Hunter joined the board of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings, where he was reportedly paid up to US$50,000 a month. It’s that appointment that Republicans are most interested in – particularly how Joe Biden’s work may have overlapped with his son’s. 

How so?
Well, while Hunter was on the board of Burisma, his father was pursuing anti-corruption work in Ukraine. In fact, he rallied Western leaders to call for the firing of the country’s top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was accused of blocking corruption investigations.

What happened?
Shokin was sacked in 2016. And at that time, Donald Trump was, of course, on the rise, and he and his allies seized on it, claiming Shokin was sacked for investigating Burisma. That saw Trump get on the phone with a bloke called Volodymyr Zelensky. 

I know that guy…
We do now, but at the time, Zelensky was the country’s new leader and not on the international radar. Trump made a phone call to Zelensky and pressured him to investigate Hunter Biden – that chapter eventually led to Trump’s first impeachment.

And wasn’t there also something about a missing laptop?
There sure was. During the 2020 presidential election campaign, it was revealed that Hunter abandoned a laptop at a repair shop. It contained a 2015 email in which a Burisma adviser thanked him for the invitation to meet his father, who was then the US Veep. That was an issue because his dad had always maintained he had no connection with his family’s business dealings.

What did Biden say about that?
Which Biden?

Joe Biden… 
His response was that it was a “smear campaign” engineered by Russia. And the US media outlets running the story – mainly News Corp/Rupert Murdoch’s media company – were accused of spreading a lie. But later, the email was authenticated, so Biden’s response changed to say the meeting never happened. 

And now the Republicans are going after Hunter… So how’s this all going to play out?
Republicans in the House of Reps have already started taking some steps. Last week, party members on the House Oversight Committee demanded information about the Bidens’ banking transactions from the Treasury Department. 

And the House Oversight Committee is…
It’s a group of members – they’re like Australian MPs – who are on a committee that’s aimed at ensuring the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of the federal government and all its agencies.

This has been a thing for a while – why’s it blowing up now?
The Republicans winning a majority in the House of Reps in the midterms meant they were also able to take control of these committees. So they now have the numbers to get cracking on the things that will make Joe Biden’s life a bit more difficult. 

I get it, but isn’t the next election ages away?
Well, the process to pick the parties’ presidential candidates heats up this year, with voting in the primaries starting in the second half of 2023. 

So the Republicans are trying to inflict damage on the president as he prepares for his likely 2024 re-election bid?
It’s sure looking that way. Of course, we don’t really know if Biden will run again – he’s 80yo and was the oldest president to take office back in 2021. 

And who knows what will happen…
Indeed, and answering that question will be another big theme of the year when it comes to US politics. 

Squiz recommends:

Excerpt from Hunter Biden’s ex-wife Kathleen Buhle’s memoir about the end of her marriage

Transcript of former US President Donald Trump’s 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

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