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Hunter Biden: The US president’s prodigal son

In his new memoir, Beautiful Things, Joe Biden’s second son talks of his life in the shadow of American politics and his redemption from the years of debauchery and chaos that almost cost his father the presidency. Sean O’Grady wonders if his problems are really over

Sunday 18 April 2021 21:30
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<p>With his father at Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009</p>

With his father at Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009

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ock bottom, if you’ll pardon the pun, came for Hunter Biden a few years ago when he shared his home in Washington DC with a homeless crack cocaine dealer known variously by the names “bicycles” (because of her personal transport) and “Rhea”. He offered her accommodation and a bed (to sleep in, but not with him); she supplied the crack, taught him how to smoke it and how to prepare freebase cocaine in the kitchen. The apartment they occupied as a sort of Very Odd Couple was not so very far from where his father, the vice president of the United States, worked diligently with president Barack Obama for the welfare of the American people. While vice president Joe Biden was in the White House sitting with the joint chiefs of staff and the president to decide their next futile gesture to stop the pitiless war in Syria, or lobbying senior senator colleagues to push key budget legislation through Congress, his second son, Hunter, was rummaging around on the floor, preoccupied with more down-to-earth matters.

In a recent interview with CBS News to publicise his new redemptive memoir Beautiful Things, Hunter explains that so chaotic had his life become, and so addled by addiction was he by his mid-forties, that eventually he found himself “on my hands and knees picking through rugs” for any fragments of the many rocks of crack cocaine consumed in the “living” room, and mistook some flakes of parmesan cheese for the illegal schedule 1 narcotic. He lit up, regardless: “I probably smoked more parmesan cheese than anyone that you know.”

Had Hunter Biden, at that very moment of experimentation with toasted cheese, been busted by the feds, it would be nice to think that both sides could have seen the funny side of things, maybe making light of the stash of monterey jack in the fridge. Such unintended abstemiousness on Hunter’s part was rare, because his life for most of the 2000s and 2010s was a miasma of hard drinking, drug abuse, making pornos with escorts, fathering a child by a stripper, getting mugged, and getting discharged from the US navy reserve for drug use – plus, naturally, being an active member of a number of finance partnerships with interests in China, helping to run Amtrak (which might explain a lot), and his now infamous board membership of a Ukrainian energy giant, of all things. While in LA he spent months in a frighteningly expensive luxury hotel lodge, getting ripped off and ripped until the management had had enough of the company he was keeping, and indeed of him. His personal best/worst was going 13 days without sleep, fuelled by vodka and crack. One photograph that has emerged from Hunter’s famed laptop supposedly shows him (or someone who looks very like him), lying on a bed, straddled by two naked women and, by their side, what looks to be a bemused bichon frise dog, the only participant in the menage not too ashamed to look directly at the camera. Quite the playboy lifestyle.

Hunter Biden looks on as his father fields questions during his second run to be the Democratic presidential candidate in 2007

Hunter Biden now says his “biggest guilt” was not seeing more of his three daughters, though maybe it was just as well in the circumstances. On one occasion, so careless was he about his bad habits that he returned a Hertz rental car with what a police officer later said was “a small white and brown pipe approximately 3-4 inches long” and “a small ziplock bag with a white powdery substance inside all sitting on the passenger seat”. Biden, luckily, escaped prosecution; but not divorce proceedings. On 23 February 2017, Hunter’s wife of more than two decades, Kathleen Buhle Biden, sought to freeze the family’s remaining financial assets, with an austere summary of what she euphemistically labelled her husband’s “interests”: “He has created financial concerns for his family by spending extravagantly on his own interests (including drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, strip clubs and gifts for women with whom he has had sexual relations)”. The childrens’ school fees were in danger of literally going up in smoke.

As Hunter confided to the BBC’s Mishal Husain last week, “grief does funny things”. That is true enough, but much of Hunter’s bacchanalian orgying took place long before Beau fell ill. And the loss of someone so close doesn’t automatically involve swiftly embarking on an affair with your late brother’s widow, and then being unfaithful to both her and your estranged wife with a stripper from the Mpire bar in DC, Lunden Alexis Roberts. By dint of DNA testing, and a court case in Arkansas, it is clear that in 2018 a child was born as a result of that relationship. Hunter has agreed financial support for “Baby Biden”. Hunter thus has five children rather than the four claimed in his book – Maisy, Finnegan and Naomi from his first marriage; Roberts’s baby; plus, now, a “second” Beau Biden, named after his late brother, from his second marriage in 2019 to Melissa Cohen, a South African film-maker.

