A federal investigation into the finances of Biden’s son, Hunter, threatens to embolden congressional Republicans, who have already shown little willingness to work with the incoming President or even acknowledge his clear victory in last month’s election. For sure, it will complicate Senate confirmation hearings for Biden’s yet-to-be-named attorney general, who could ultimately have oversight of the investigation into the new president’s son.
It all raises the the prospect of even deeper dysfunction in a capital that is already struggling to address the nation’s most pressing crises, including a surging pandemic whose daily death tolls are beginning to surpass the devastation of the September 11 attacks. Republicans, particularly those eyeing presidential runs in 2024, are making clear they will press Biden on the issue.
Hunter Biden has long been a source of worry for his father’s campaign and was the subject of repeated unsupported accusations by President Donald Trump and his allies. But news of the probe, which was revealed on Wednesday and scrutinises some of Hunter’s Chinese business dealings and other transactions, caught most of his father’s staffers by surprise.
The President-elect had no public appearance Thursday as he moved forward with filling out his administration. But the investigation threatens to destabilise a transition that has prioritised a methodical rollout of Cabinet selections, White House hires and policy goals all meant to guarantee momentum when Biden takes office and immediately has to grapple with a surging pandemic and shaky economy.
Most notably, the probe casts a spotlight on one of Biden’s most important choices: his attorney general.
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and federal Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland have emerged as the leading contenders, three people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press this week. But dynamics could shift, as any Biden choice now will be scrutinised for any perceived loyalty to the president-elect and bias in any probe of his son.
Both Garland and especially Jones have longtime ties to Biden.
The president-elect himself is not a subject of the investigation. And Biden aides believe that because other Hunter Biden stories have blown over, this will, too. They note that a tax fraud investigation pales in comparison to Trump’s refusal to concede the election or to the pandemic that has killed more than 290,000 Americans.
Biden is expected to announce more Cabinet picks, but not attorney general, on Friday.
Trump’s initial public response was surprisingly muted, just a pair of tweets about a Fox News segment on the story Wednesday night. But privately, he demanded to know why the investigation was not revealed ahead of Election Day, accusing officials of deliberately stalling in order to help Biden’s chances, according to two Republicans familiar with the conversations but not authorised to discuss them publicly.
Some of Trump’s children have also faced some legal questions.
Donald Trump Jr was scrutinised in special Robert Mueller’s Russia probe for the 2016 meeting he had with a Kremlin-connected lawyer. And Ivanka Trump was recently deposed by investigators from the Washington, D C, district attorney’s office as part of its lawsuit alleging the misuse of inaugural funds.
The Hunter Biden investigation is the latest in a series of politically charged inquiries that the Justice Department has grappled with in the past five years, following probes into Hillary Clinton’s email use and the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
Regardless of the facts of the investigation, a new Justice Department will likely feel compelled to assert its independence from the White House following allegations that its actions were overly politicised during the Trump administration. Biden has said he will play no role in department investigative decisions.
A protracted criminal investigation that results in an indictment would be a major distraction and then some as the new president tries to implement his agenda. But if the Justice Department decides against bringing charges, officials will feel pressure to explain their steps and reassure the American public the inquiry was done in a competent and thorough way.
Federal investigators served a round of subpoenas on Tuesday, including to Hunter, according to a person familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing probe.
The federal investigation, centring on potential tax crimes, had been going on at least a year before Biden announced his 2020 candidacy. Investigators did not reach out in the weeks prior to voting because of a department policy surrounding elections that prohibits overt investigative acts.
Biden, fiercely protective of his own family, was said to be, in a statement released by his transition, deeply proud of his son, who has fought through difficult challenges, including the vicious personal attacks of recent months, only to emerge stronger. Biden struck a similarly defiant tone throughout the campaign whenever questions emerged about his son, which they frequently did.