White House Ducks Questions About Hunter Biden Revelations

National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby during a daily news briefing in the White House on June 23, 2023. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Happy Monday! We hope you’re starting your week with the confidence and optimism of the Biden campaign aides who told Axios they “aren’t overly concerned about his low poll numbers, in part because the team faced dismal numbers before the 2022 midterms, when Democrats performed better than expected.”

Up to Speed

  • A short-lived Russian military mutiny fizzled over the weekend after Wagner Group mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin abandoned his troops’ shocking march toward Moscow in a deal reportedly brokered by Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the attempted mutiny demonstrated a “direct challenge” to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority and that we still “don’t have finality in terms of what was actually agreed between Prigozhin and Putin.”
  • Abortion took center stage at this weekend’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, where a slate of Republican presidential candidates trumpeted their pro-life bona fides before an audience of friendly conservative evangelical activists. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis talked up his state’s 6-week abortion ban and former Vice President Mike Pence called for a nationwide 15-week abortion ban. Former President Donald Trump, who has waffled on abortion policy questions in recent months, said the federal government has a “vital role” in protecting life and declared he will “fight against the demented late-term abortionists in the Democrat party.”
  • Donald Trump has increasingly steered campaign donations to a PAC that pays his legal fees, the New York Times reported Sunday. A few months after the Trump campaign launched in November, the proportion of online donations diverted to the PAC quietly increased tenfold—from 1 cent per dollar to 10 cents per dollar. 
  • Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs on Friday signed an executive order making it more difficult for the state to prosecute people who seek or provide abortions under the state’s 15-week ban. “I will not allow extreme and out of touch politicians to get in the way of the fundamental right Arizonans have to make decisions about their own bodies and futures,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.

White House Deflects on Latest Hunter Biden Revelations

Many Democrats hoped Hunter Biden’s misdemeanor plea deal last week would help Democrats get out from under the weight of the heap of scandals involving President Joe Biden’s son. But those hopes looked overly optimistic on Friday, as the White House offered only evasive responses to new questions about the president’s involvement with Hunter’s foreign business dealings.

Those questions came after Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee voted Thursday to release whistleblower testimony from two IRS agents that had been involved with the Hunter Biden investigation. In their testimony, the agents alleged that the Department of Justice had slow-walked and stymied crucial parts of the investigation into Hunter Biden. But they also shared a 2017 WhatsApp message in which Hunter Biden appeared to berate a Chinese business partner with threats invoking his father’s political influence.

“I am sitting here with my father and we would like to understand why the commitment made has not been fulfilled,” Hunter said in the message to Henry Zhao, a Chinese hedge fund manager and energy executive. If his request was not satisfied, Hunter warned, “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. I am sitting here waiting for the call with my father.”

Days after that text exchange, a 2020 Senate investigation found, a company affiliated with Zhao wired a company connected to the younger Biden nearly $5 million dollars, $4.8 million of which ended in Hunter’s own bank account.

Was Hunter, drug-addled and out of control at the time, simply lying about his dad being involved with the deal? That’s what his attorney Christopher Clark suggested in a Friday statement to multiple outlets: “Any verifiable words or actions of my client in the midst of a horrible addiction are solely his own and have no connection to anyone in his family.”

Hunter’s own words nevertheless complicate President Biden’s longtime insistence that he had never discussed his son’s overseas business with him.

But the White House has been far from forthcoming about the developments. Asked about the president’s previous comments at the White House briefing Friday, both National Security Council spokesman John Kirby and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeatedly deflected.

“I’m not going to comment further on this. Let me save you some breath if you’re gonna ask about this,” Kirby told one reporter. “I am not going to address this issue from this podium. I’m just not gonna do it.” Moments later, he abruptly left the podium.

Jean-Pierre also refused to answer repeated questions from both conservative and mainstream reporters about whether Biden still stood by his own prior comments and whether the elder Biden had been with his son on the day in question. “I would refer you to my colleagues at the White House counsel,” she repeatedly replied.

Virginia Republicans United Ahead of November Elections

National Republicans may be feeling divided and uncertain about the future, but there’s one place where the party is invigorated: Virginia.

