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 first reported in October 2022 that federal agents believe they have enough evidence to charge Hunter Biden with tax and gun crimes. NBC News has since reported that prosecutors are nearing a decision on potentially bringing charges against him.

Because of his father's position, any move against Hunter Biden could have political consequences, especially as the elder Biden has recently launched his campaign for reelection. The president, though, has been steadfast in his support of his son, saying during an interview with MSNBC, "My son has done nothing wrong. I trust him. I have faith in him." However, as the campaign season heats up, there is likely to be continued pushback against Hunter Biden from conservatives, even if he is not charged. Politico notes that the White House is "bracing for the political fallout … and they've concluded that Republicans will attack them over it whether President Biden's son is criminally indicted or not."

What did Hunter allegedly do wrong?

The president's son, 53, 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 in 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, a lobbyist and, more recently, an artist, but it's not clear he could have 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 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 this 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 doing?

Republicans have long been planning a Congressional investigation of Hunter, and this began once Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections. And it's clear they want to use this 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.) told Fox Business. However, as many pundits have noted, the investigation has so far been unable to move the needle, though pressure on the president's son by the GOP is continuing to mount

What's going to happen next? 

As all of this is coming to a headway, with multiple outlets reporting that prosecutors are nearing a decision on potential charges against Hunter Biden. The Washington Post reports that Justice Department officials recently met with Biden's attorneys to discuss the case and notes that that type of meeting "in which defense lawyers urge prosecutors not to seek an indictment of their client or to seek reduced charges … comes toward the end of an investigation." However, sources remained tight-lipped on what the outcome of the case could be.

Even if Hunter avoids charges, the ongoing Republican investigations mean this story probably isn't going to go away for the next few years, especially as the presidential election inches closer. However, given public polling, it is possible that criminal charges against Hunter Biden wouldn't have a devastating effect on his father's campaign. Jennifer Palmieri, who served as former President Barack Obama's communications director, tells Politico that "Republicans have failed, both in the 2020 campaign and in their 2023 congressional hearings, to have questions about Hunter Biden impact public opinion, and I don't think they will succeed now, regardless of what DOJ decides."

May 7, 2023: This article has been updated with new developments throughout. 

Recommended

Chuck Todd to be replaced by Kristen Welker on NBC's 'Meet the Press'
'Meet the Press' anchor Chuck Todd.
Out with the old, in with the new

Chuck Todd to be replaced by Kristen Welker on NBC's 'Meet the Press'

Grand jury in Trump documents case to reportedly meet this week
Former President Donald Trump.
Baring Down on Donald

Grand jury in Trump documents case to reportedly meet this week

10 things you need to know today: June 4, 2023
The aftermath of a deadly train crash in India.
Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: June 4, 2023

Can Chris Christie make a comeback?
A black and white photo of Chris Christie waving
Profile

Can Chris Christie make a comeback?

Most Popular

Is Trump's wall working?
International Border Wall Between Tecate California and Tecate Mexico.
Briefing

Is Trump's wall working?

Trump's recording: Is this 'game over'?
Former President Donald Trump smiles at the camera
Talking point

Trump's recording: Is this 'game over'?

10 states sue FEMA over flood insurance rate hike
FEMA State Disaster Recovery Center after Hurricane Ian
'a natural disaster of its own'

10 states sue FEMA over flood insurance rate hike