The White House is bracing for the political fallout from the charging decision in the Hunter Biden case.
And they’ve concluded that Republicans will attack them over it whether President Joe Biden’s son is criminally indicted or not.
In conversations, Democrats and senior West Wing aides are downplaying the potential impact, arguing Hunter Biden was a factor in the 2020 election and voters elected his father anyway. They point out the president’s top rival, Donald Trump, was just indicted himself.
But people close to Biden still worry about the personal toll it will take on a father who has already felt anguish about a son’s struggles amid a long history of family tragedy. And they wonder how long he can compartmentalize personal anger with the attacks on Hunter and the political calculation that he’s better off not responding to it. Biden has long agonized over the fate of his surviving son, expressing that worry in phone calls with longtime friends and to Hunter himself.
Attorneys for Hunter Biden met at Justice Department headquarters in Washington last week to discuss the tax- and gun-related case with prosecutors, according to a person familiar with the matter. Often a signal that an investigation is concluding, such meetings are used by defense lawyers to urge prosecutors to refrain from seeking an indictment or to consider reduced charges. The probe has centered on whether Biden failed to report all of his income and whether he lied on a form for buying a gun. His attorneys declined comment.
“Obviously, the Biden team would hope that this investigation does not result in an indictment for a multitude of reasons,” said Jennifer Palmieri, who served as President Barack Obama’s communications director. “But the Republicans have failed — both in the 2020 campaign and in their 2023 congressional hearings — to have questions about Hunter Biden impact public opinion and I don’t think they will succeed now, regardless of what DOJ decides.”
There is no Hunter Biden war room at the White House, according to four people familiar granted anonymity to speak freely. Defense for the president’s son is being handled by his personal attorneys and the White House is not involved with legal matters.
The campaign and the Democratic National Committee officials will likely take the lead in responding to political inquiries, while White House staffers will respond if the accusations touch on official government business.
No matter what DOJ decides at the end of its six-year investigation, the decision could have significant implications for the president’s just-announced reelection bid, giving fodder to Republicans as they seek to paint the Biden family as corrupt.
There is a sense among Biden allies that he’ll face some blowback either way. If Hunter Biden is charged with a crime, Trump and Republicans will try to link his behavior to his father’s conduct and fitness for office. And if charges are not brought, Republicans have telegraphed that they will claim that the Department of Justice was biased and that Attorney General Merrick Garland, a Biden appointee, rigged the decision.
“The Biden administration is the most corrupt administration in American history. Hunter Biden is a criminal, and nothing happened to him, nothing happened,” said Trump at a recent rally. “Joe Biden is a criminal and nothing ever seems to happen to him because you know, say what you want, but the Democrats stick together.”
Largely, aides said, the Biden campaign will continue to move forward and focus on other issues that they believe are more pertinent to voters. The White House believes that many Americans, especially those with addictions in their own family, are, and will be, sympathetic to the Bidens.
“First of all, my son has done nothing wrong. I trust him. I have faith in him,” Biden said in an interview Friday with MSNBC. “It impacts my presidency by making me feel proud of him.”
Aides to the president stress that the White House is not involved with the Department of Justice’s decision. The matter is being investigated by U.S. Attorney David Weiss of Delaware, a Trump appointee.
The probe into Hunter Biden began in 2018 and initially centered on his finances related to overseas business ties and consulting work. Investigators later shifted their focus to whether he failed to report all of his income and whether he lied on a form for buying a gun by denying that he was a drug abuser. Hunter Biden has spoken openly about his crack addiction and other drug problems.
The investigation into Hunter was discussed prior to launching the 2024 campaign. First lady Jill Biden made clear last year that it would not play a decisive role in whether or not the president would run for reelection. But the impact that the scrutiny of another campaign might have on Hunter Biden was weighed, according to three people not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Biden advisers acknowledge Republicans will revive the issue for the 2024 campaign, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions. But they also point out that Trump made many of these allegations during the 2020 campaign, even springing one of Hunter’s ex-business partners, a man named Tony Bobulinski, as a surprise guest at the last 2020 general election debate. It had little impact.
