Is Hunter Biden’s plea deal a gift to Republicans?

The US president’s son will plead guilty to tax charges and admit to illegally possessing a gun

Hunter Biden, Joe Biden
(Image credit: Illustrated/Shutterstock/Getty Images)

The US president’s son will plead guilty to tax charges and admit to illegally possessing a gun, after reaching a plea deal with the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

The deal is likely to “spare” Hunter Biden “time behind bars”, said the Associated Press (AP), and ends a long-running investigation into the taxes and foreign business dealings of the 53-year-old, who has “acknowledged struggling with addiction” following the death of his older brother Beau in 2015.

It also avoids a public trial which would have “generated days or weeks of distracting headlines” for a White House that is “strenuously” seeking to keep its distance from the Justice Department, added the AP.

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What did the papers say?

Republicans aiming to retake the White House have long “sought to tie Hunter Biden’s legal woes directly to his father”, said The Washington Post, in particular, homing in on Hunter’s involvement with Chinese firm CEFC and his position on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Critics claimed that Hunter’s “alleged wrongdoing goes far beyond a simple tax and gun case” and have accused the DOJ of trying to avoid prosecuting more serious matters.

The plea deal brings some closure, but nevertheless puts Hunter “once again in the cross-hairs” of the president’s Republican adversaries who “instantly complained that the wayward son got off too easy”, said The New York Times (NYT).

His well-publicised struggles with addiction have become “a fixation of the political right”, which sees the “presidential progeny” as a “walking, talking exemplar of the pay-to-play culture of the Washington swamp”, who they claim have “profited off proximity to power”.

The timing of the plea agreement, coming nearly two weeks after the indictment of former president Donald Trump on 37 felony counts of jeopardising national security and obstructing justice, has prompted comparisons between the two “vastly different” cases, added the NYT.

Supporters say the plea deal is evidence that the president has been “playing it straight” by letting a prosecutor appointed by Trump handle the case. But Trump and his backers have plumped to characterise the deal as “proof of selective justice”.

The “tentative” plea deal is “bound to displease partisans on both sides” of the political spectrum, which is at least “one sign that it’s a fair and suitable disposition” of the long-standing investigation, said The Los Angeles Times. Critics will undoubtedly see it as evidence of leniency, with Trump already accusing the “corrupt Biden DOJ” of giving Hunter a mere “traffic ticket”.

It is a “spurious” charge, said the paper, as President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland distanced themselves from the case, allowing Trump-appointed prosecutor David Weiss to oversee it. Indeed, Biden supporters could argue that Weiss’s presence “exerted a nearly irresistible pull toward bringing some charge” against Hunter. The “bottom line” is that both sides had “plenty to gain or lose” from the Biden case, “and that may well have helped produce a sensible bargain”.

However, the plea deal is likely to remain “grist” for the 2024 presidential race, said The Washington Post, “as the nation’s two main parties once again debate the influence of politics on law enforcement and the effects of law enforcement investigations on political campaigns”.

What next?

Hunter Biden may have “reached an end in terms of legal recourse”, said Sky News, but the politics around him will “continue to play out”.

In the wake of the plea deal, House Republicans have “vowed to continue” with their investigations into him and whether the president used his influence to benefit his son’s business ventures, said Forbes.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy claimed the deal reinforces the GOP’s protests that the DOJ is favouring Biden and unfairly pursuing Trump. McCarthy said the deal “continues to show the two-tier system in America”. Trump condemned the settlement on his Truth Social platform, labelling it a “massive COVERUP & FULL SCALE ELECTION INTERFERENCE ‘SCAM.’”

The plea deal awaits the approval of a federal judge who also has the authority to impose jail time, added Forbes.

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