Briefing

The possible charges against Hunter Biden, explained

He's a Republican obsession. But the feds may have the goods.

The feds might be coming for President Biden's son. The Washington Post reported earlier this month that federal agents believe they have enough evidence to charge Hunter Biden with tax and gun crimes. 

Because of his father's position, any move against him could have political consequences. The president, meanwhile, has offered his son some public support. "I have great confidence in my son," the elder Biden said this week in a CNN interview. "I love him. He's on a straight and narrow, and he has been for a couple years now." The statement received pushback from conservatives: "That was a clear push for mercy — from the ultimate boss of the Justice Department that's weighing charges against Hunter," the New York Post said in an editorial. What are the allegations facing Hunter Biden, and what might the fallout be? Here's everything you need to know.

What did Hunter allegedly do wrong?

The president's son, now 52, has had well-publicized troubles with drug addiction, which play a part in the potential charges. The gun charges, for example, stem from a period when he was, "by his own account … smoking crack cocaine," the Post reports. That was 2018, when Hunter Biden purchased a handgun — and allegedly answered "no" to a question about whether he had unlawfully used drugs. 

The younger Biden's taxes have also been under scrutiny for years, The New York Times reported in March. That investigation began during the Obama Administration, but "widened in 2018 to include possible criminal violations of tax laws, as well as foreign lobbying and money laundering rules." The paper reported that Hunter paid off his tax liability — which he told friends amounted to more than $1 million — but that might not save him from legal trouble: Prosecutors argue "that the crime happens when the return is falsely filed or not filed at all."

Are there other problems?

Hunter Biden has arguably been drifting toward trouble for much of his adulthood — "the guy who even into his 40s keeps needing dad to send the search-and-rescue party," Matt Yglesias wrote for Vox in 2020. He has made a living as a lawyer and a lobbyist, and more recently as an artist, but it's not clear he could've done much work over the years without his dad's name and connections. In addition to his drug problems, he also attracted attention when in 2014 he joined the board of Burisma, a controversial Ukrainian oil and gas company. "Hunter had no apparent qualifications for the job except that his father was the vice president and involved in the Obama administration's Ukraine policy." When President Donald Trump was impeached in 2019, it was because he'd pressed Ukraine's president for dirt on Hunter and Joe Biden — and withheld U.S. military aid to give him leverage. 

Hunter also made a cameo appearance at the end of the 2020 presidential campaign, when a Delaware computer shop owner emerged with a report that Joe Biden's son had abandoned his laptop computer at the shop which Slate's Mary Harris recently described as containing "a whole lot of selfies, some homemade pornography, and email messages hinting at cozy relationships between him and businesspeople from China and Ukraine." The circumstances seemed improbable enough that Twitter and Facebook put the kibosh on the story — and Republicans have used that incident to suggest the media and "Big Tech"  helped elect Joe Biden — but it now seems likely to be legit. And it may also play a role in the federal investigation. 

What are Republicans saying?

They're planning a Congressional investigation of Hunter, should they take over one or both houses of Congress in this fall's midterm elections. And it's clear they plan to use that investigation not just to take down Hunter Biden, but also his father. "I think the American people are going to be shocked with what they find out the Biden family's been doing to profit off Joe Biden's name over the past decade," Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) recently told Fox Business Network

For what it's worth, more than half of Democrats polled in August by Fox News said it is "somewhat important" for Hunter Biden's business dealings to be investigated.

What's going to happen next? 

It's not entirely clear. "Prosecutions for false statements on gun-purchase forms are relatively rare, but they do happen," the Post reports. Tax prosecutions are more common, of course. But even if Hunter avoids charges, the promised Republican investigations mean this story probably isn't going to go away for the next few years. 

Charges against Hunter Biden could come with an odd upside for Democrats. Prosecuting the president's son "would demonstrate the integrity of the Justice Department, which its previous boss, President Donald Trump, politicized and continues to attack," Politico columnist Jack Shafer writes. That might be good for the country — but small consolation to the president and his son.

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