But the claims about Hunter Biden have continued to flourish in conservative media, which has grown convinced that the 2020 attacks would have landed harder if the press corps and social media companies had not been initially skeptical of the provenance of his former laptop. POLITICO has not authenticated the hard drive files that underpinned a New York Post story about the laptop, but POLITICO confirmed the authenticity of some emails on the drive in a 2021 book.
Republicans assert that the content of the laptop offers evidence of corrupt dealings, which has fueled investigations from the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Thursday deemed the allegations against the younger Biden as “very serious.”
“I just hope that he is being treated like everybody else,” Hawley said. “There [are] various whistleblower allegations that there’s been interference, that people have tried to stymie the investigation. That better not have happened.”
Biden advisers believe the focus on Hunter could backfire on Republicans and serve as another sign the GOP is out of step with normal Americans, much as polling suggests the party is on issues like abortion and guns.
Moreover, they suggest GOP attacks could very well divert attention to Trump’s own legal peril. The former president has already been indicted in New York for falsifying business records in connection to a hush money payment to a porn star and is the subject of several other probes. Moreover, Democrats have claimed that Trump’s own family benefited financially from their access to his political power and are quick to point out that Trump himself was impeached in 2019 for pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Biden family’s business dealings there.
A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
The White House did bolster its team ahead of the 2022 midterms to prepare for a more hostile environment and a GOP House. It brought on communications specialist Ian Sams as a spokesperson and several lawyers to handle personal investigations into the president, including Dick Sauber, a longtime Washington defense attorney in investigations.
And Hunter Biden has taken a more aggressive tack in recent months, bringing on longtime D.C. lawyer Abbe Lowell and pushing back more forcefully against Republican attacks on his personal history and how his personal effects ended up in the hands of GOP operatives like Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani. But some Democrats are anxious about talk that Hunter Biden may create a legal defense fund, which would raise scrutiny about the president’s son raising money to pay for his legal woes.
“The president loves his son and is proud that he has overcome his addiction and is moving forward with his life,” said Sams. “Republican officials’ politically motivated, partisan attacks on the president and his family are rooted in nonsensical conspiracy theories and do nothing to address the real issues Americans care about.”
Hunter Biden has written extensively about the challenges in his life, including his addictions and struggle to cope with the 1972 car accident that killed his mother and sister and critically injured him and his brother, Beau. He also lived much of his life in the shadow of Beau Biden, the former Delaware attorney general who died of brain cancer in 2015, at the age of 46.
The president, some of his friends say, checks on his son nearly every day. Hunter kept a low profile during the 2020 presidential campaign but has recently taken on a more public role. He appeared with his father at events including the state dinner for French President Emmanuel Macron in December. And he was a nearly constant presence at the president’s side at nearly every stop during last month’s trip to Ireland, their ancestral homeland.
But there have been recent sightings that serve as a reminder of the unfortunate headlines that he can sometimes create.
Hunter Biden appeared in an Arkansas courtroom this week as part of a bitter dispute with the mother of his 4-year-old child over reducing his child support payments. The mother of the child, Lunden Roberts, has accused the younger Biden of ignoring court orders to provide information about his finances and has asked a judge to declare him in contempt and have him jailed until he complies.
The president and first lady have yet to publicly acknowledge the existence of the child, who is their seventh grandchild. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre this week declined to discuss the subject during her briefing.
The Biden campaign declined to comment. Democratic lawmakers, many close to Biden personally, often decline to weigh in on the ongoing probe.
“There’s an investigation. It’s up to the prosecutors to decide what action to take,” said Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). “Whatever is appropriate, that’s the action that should be taken independent of what the political consequences are. It’s not our business and Congress to interfere with the prosecution.”
Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.