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 work in the private sector and whether it had any impact on Joe Biden’s decisions as President or Vice President. Those investigations are ratcheting up following House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s decision on Sept. 12 to launch an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden over his son’s overseas business dealings. House Republicans have so far failed to show evidence that Joe Biden was involved in Hunter Biden’s business.
Hunter Biden is also the subject of an ongoing criminal case into his taxes and statements he made on a firearm form. On Sept. 14, Hunter Biden was charged by the Justice Department with lying about his drug use when he purchased a handgun.
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?
McCarthy, the Speaker of the House, launched a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden on Sept. 12, and Hunter Biden is at the center of it. After months of pressure from hard-right House Republicans, McCarthy said that allegations of a “culture of corruption” around Biden “warrant further investigation.” But House Republicans have so far been unable to produce evidence of wrongdoing by Biden.
It hasn’t been for lack of trying. The House Oversight Committee worked since January to 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 chairman of the House Oversight Committee since January, 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 information 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.
Hunter Biden is also the subject of criminal investigations into his tax filings and a statement he made on a form in October 2018 to purchase a Colt Cobra 38SPL revolver during a time he has publicly acknowledged using crack cocaine. Department of Justice Special Counsel David Weiss charged Hunter Biden with illegally obtaining a firearm while addicted to drugs and two counts related to false statements on the purchase form.
Hunter Biden had previously reached an agreement with the Justice Department to plead guilty to the two misdemeanor tax charges and avoid prosecution on the gun charge if he was willing to submit to probation, enter a diversion program, remain drug-free for 24 months, and agree to never own a firearm again. But that deal fell apart in court in July after U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika in Delaware balked at signing off on the plea deal.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware is led by Weiss, a Trump appointee who Attorney General Merrick Garland named special counsel in the case in August. Being designated special counsel gives Weiss more autonomy and the ability to potentially bring charges in jurisdictions outside Delaware. Weiss initially began investigating Hunter Biden’s tax affairs in December 2020, weeks after Joe Biden won the 2020 election. “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 Biden said in a statement at the time.
According to The Washington Post, federal agents had 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.
Lying on a Firearms Transaction Record is a felony and a conviction could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years, but legal experts say prosecutors rarely bring charges on the infraction.
What happens next in the criminal case?
Hunter Biden will likely face the firearms charges in court. It is unclear if Special Counsel Weiss will decide to bring charges against Hunter related to his tax filings.
Either way the prosecution will not resolve the political side of the investigation, as Republicans argued that politics had influenced how law enforcement agencies had handled the cases. Congressional Republicans continue to blast the Justice Department for its efforts to pursue an earlier plea deal with Hunter Biden, with Comer calling it a “slap on the wrist” that revealed a “two-tiered system of justice.” “We will not rest until the full extent of President Biden’s involvement in the family’s schemes are revealed,” he added.
Another congressional committee run by Republicans is looking at whether the Justice Department inappropriately intervened in Hunter Biden’s case. The House Ways and Means Committee released testimony on June 22 from two IRS employees who worked on Hunter Biden’s tax evasion case. The whistleblowers said that the Justice Department interfered with the investigation in multiple ways. “Whistleblowers describe how the Biden Justice Department intervened and overstepped in a campaign to protect the son of Joe Biden by delaying, divulging, and denying an ongoing investigation into Hunter Biden’s alleged tax crimes,” said Rep. Jason Smith, a Missouri Republican who chairs the Ways and Means Committee.
One of the whistleblowers, IRS criminal supervisory special agent Gary Shapley, described in his testimony how decisions from the Justice Department amounted to “slow-walking investigative steps, not allowing enforcement actions to be executed, limiting investigators’ line of questioning for witnesses,” among other allegations. Normally, U.S. Attorneys mostly pursue cases in their jurisdictions. Shapley said that Weiss, the U.S. Attorney in Delaware leading the Hunter Biden case, was blocked from bringing charges in Washington, D.C. and had asked the Justice Department to be given special counsel status in order to bring charges outside Delaware, but was denied. Because of certain aspects of Hunter Biden’s case, Delaware might not have been the correct venue for Weiss to pursue some of the charges against the President’s son. In response to those claims, the Justice Department said in a statement to the Associated Press that Weiss has “full authority over this matter, including responsibility for deciding where, when, and whether to file charges as he deems appropriate. He needs no further approval to do so.”
Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said that the Department of Justice rarely brings charges for lying on a firearm purchase form. But choosing to not charge Hunter Biden would have drawn accusations of favoritism.
“Hunter Biden would not be facing these charges if his name wasn’t Hunter Biden,” Mariotti says. “Hunter Biden is getting more scrutiny and more prosecution than if he was John Doe and not Hunter Biden.”
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.”
House Republicans are challenging Biden’s assertion and raising questions about whether Hunter Biden was using his father’s name to close his business deals, and whether Joe Biden knew about it.
Testimony from IRS supervisory special agent Gary Shapley to the House Ways and Means described a WhatsApp message allegedly sent by Hunter Biden on July 30, 2017 to a businessman Henry Zhao that read: “I am sitting here with my father and we would like to understand why the commitment made has not been fulfilled.” It is unclear what specific commitment is referred to in the message.
Hunter Biden’s attorney Chris Clark said the Justice Department investigation covered “a period which was a time of turmoil and addiction” for Hunter Biden, according to a statement Clark provided to The Washington Post. “Any verifiable words or actions of my client, in the midst of a horrible addiction, are solely his own and have no connection to anyone in his family,” Clark said. After the testimony was released, the White House denied Biden did business with Hunter Biden. “As we have said many times before, the President was not in business with his son,” said White House spokesman Ian Sams in a statement.
Devon Archer, a former long-time business associate of Hunter Biden, testified to the House Oversight Committee in July that Hunter Biden had traded on the “illusion” of influence and his famous father’s brand name, but had not been able to influence him. Archer and Hunter Biden had worked closely together from the time when they were partners together in the investment firm Rosemont Seneca. They also both served on the Burisma board. Archer testified that Joe Biden spoke to his son Hunter nearly every day, particularly in the months after Hunter’s brother Beau died in May 2015, and he had seen Hunter Biden put Joe Biden on speaker phone during business meetings. But Archer told House investigators that nothing of substance was ever discussed in those calls.
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% 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.”
In October 2022, Mac Isaac filed a defamation lawsuit against Hunter Biden and others in federal court in which he claimed the laptop and a hard drive became Mac Isaac’s property when Hunter Biden didn’t pick them up from the shop within 90 days.
Recently, Hunter Biden has adopted a new, aggressive legal strategy in response to the coverage of the laptop and its contents. He 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.”
On March 17, Hunter Biden filed a countersuit against Mac Issac in U.S. District Court in Delaware. The 42-page suit accuses Mac Isaac of invading Hunter Biden’s privacy and being part of a conspiracy to obtain and distribute data. In the suit, Hunter Biden says the computer repair shop owner didn’t have a legal right to copy data from Biden’s laptop and pass it to others.
A spokesperson for Hunter Biden’s legal team said that, as part of the countersuit, they intend to depose Mac Issac, as well as Giuliani, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and Guo Wengui, a Chinese billionaire with ties to Bannon.
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.)
On May 10, Republicans on the oversight committee released a 36-page memorandum that described $10 million in foreign business transactions by companies that Comer and his GOP colleagues allege benefited Biden relatives during and after the years Biden was Vice President.
The memo further alleges that the payments, which included some from a Romanian national and a Chinese entity, constitute a “pattern of influence peddling.” The committee’s memo has no evidence that President Biden knew about the transactions and doesn’t try to link the payments to any of his official or unofficial acts as a public servant.
Hunter Biden’s business connections and history of drug addiction are likely to continue to provide 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.”
—With reporting by Nik Popli
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