The Hunter Biden Investigation

Happy Wednesday! Starting next year, Netflix plans to crack down on password sharing between viewers who live in different households—so consider this your three-month window to start figuring out workarounds.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Iran will reportedly provide Russia with surface-to-surface missiles and more “kamikaze” drones of the type Russia has used to attack civilian and infrastructure targets in Kyiv—on Monday killing four civilians in an apartment building. Iran has also reportedly sent trainers to Ukraine’s occupied Crimean peninsula to help Russia run the drones. A U.S. official said Monday the U.S. will sanction Iran and third parties selling Tehran weapons materials or running flights between Iran and Russia. 
  • The European Commission on Tuesday proposed granting the executive body power to set an emergency price cap on natural gas at the Dutch Title Transfer Facility, a major benchmark for gas. If the proposal gets approval, the bloc would still need to agree on technical details—commission officials didn’t specify where they’d set the price cap or how they would guarantee that consumption doesn’t tick up in response to one.
  • Offering salaries of about $275,000, China has reportedly recruited about 30 former British military pilots to train Chinese armed forces to counter Western tactics and equipment. The British Ministry of Defense said there’s no evidence the pilots have shared information that violates the Official Secrets Act, but James Heappey, the U.K.’s armed forces minister, said officials will change the law to allow prosecution of pilots training Chinese forces—after a warning to stop.
  • Saudi Arabia has sentenced American citizen Saad Ibrahim Almadi, 72, to 16 years in prison for tweets he posted while living in the United States that criticized Saudi policies and one which supported naming a street after journalist Jamal Khashoggi, murdered in a Saudi consulate in 2018. State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said Tuesday that the State Department is still deciding whether to designate Almadi as “wrongfully detained.”
  • Igor Danchenko—a Russian-born analyst who provided research for the discredited Steele dossier, which alleged collusion between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia—was acquitted Tuesday on multiple counts of lying to the FBI. In one, the prosecution alleged Danchenko was untruthful when he told the FBI he hadn’t talked about his research with Democratic political operative Charles Dolan, but, because his correspondence with Dolan was over email, U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga ruled the charge had to be thrown out. Special counsel John Durham—appointed three years ago to examine the origins of the FBI’s investigation of Trump campaign ties to Russia—has had minimal courtroom success, but he and his team unearthed a number of mistakes or errors in judgment made by federal investigators in the run-up to the 2016 election. Durham is expected to submit his final report to the Justice Department before next year.
  • Leaders on both sides of the aisle have this week outlined their priorities if their parties emerge from the midterms with congressional control: President Joe Biden said in a speech Tuesday that he would push a law codifying the legal protections outlined in Roe v. Wade and creating a national right to abortion, while House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said Republicans would likely not “write a blank check to Ukraine” with respect to military and humanitarian aid. Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said yesterday he believes the aid will continue in a GOP-led Congress, but that there would be more “oversight and accountability in terms of the funding and where the money is going.”
  • The Internal Revenue Service announced Tuesday the standard deduction and income tax rate thresholds will rise next year by the largest amount since the inflation-based adjustment system was introduced in 1985, a reflection of this year’s rapid price increases. The standard deduction for married couples and individual taxpayers will climb about 7 percent from 2022’s level, and marginal tax rates will begin kicking in at higher income thresholds.

Hunter in the Hot Seat

Hunter Biden arrives at his father’s inauguration. (Photo by WIN MCNAMEE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Asked by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos back in April about Hunter Biden’s legal woes, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain was adamant that everything was fine: “Of course the president is confident that his son didn’t break the law.”

The elder Biden himself was asked a similar question by CNN’s Jake Tapper last week, and, although he echoed Klain by expressing confidence in Hunter, he was decidedly less categorical when it came to his son’s legal exposure. “I’m confident that he is—what he says, and does, are consistent with what happens,” the president said. “I have great confidence in my son. I love him. And he’s on the straight and narrow, and he has been, for a couple years now. And I’m just so proud of him.”

