The Allegations Against the Bidens, Explained

President Joe Biden embraces his family a during his inauguration at the the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images)

The yearslong federal investigation into Hunter Biden has ramped up significantly in recent months, culminating in Attorney General Merrick Garland appointing Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss as a special counsel last week. And investigations by House Republicans have resulted in a steady drip of information related to the extended Biden family’s business dealings and influence peddling both during and after Joe Biden’s two terms as vice president.

There’s plenty of evidence pointing to unethical—and even criminal—behavior by members of the Biden family, but House Republicans have also regularly gotten out over their skis, promoting unreliable sources and making explosive claims that are not yet supported by the evidence they’ve collected. That said, many of the reports in recent weeks about Hunter Biden’s activities are reliable, either because Hunter and his legal team have conceded they are true—Hunter admitted in court last month he had made money from China, directly contradicting previous denials from his father—or because they are based on legitimate documents or testimony delivered under the penalty of perjury.

As the Justice Department’s investigation into Hunter Biden reaches a new phase—and Republicans weigh launching an impeachment inquiry into his father—we thought it would be useful to provide an overview of where things stand and, to the extent possible, an evaluation of the credibility of the various allegations against the first son and his high-profile family.

Criminal Conduct

Hunter Biden

Tax and gun law violations. Hunter Biden’s lawyers first reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors in June, hoping to wrap up the broader investigation into their client—which began during the Obama administration and has been led by Weiss since 2018. (Although Weiss was nominated for his post by former President Donald Trump, the prosecutor was recommended by Delaware’s two Democratic senators, Chris Coons and Tom Carper, under the Senate’s “blue-slip policy.”)

The plea agreement didn’t stand up to scrutiny when it was presented to Judge Maryellen Noreika in July, however, as prosecutors indicated the door was still open to further charges that the Biden team thought had been set aside. (Noreika was also appointed by Trump and backed by Delaware’s two Democratic senators, Coons and Carper.)

Despite the last-minute hiccups, the underlying conduct Hunter has been accused of is not in dispute. He failed to pay his income taxes on time in 2017 and 2018, each instance of which is a misdemeanor—and he lied about his addiction to cocaine when purchasing a gun in 2018, which is a felony. He originally agreed to plead guilty to the tax misdemeanors—which could entail paying a $100,000 fine (​​in addition to the excess of $1 million he reportedly paid last year to cover his outstanding tax liabilities)—and enter a pretrial “diversion agreement” that would allow him to avoid jail time for the gun charge. Biden’s legal team argues that prosecutors reneged on the deal—an assertion Weiss denied in a court filing on Tuesday—but that may not matter now, at least not in a legal sense. Last week, Weiss filed to dismiss the charges in Delaware, writing that “the Government now believes that the case will not resolve short of a trial.” Now that Weiss has been named a special counsel, he has the ability to bring the same charges—and possibly additional ones—in other jurisdictions.

Other tax crimes. Just because the original plea agreement addressed only three charges—the two tax misdemeanors and the gun felony—that doesn’t mean those are the only crimes Hunter has committed. In May, two IRS agents who were involved in the investigation provided closed-door testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, in which—according to transcripts published by the committee—they said that the federal investigation looked into a variety of crimes (including tax evasion felonies) over a timeline stretching back as far as 2014. In the whistleblowers’ telling, DOJ officials blocked investigators from fully pursuing those leads.

IRS agent Gary Shapley, for example, described an October 2022 meeting in which Weiss told his colleagues that he had been denied special counsel status—which in turn meant that “the government would not be bringing charges against Hunter Biden for the 2014-2015 tax years, for which the statute of limitations were set to expire in one month.” 

Weiss has since denied that his bosses at the Justice Department limited his authority, and Garland has also indicated that Weiss had not asked him for special counsel status until now—but Shapley provided the committee with an email he wrote after an October 2022 meeting documenting that “Weiss stated that he is not the deciding person on whether charges are filed.”

Violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The federal probe has also reportedly looked into whether Hunter violated FARA, which requires people lobbying on behalf of foreign governments to make certain disclosures to the Justice Department. Critics argue the law, which was rarely enforced prior to 2017, is overly broad. But by accepting money through a web of shell companies from foreign sources that sought to influence the U.S. government—and never registering as a foreign agent, according to the Justice Department’s database—Hunter may have broken it. Prosecutors specifically left the door open to future FARA charges when questioned by a federal judge last month about the now-defunct plea agreement.

Sketchy, but Not Necessarily Criminal, Conduct

Hunter Biden

Influence peddling. By examining the subpoenaed bank records of some of Hunter Biden’s business partners, Republicans on the Oversight Committee have calculated that “the Bidens and their associates have received over $20 million in payments from foreign entities,” including companies in China, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine, during and shortly after the Obama administration.