The Old Dominion remains a Democratic stronghold at the presidential level, but Republicans in the commonwealth are feeling upbeat ahead of the 2023 legislative elections, when all 40 Senate seats and all 100 House of Delegates seats are up. The GOP has a narrow majority in the House and is just three seats short of control of the Senate. Growing their share in both houses will be a difficult task, but Republicans in Virginia are hopeful, they say, thanks in no small part to the leadership of Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

“The team is energized and united,” says Chris Saxman, a former Republican state delegate from Staunton. “He’s got a quality team around him.”

Last week’s legislative primaries went well for Youngkin, who had endorsed 10 GOP candidates in contested primaries—five in the Senate and five in the House of Delegates. All 10 won their races, aided not only by the governor’s endorsement but by a well-funded get-out-the-vote program headed up by his Spirit of Virginia PAC.

Republicans also saw the state’s legislative redistricting, which forced some awkward primary fights in both parties, as an opportunity to unify the GOP. While several Democrat-held districts featured contentious fights with progressive challengers winning out over more moderate incumbents, efforts began last December to have monthly conversations among Youngkin’s political operation, the Virginia state GOP, and representatives of various center-right interest groups. 

“They’ve really done a good job of sharing good insights, sharing good information, and getting everyone on the same page,” says Gillum Ferguson, the political director for the American Federation for Children and someone who has participated in several of these conversations.

As a result, Virginia Republicans say they feel everyone with an interest in advancing conservative policies are now rowing in the same direction.

“Everyone knows what’s at stake,” says Dave Rexrode, a top adviser to Youngkin and the chairman of his PAC. “One of the things we wanted to try to do is bring them all to the table, have an open dialogue about what different groups are doing, what different groups are thinking, to just make sure to communicate what each of us is doing.”

At the center of it all is Youngkin. His gubernatorial victory in 2021, one year after Joe Biden won Virginia by 10 points, made him an overnight rock star with his fellow Republican governors across the country. And national GOP donors also developed a swift affinity for him—as the former CEO of the Carlyle Group, Youngkin was essentially one of them.

So when Youngkin released a video last month drawing on his recent speech at the Ronald Reagan Library, it prompted questions about whether the single-term-limited governor might throw his hat in the presidential ring. 

On that front, Team Youngkin’s message remains the same. “For him, his focus politically is these races over the next couple months,” says Rexrode. “That’s all he’s focusing on, that’s all we’re focusing on.”

Eyes on the Trail

  • DeSantis makes a run for the border. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday was in Eagle Pass, a Texas community along the Mexican border. There, he rolled out his plans to crack down on illegal immigration after having arrived in the region the day before to participate in what his campaign describes as a “border ride along.” DeSantis isn’t the first Republican presidential contender to visit the Southern border and highlight plans to halt illegal crossings from Mexico. But DeSantis’ trip there—far away from an early primary state—is significant because it marks the unveiling of his first formal policy proposal as a White House candidate. Components of the governor’s border security overhaul include: finishing construction of a wall started by former President Donald Trump; weakening Mexican drug cartels; ending “catch and release;” reimposing the “remain in Mexico” policy; increasing wages for border patrol agents; and “force the courts and Congress” to eliminate birth-right citizenship. “For decades, leaders from both parties have produced empty promises on border security,” the governor said in a statement. “We will get it done.” The effort is being backed by a coalition of sheriffs from across the country endorsing DeSantis’ presidential campaign. 
  • We don’t see a problem here: There’s no reason yet to believe that Donald Trump’s federal indictment on charges related to inappropriately retaining classified materials and obstructing justice is hurting him politically. A recent NBC poll finds that Trump has increased his lead over his main primary rival, Ron DeSantis, by 14 percentage points since April. Trump’s prospects still aren’t so rosy in a potential general election matchup with President Joe Biden, with the current president holding a four-point advantage over his predecessor, 49 percent to 45 percent. 

Notable and Quotable

“We will secure the border. We will stop the cartels. We will build the wall. We will stop the invasion. No excuses.”

—A new Ron DeSantis campaign video released ahead of his border trip, Sunday, June 25

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