The second and final US presidential debate featured a surprise guest last night, after Donald Trump invited a former associate of Joe Biden’s son Hunter to the political showdown.
Navy veteran Tony Bobulinsk “held an impromptu press conference” ahead of the televised clash in Tennessee in order to lay out “a string of claims about the Biden family’s foreign business dealings”, The Telegraph reports.
Bobulinsk described how he and the Democratic candidate’s son (pictured above, right) had “attempted to form an investment group with a Chinese oil company in 2017”, and “suggested he was coming forward because the senior Mr Biden also stood to gain from the business deal”, says the newspaper.
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The allegations have pushed Hunter Biden into the media spotlight for the second time in a week, after an FBI money-laundering probe was linked to a laptop previously owned by him. But just who is Joe Biden’s troubled second son - and does he pose a threat to the would-be president’s election hopes?
Hunter Biden’s “personal life has created tension as it has played out amid his father’s political life for years”, but has come into “sharper focus” as the former vice president battles to become the next US leader, says Business Insider.
The Bidens have faced plenty of personal dramas in the past. In 1972, Hunter, then three, and his brother Beau, who was four, were seriously injured in a car crash that killed their mother and baby sister, Naomi.
Following his wife’s death, their father commuted 90 minutes each day to Capitol Hill from his home in the Delaware city of Wilmington as he juggled his parenting and political roles, earning the nickname “Amtrack Joe” from Washington insiders.
Joe Biden’s upbringing was coloured by relatives with alcohol addictions, leading him to abstain from drinking.
But his son has struggled with both alcohol and drug problems, telling The New Yorker last year that he “started drinking socially as a teenager” and occasionally used cocaine while studying history at Georgetown University.
After graduating, he put in a year volunteering in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps before moving back to Wilmington, where he took up a post as an executive vice president at MBNA bank. But “his role at the bank raised eyebrows as MBNA was known as a massive donor to several of Joe Biden’s campaigns over the years”, Business Insider says.
Hunter went on to serve as a director in the Department of Commerce from 1998 to 2001, while Bill Clinton was in office, “where he began to establish himself as a D.C. player”, the news site continues.
From 2001 to 2008, he worked as a federal lobbyist. But when then-senator Barack Obama - who “at the time refused donations from lobbyists”, says CNN - asked his father to join his presidential ticket, Hunter resigned. He told The New Yorker last year that he was not asked to step down, but “wanted my father to have a clean slate”.
After leaving lobbying behind, the younger Biden founded two companies: consulting firm Seneca Global Advisors and private-equity firm Rosemont Seneca Partners. Through these companies, he “established various business connections to figures in China and Russia”, Business Insider reports.
He also joined Burisma Holdings Ltd, a large Ukrainian gas production company, as a lawyer and board member - but in doing so triggered conflict of interest allegations, as “his father and the White House were engaged in diplomatic missions in the region to wean Ukraine off Russian energy sources,” CNN says.
While his business dealings have caused consternation, especially within Donald Trump’s immediate circle, Hunter’s personal life provided even more “tabloid fodder during and after his father’s time with the [Obama] administration”, Business Insider adds.
He was discharged from the US Navy Reserves after testing positive for cocaine in 2014, and dated his late brother Beau’s widow, Hallie Biden, after divorcing his first wife, with whom he has three children.
The candid interview with The New Yorker last year also made headlines across the US and beyond when he admitted that his brother’s death, from brain cancer in 2015, sent him into a destructive spiral during which he bought crack cocaine at a homeless encampment in Los Angeles.
Joe Biden has also “spoken candidly about his son’s struggles with alcohol and drugs”, notes The Independent.
During the first presidential debate, he said: “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem. He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him.”
An election liability?
“Will Hunter Biden jeopardise his father’s campaign?” asked the headline above his interview in The New Yorker. Many of Washington’s movers and shakers have asked the same question, but the Democratic hopeful has publicly backed his son on multiple occasions.
During last night’s presidential debate, he insisted that “nothing was unethical” about Hunter’s involvement with Ukrainian gas firm Burisma. In a jibe at Trump, Biden Snr added that “my son has not made money from China. The only guy who has made money from China was this guy.”
The Democrat spoke out after Hunter’s former business partner Bobulinsk showed off three mobile phones to reporters that he said contained evidence of his claims and would be handed over to the FBI.
However, “it was unclear what wrongdoing the former business associate was alleging”, The Telegraph says.
And as The New Yorker noted last year, “Joe Biden is hardly the first politician to have faced scrutiny for the business dealings of a family member”.
Indeed, if Hunter Biden is a headache for his father’s campaign team, it is not showing in the polls as the clock ticks down to 3 November.
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