Undeniably, though, the burgeoning Biden clan have had their share of tragedies, and these have affected Hunter as much as anyone. As is well known, Hunter’s mother, Neilia, and his sister Naomi, died in a car crash in 1972 when he was two years old, while his older (by a year) brother Beau was seriously injured and survived. Their father had just been elected as a senator from Delaware, and he took his oath of office by the boys’ hospital bedside. Hunter has put it this way, though the book sometimes implies a stronger causal effect: “I don't see that tragic moment as necessarily resulting in behaviours that lent themselves to addiction ... But I do have a better understanding of why I feel the way I do sometimes.”

In 2015, it was Joe and Hunter at Beau’s sickbed as he succumbed to a brain tumour. In their last conversations, Beau and Hunter talked about the “beautiful things” they would do once he had beaten the cancer. The boys had been inseparable, not least from being frequently on the campaign trail with their dad, and being fussed over by a constantly changing cast of extended family in the big old semi-derelict rambling mansions the various Bidens liked to buy and renovate. As Hunter recalls, their personalities and roles were set early: “If we wanted to jump off a cliff into a watering hole, I would say ‘I’m ready, let’s go,’ and Beau would say, ‘Wait, wait, wait, before we do it, make sure there aren’t any rocks down there.’”

The death of the stable family man, Beau, on the cusp of a promising political career, was another trauma in an unusually close and emotionally open family. It was and is no secret that Joe loved both his sons, as well as their half-sister Ashley (from his marriage to second wife Jill, now first lady), but the difference was how he saw so much of himself in the eldest. In Joe Biden’s own memoir and personal testament, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose, published in 2017, he describes Beau as “Joe Biden 2.0, a war veteran, a prosecutor, and a promising politician. He had all the best of me, but with the bugs and flaws engineered out,” and says: “I was pretty sure Beau could run for president some day. And with his brother’s help, he could win.” It is fair to say that Hunter, though cherished equally, was less prominent in the statesman’s utterances. It looked very much like Hunter was going to be Bobby Kennedy to Beau’s JFK, their father’s ambitions partially sublimated into them as he got older.

I probably smoked more parmesan cheese than anyone that you know

Hunter Biden

The Hunter Biden memoir seems to be a “kitchen sink” effort to disarm his critics before they can do any further damage to him, to his father, and to the Democrats. With his father now safely ensconced in the White House, Hunter can freely fess up to the years of debauchery and the moments of madness, hoping to clear them out of the way before his many critics try to use them against him and, more to the point, against his father the president. Hunter points out, in moments when he tries to muster some self-respect, that he “doesn’t belong to an administration” but to a family, and that “we won” in November 2020; but the mortal danger into which he plunged himself and his father’s career can hardly be denied. Were it not for the transcendent impact of the Covid pandemic, and President Trump’s abject failure to respond to it, the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop and his crazy behaviour might well have tilted the election in Trump’s favour, as parallel – and equally wild – allegations about Hillary Clinton and her email accounts did in 2016.

That Hunter was not the instrument of his doting father’s undoing was also due to the fact that the single damaging shred of “evidence” of the vast corruption claimed by Trump to exist within the Biden family was equivocal and insubstantial. There is one reference in one email on the laptop (apparently abandoned by Hunter in a repair shop), from one of Hunter Biden’s associates about a natural gas deal on Monkey Island, Louisiana (true) with a Chinese energy tycoon, that actually reads: “10 held by H for the big guy?” This seems to be an overexcited “offer” of a 10 per cent equity stake in the venture to be held by Hunter for “big guy” Joe Biden – with a question mark attached. It is unlikely Biden would ever have entertained such a move, never having owned any shares during his decades-long career. The deal fell through anyway. It might have made Hunter a few million dollars better off, but not the $1.5bn bonanza once suggested by Trump.

As we all know now, Trump’s illegal attempts to get the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter’s involvement in the Burisma energy company also came to nought, except in relation to Trump’s own second impeachment, which might not have succeeded or swung many MAGA voters against him, but didn’t help him either. Joe Biden didn’t in fact get a Ukrainian prosecutor sacked for investigating his son; it was because the Ukrainian guy was so clearly unfit for office that his resignation was demanded by international agencies. Burisma wanted a Biden on the board because it added respectability, however implausible that might seem, and for this unconvincing gesture they were prepared to pay handsomely ($600,000 per annum). No one believed Burisma could live up to western standards, and the fee went to support Hunter’s personal “interests”. The general impression is that if Hunter Biden’s various lobbying clients and financial partners really thought that he was going to use his father’s influence, present or future, to swing them some favours, they were sorely mistaken. A question of who was using who, in other words.