Not all of that money went into Hunter’s pockets, according to the bank records the committee has released in stages through three memoranda. Some went to business associates like Devon Archer, who provided closed-door testimony to the Oversight Committee at the end of July. And some went to other Biden family members, including Joe Biden’s brother James, Hunter’s wife and ex-wife, and Beau Biden’s widow, with whom Hunter was romantically involved after his brother’s death.

We have an incomplete picture of exactly what kind of services Hunter and his partners provided these foreign entities—an email Archer discussed in his testimony referred to “supplying strategic advice on politics and geopolitical risk assessment”—but publicly available evidence suggests Hunter traded aggressively on his father’s name and position. According to Archer, the value Hunter brought to various ventures was the “illusion of access” to the Biden “brand”—a brand defined by the fact that his dad was vice president.

House GOP members haven’t yet subpoenaed the bank records of Biden family members themselves, so the above allegations are based on transactions that originated with associates and shell companies. But the trail of money from foreign entities to Biden family members’ accounts is there, and the GOP lawmakers’ overarching concern is that foreign entities—including CEFC, a Chinese conglomerate; and Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas company—sought Hunter out with hopes that he might be able sway the policy of the United States government. Hunter indulged those hopes, telling Archer, for example, that the announcement of a visit to Ukraine by then-Vice President Biden in 2014 “should be characterized as part of our advice and thinking” even though “​​what he will say and do is out of our hands.”

Art sale ethics violations. In 2021, Hunter Biden began selling his artwork through a gallery in New York. In response to concerns that people could pay hefty sums for Hunter’s pieces in an effort to influence the president, White House lawyers set up a system that they claimed would prevent Hunter from learning any buyers’ identities. However, Insider reported last month that Hunter knew the identities of at least two buyers, one of whom was a prominent Democratic donor appointed by President Biden to an unpaid position on the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. In total, according to the Insider report, Hunter’s art sold for $1.3 million, including approximately $875,000 from a single buyer—though some of that money has gone to the gallery. As Audrey Baker explained earlier this month, there is currently no hard evidence of an explicit quid pro quo, but the situation has alarmed even Democratic ethics experts.

Joe Biden

Present on phone calls and at meals with Hunter’s business associates. According to Archer’s testimony, Hunter put his dad on speakerphone during business meetings about 20 times over the course of 10 years—including while Joe Biden was vice president. Archer also said that Joe Biden occasionally ate dinner with Hunter and his business associates. For example, Oversight Committee Republicans note that one associate present at dinners with Joe Biden was Russian oligarch Yelena Baturina, who in 2014 wired $3.5 million to a shell company—some of which went to Archer and some of which went to fund a new shell company associated with both Archer and Hunter Biden. Archer testified that the dinners Joe Biden attended didn’t turn to business discussions, sticking instead to “general niceties.”

Even after Joe Biden had returned to private life following the end of the Obama administration, Hunter appeared to still be leveraging his connection to his father for business purposes. In connection with the IRS agents’ testimony, the Ways and Means Committee obtained what it said was a WhatsApp message Hunter sent to an executive of CEFC, the Chinese energy conglomerate, in July 2017.

“I am sitting here with my father and we would like to understand why the commitment made has not been fulfilled,” the message reads. “Z, if I get a call or text from anyone involved in this other than you, Zhang, or the chairman, I will make certain that between the man sitting next to me and every person he knows and my ability to forever hold a grudge that you will regret not following my direction.” One of Hunter’s former lawyers, Chris Clark, later indicated Hunter’s words should not be taken at face value, as he was “in the midst of a horrible addiction” at the time. (As of Tuesday, Clark is now no longer representing Hunter because he may be called to testify as a witness in the case.)

(Possibly) accessing Hunter’s money. A now-infamous March 2017 email from British businessman James Gilliar—reportedly saved on a laptop Hunter had abandoned at a Delaware repair shop—asked about “10 held by H for the big guy?” in the context of a discussion about “expectations” surrounding a possible deal with a Chinese energy company. Some of the recipients of the email have said that it referred to the idea that Hunter might hold a 10 percent stake on his father’s behalf—throwing the president’s previous claims that he never discussed business with his son into doubt. The White House now says father and son were never “in business” together—a slight evolution from the various denials Biden has issued over the years.

(Although the laptop story, first reported by the New York Post, was initially dismissed as disinformation by the Biden campaign and dozens of former members of the intelligence community, mainstream outlets such as CBS News and the Washington Post have since verified the authenticity of much of its contents to various degrees.)

In a 2019 text message also reportedly retrieved from Hunter’s abandoned laptop, the younger Biden said to his daughter, “Don’t worry unlike Pop I won’t make you give me half your salary.” The New York Post has reported that other emails recovered from the laptop suggest that Hunter paid for some bills related to the upkeep of his parents’ lake house in Delaware. Direct evidence of the transfer of money between Hunter Biden and his father has not emerged, though some Republicans argue that is a distinction without a difference and that payments to family members could count as bribes.

