How will Hunter Biden’s legal woes affect Joe Biden’s 2024 campaign?

Even as Republicans struggle to find evidence president took part in his son’s business dealings, some strategists worry swing voters may be confused by litany of charges and indictments against Hunter Biden and Donald Trump, Gustaf Kilander writes

Wednesday 13 December 2023 21:59 GMT
Hunter Biden and his father, President Joe Biden
Hunter Biden and his father, President Joe Biden (AP / EPA)

In a defiant statement outside the US Capitol on Wednesday, Hunter Biden forcefully pushed back on the idea that his father, President Joe Biden, had any connections to his business dealings, including in China and Ukraine.

He said his father did not play any part in his ventures, “not as a practising lawyer, not as a board member of Burisma, not in my partnership with a Chinese private businessman, not in my investments at home nor abroad, and certainly not as an artist”.

“There is no evidence to support the allegations that my father was financially involved in my business because it did not happen,” he said as he defied a Republican-led subpoena to testify behind closed doors.

What the polling shows

Polling on the issue shows that voters don’t necessarily agree with Hunter Biden. In September, a poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research revealed that about half of all Americans have little or no confidence that the Department of Justice is handling the probe into the conduct of the 53-year-old in a fair and nonpartisan manner and a third said at the time that they’re highly concerned that the president may be guilty of wrongdoing in connection to his son’s business dealings, despite that so far, no concrete evidence has come to the surface showing that this is the case.

Hunter Biden defies subpoena hours before impeachment inquiry vote

It’s important to note that the divide between people with differing political views is massive, showing that voters’ opinions of the president and his son are strongly correlated to their partisan positions. Among Republicans, 66 per cent said they’re very or extremely concerned about the president having committed wrongdoing in connection to his son’s business – the same is true for only seven per cent of Democrats, the poll revealed.

Another poll, conducted in November by Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies, Harris X and The Harris Poll, showed that 60 per cent of participants think the president “helped and participated in Hunter Biden’s business” with 40 per cent taking the opposite point of view.

Again, in the face of no evidence supporting the notion, 81 per cent of Republicans said they think the president took part in his son’s business, as did 39 per cent of Democrats and 59 per cent of independents.

Similarly, a CNN poll conducted by SSRS in late August found that 61 per cent of Americans think that the president had some involvement in his son’s business dealings, while 42 per cent think he committed illegal actions, with 18 per cent believing his actions were unethical but not illegal. Meanwhile, the same poll found that 38 per cent believed he had no involvement, with a single per cent saying he was involved but committed no wrongdoing.

A majority – 55 to 44 per cent – said he acted inappropriately versus inappropriately.

The CNN poll also had stark political divides – less than a third of Democrats said they think the president was involved compared to 76 per cent of Republicans and 64 per cent of independents.

An October poll by the AP and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 35 per cent of US adults think that the president acted illegally, despite the lack of evidence. Thirty-three per cent said they think he acted unethically and 30 per cent said they think the commander-in-chief did nothing wrong.

Hunter Biden may be held in contempt of Congress for defying subpoena

The allegations against Hunter Biden

The political impact of the sentiments represented in this polling and the charges against Hunter Biden remain unclear.

The most recent indictment includes allegations that Mr Biden didn’t pay at least $1.4m in federal taxes that he owed between 2016 and 2019.

The fresh legal filing comes after a plea deal fell apart in July which was supposed to see Mr Biden admitting to some tax and firearm offences in exchange for avoiding prison time.

The initial indictment came in September when prosecutors revealed three counts of lying on an application form to buy a handgun in 2018.

What the White House says

A White House official told Reuters that in the face of the toll the Justice Department’s investigations into Hunter Biden have taken on him, the White House can show that the president hasn’t intervened.

“Does it erode the moral high ground the president asserts as he seeks re-election? Absolutely not. It helps him make that case,” the official told the news agency. “We mean it when we say no one is above the law. It helps him paint a contrast with the other guy. No one (no Democrat) is calling this the weaponisation of the Justice Department. No one is calling it that for a reason.”

Neither the White House nor Mr Biden’s legal team would say whether anyone in the Biden administration had knowledge of Hunter Biden’s plans to deliver remarks but not sit for the closed-door deposition on Wednesday.

But a White House source who spoke to The Independent said Biden administration figures who watched the president’s son speak outside the Capitol viewed his statement as “powerful, forceful and emotional”.

What the strategists say

“I’m sure it’s very difficult for him to see his son facing these kinds of charges. But, you know, I think he can weather that,” Matt Bennett, the executive vice president of the Third Way think tank, told Reuters. “Politically I don’t think it’s going to have an enormous significance. People have known for a long time that Hunter Biden is under investigation and there is absolutely nothing in this indictment that indicates in any way that Joe Biden is involved in anything.”

Republican strategist Mary Anna Mancuso acknowledged to the news agency that the president remains unconnected to his son’s actions and personal struggles.

“It is very difficult to try to make hay out of this because ... we haven’t been able to find a connection between Hunter Biden’s lavish lifestyle and penchant for women, sex, drugs and rock and roll, so to speak, to be basically reliant on what the president is doing running for reelection or in any way has Joe Biden benefited,” she said.

But allies of the president are concerned that the Republicans, and the expected nominee, former President Donald Trump, will be able to use the charges against the younger Biden in a similar way to the allegations that 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton mishandled sensitive national security information when she used a private email server when she served as Secretary of State in the Obama administration.

The co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Adam Green, told NBC News that “it creates a Hillary-email vibe all over again, and it creates a false equivalency between the very real attacks on American democracy that Trump committed and much lower-scale things in this case that will muddy the waters for the 2024 election”.

Tim Miller, a former Republican strategist who was part of the early GOP focus on Ms Clinton following the attacks on a US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, but who has since left the party following Mr Trump’s ascension, warned Democrats while speaking to NBC News, saying that Republicans are “out for blood” and “there is no satisfying them” in their hunt for ways to take down the president.

While Republicans have so far been largely unsuccessful in connecting the president to his son’s actions in the minds of voters, some observers note that important groups of voters may be confused by the unsubstantiated allegations.

The ​​president of the research firm Engagious, Rich Thau, told NBC News: “Swing voters are already struggling to keep the dizzying number of Trump indictments straight. Add Hunter Biden’s travails into the 2024 mix, and these voters may well suffer from vertigo.”

Andrew Feinberg contributed to this report

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