Besides, Hunter Biden never denies that his name has helped him out all his life. Contacts, especially via the Democrat establishment, have helped ease his way. But the process required no crude quid pro quo interventions by Joe Biden: the name itself was enough to “open sesame”. The first big-money corporate role Hunter won was with the MBNA bank – based in, of course, Delaware, and a major donor to Joe’s campaigning; no improper pressure needed. At the age of 26 he was on $100,000 a year. Hunter was bright enough (Yale and Georgetown) to qualify as a lawyer and make his way in lobbying and finance, and he made the most of his connections. Jobs in the Clinton administration and a financial partnership with the wealthier wing of John Kerry’s family (of Heinz fame) don’t seem to have been difficult to secure. But Eric and Donald Trump Jr attacking Hunter and Joe Biden for nepotism was as comical as it was ineffective. The Trumpian media’s declining reputation for accurate reporting also undermined its attempts to make out that Joe Biden was a crook, even if his son was a crook – but in reality Hunter was no more than the kind of avaricious, shark-like businessman that Trump usually admired. At least Joe didn’t give Hunter a job in the White House.

What next, then, for Hunter Biden? (Apart from – hopefully – reserving the parmesan for his pasta dish.) It is a bit of a stretch to imagine that he could somehow make his way in presidential politics, as his father obviously hoped for Beau; but it is an intriguing, if bizarre, thought. Hunter Biden vs Donald Trump Jr in the election of 2032? It’d be fun. There are some interesting, though mashed-up, precedents. Another dynastic patriarch of Irish heritage named Joe –Joseph Kennedy – had to transfer his hopes and ambitions to his second son, Jack Kennedy, after his eldest son, Joseph P Kennedy Jr, died in the Second World War. Donald Trump Sr was the beneficiary in both business and politics of the premature death of his elder brother, “Freddy”, in 1981, from alcohol abuse. (Trump as a result is teetotal, while Joe Biden, aware of a family history of problems with drink, also avoids strong liquor.) It’s worth recalling too that George W Bush also led the life of a spoiled brat, with borderline alcoholism, until wife Laura put her foot down and he went cold turkey back in 1986. Shrub’s youthful excesses (well into his thirties in fact, encroaching on his married life) were nothing to be proud of, but he lived them down with some rather more momentous middle-aged excesses.

It looked very much like Hunter was going to be Bobby Kennedy to Beau’s JFK

So, Hunter Biden may well hope that this round of interviews, the book, and the demise (at least temporarily) of his enemies will join with his own sobriety in helping him resume his life and make some kind of a living, maybe even in his father’s trade. Back in 1996 he was deputy director of his father’s campaigning, and he has inevitably lived and breathed politics. With his relaunch, Hunter is trying to turn the liability of his unsavoury past as a greedy, selfish, hard-drinking sex and drug addict with pronounced narcissistic tendencies into an asset. On the back of his extensive and authentic experience of the underclass, he is a self-appointed ambassador for the addicted, appealing to the very many American families from every class who have been touched by such evils and suffering, offering them some dignity and perhaps some sort of explanation. Of the homeless woman he shared his home (and cocaine) with, he says this: “Rhea is one of the most amazing people that I’ve ever met. And for her to have been able to maintain humanity after, it’s such an incredibly difficult life, the life of someone who’s been without a home for so long, that has been subjected to the violence that I believe is a part of that life. And her addiction, which was mine, the addiction to crack cocaine. And she was not a dealer. She was a user...”

“Yes, she would supply me. But the one thing that I know is that it is the one relationship in which it allowed me to fully understand the struggles of so many people that are still – that I left behind in in recovery. And thank God I'm in recovery. And [my] hope now, beginning with this book, is that I'm able to speak to not just the people that are lost in that space that Rhea was lost in then, and had been for so long; but to the millions of other people that feel the same way, because of the guilt and the shame that they feel, and because they just don't think that there's a life beyond ... that there is always hope.”

Indeed so, and America does love a story of redemption and rebirth, such as that of Hunter Biden – dissolute hedge-fund part-owner now turned clean-living champion of the homeless and the addicted. It bodes well for whatever new career he pursues (possibly more likely in the arts). If he goes for politics, he will, though, be the first candidate for senior public office in the US to have had a picture of his knob enter the public domain, albeit in an image pixelated by the Mail Online in its coverage of the contents of his lost laptop.

Nor may that be the last embarrassment. Such was the superhuman longevity and ambition of his descent that you cannot help but feel that there are more skeletons ready to stagger out, crack-pipe in mouth, sex toy in hand, from the well-stocked Biden closet of shame. For just one example, when the Ashley Madison adultery/dating site was hacked in 2015, they found an account in the name of a “Robert Biden”. Hunter says that is someone else, even though his full name is indeed Robert Hunter Biden. The date of birth of the Ashley Madison client was reportedly 4 April 1980, whereas that of the real Robert Hunter Biden, son of Joe, is 4 April 1970. Makes you wonder, though. I have a feeling that we’ve not the heard the last of Hunter Biden’s not-so-beautiful things, inside and outside his underpants.

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