The Department of Justice

House Republicans argue that Hunter Biden has received especially lenient treatment by the Department of Justice over the course of the federal investigation.

“The Justice Department’s misconduct and politicization in the Biden criminal investigation already allowed the statute of limitations to run with respect to egregious felonies committed by Hunter Biden,” Rep. James Comer, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement after Weiss’ appointment as special counsel was announced last week. “Justice Department officials refused to follow evidence that could have led to Joe Biden, tipped off the Biden transition team and Hunter Biden’s lawyers about planned interviews and searches, and attempted to sneakily place Hunter Biden on the path to a sweetheart plea deal.”

Comer’s argument that the DOJ is engaged in a “Biden family coverup” draws almost entirely from the testimony of the IRS agents. The Oversight Committee also recently released an interview transcript with a former FBI agent who corroborated Shapley’s account of Secret Service agents having received early notice about investigators’ plans to interview Hunter Biden in December 2020—plans that never came to fruition.

Shapley said that when the aforementioned “big guy” email came up during their investigation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Wolf “interjected and said she did not want to ask about the big guy and stated she did not want to ask questions about ‘dad.’” According to the second whistleblower, Wolf also said that “it will get us into hot water if we interview the president’s grandchildren.” If the agents’ recollections are accurate, they could be evidence of President Biden or his appointees putting a thumb on the scale for his son—or a midlevel official deciding on her own to avoid an awkward investigative step.

In light of the allegations that the Justice Department was soft-pedaling the investigation, Hunter’s plea agreement and its collapse have also come under increased scrutiny. Based on what we know now, it’s impossible to definitively determine whether Justice Department officials “attempted to sneakily place Hunter Biden on the path to a sweetheart plea deal,” as Comer has argued. But the deal was indeed quite favorable to Hunter. Under the proposed diversion agreement, for example, he would have received immunity from prosecution for “any federal crimes encompassed” by two Statements of Fact. Those Statements of Fact, in turn, cover a broad range of conduct, including some of his foreign business activities.

Hunter’s lawyers said in a court filing on Sunday that prosecutors “proposed and largely dictated the form and content” of the agreements, and the Justice Department responded two days later by arguing that “who drafted the language is irrelevant.” Regardless, the fact that the agreement crumbled when questioned by a judge doesn’t look good for the DOJ: Either Weiss’ team wasn’t prosecuting Hunter very aggressively, or they got outmaneuvered by his defense attorneys and didn’t understand the full scope of what they were agreeing to.

An Explosive but Unverified Bribery Allegation

Last month, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa publicly released a redacted version of an FD-1023 document—a form used by the FBI to record unverified reports from confidential human sources. According to the narrative laid out in the document compiled in 2020, one such source recounted that the CEO of Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian natural gas company, suggested he had paid Hunter Biden (who was on the company’s board) and Joe Biden millions of dollars to “deal with” Viktor Shokin, the Ukrainian prosecutor general who was investigating the company in 2016. (Removing the corrupt prosecutor general was the policy of the United States and multiple European countries at the time, in part because he was not adequately investigating corruption in the Ukrainian government and at companies like Burisma.)

Democrats and Republicans have made seemingly contradictory statements about the status of the FD-1023, with Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin—the ranking member on the Oversight Committee—saying that the Trump-era DOJ closed the investigation. Former Attorney General William Barr disputed Raskin’s characterization, however, saying that “the investigation of the underlying information continued in Delaware.” Either way, the allegations in the document have not been verified by other sources.

Personal Scandal

Hunter Biden

Hunter Biden “has a well-documented and long-standing struggle with substance abuse,” according to an exhibit attached to the plea agreement. Substance abuse, including alcohol and cocaine, is mentioned in the younger Biden’s 2021 memoir. He also had an affair with his brother Beau’s widow, Hallie, while still married to his first wife, Kathleen Buhle.

After his divorce from Buhle in 2017, “Biden’s substance abuse worsened in 2018, a year that included a move to Los Angeles and what he has described as a ‘spring and summer of nonstop debauchery,’” according to the plea agreement document. That same year, he fathered a daughter with a stripper. His paternity was verified by DNA testing in early 2020 as part of a civil child support case in Arkansas in which he sought to minimize the size of his payments—purportedly due to financial hardship—and prevent his daughter from taking his last name. As part of the child support settlement, Hunter will give his daughter some of his paintings, “with a minimum size of 24×24.” After insisting for years they only had six grandchildren, Joe and Jill Biden publicly acknowledged the child for the first time last month.

Comments (239)
Join The Dispatch to participate in the comments.
Load More