A few days earlier, the Washington Post had reported that, according to “people familiar” with the probe, federal agents investigating Hunter believe they’ve collected enough evidence to charge him with tax crimes and with lying on a government form related to a gun purchase. All that’s left, per both the Post and the Wall Street Journal, is for the U.S. Attorney in Delaware—David Weiss, whom former President Donald Trump nominated in November 2017—to decide whether to pursue the case. Weiss was one of only two remaining Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys President Biden didn’t ask to resign upon taking office in early 2021.

For good reason. Delaware’s investigation into the president’s son dates back to 2018, and the president immediately removing the person overseeing the case would have reeked of corruption. The White House maintains the elder Biden has “never had a conversation with the Department of Justice about any investigations into any member of his family,” but Republican lawmakers have repeatedly called for the appointment of a special counsel to further insulate the criminal inquiry from any political pressures. Merrick Garland, Biden’s attorney general, has been adamant that no such pressures exist. “There will not be interference of any political or improper kind,” Garland told the Senate Judiciary Committee in April. “We put the investigation in the hands of a Trump appointee from the previous administration.” 

(For what it’s worth: Former Attorney General William Barr told reporters in the Trump administration’s final days that he saw no need for a special counsel in the Hunter Biden case, because the investigation is “being handled responsibly and professionally currently within the department.” But in an interview with CBS News two months ago, he said it’s “probably” time for Garland to extend Weiss special counsel protections to “deal with the appearance of a potential conflict.”)

Given all we know about Hunter’s sordid personal life from both his own memoir and his infamous—but authenticated—laptop, the charges Weiss and his team are allegedly considering are far less salacious than you might expect. The younger Biden confirmed in December 2020 he had been advised his “tax affairs” were under federal investigation, and, according to the Washington Post’s reporting, the office’s probe is focused on potential undeclared income from his various business ventures. Biden reportedly paid off a “significant” amount of back taxes last year with financial help from a wealthy Hollywood lawyer who has taken an interest in supporting the president’s son.

Also under consideration? Whether Hunter lied on a federal form while purchasing a handgun in 2018, claiming he was not addicted to drugs when his behavior—and memoir—seem to indicate that he was. A leaked voicemail Joe Biden left on Hunter’s phone around that time suggests the future president knew his son needed help.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month investigators had at one point also been examining whether Hunter violated laws about lobbying on behalf of foreign governments—including Ukraine, China, and Kazakhstan—but it’s unclear whether federal agents believe they have sufficient evidence to back that up.

It’s important to remember, of course, that federal agents believing they have sufficient evidence to bring charges is not always a great predictor of whether charges are brought, and recent leaks—which Hunter’s attorney Chris Clark (correctly) labeled a felony—may have been an attempt to box Weiss in. “FBI guys’ views on what’s enough evidence and an actual lawyer’s view on that are two different things,” Ken White—a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor—told The Dispatch. “The FBI has a long history of leaks, and … this one certainly comes off consistent with someone who’s disgruntled about [the U.S. attorney’s office] not prosecuting or putting pressure on them to prosecute. But it is all kind of speculation at this stage.”

If Weiss, after running the charges by the Department of Justice’s Tax Division, has made the decision to indict Hunter, don’t expect to hear about it for at least a couple of weeks. The DOJ has an informal policy prohibiting prosecutors from publicly taking politically fraught investigative steps in the lead-up to an election, and, although neither Biden is on the ballot this fall, this case almost assuredly qualifies as “politically fraught.”

In fact, according to White, there’s a decent chance that this case wouldn’t exist if not for its political nature. “A federal investigation of you, either for a false statement on a firearms application or for tax evasion, is kind of like getting struck by lightning. There’s tons of conduct out there, but very few people get investigated for it, and you’re kind of screwed if you do because generally, if they build a case, it’s going to be a strong case,” he said. “Part of being in public life or having a family member in public life, it may be that your misdeeds get investigated where other people’s might not. If Hunter Biden were just a rich kid, this may not get investigated at all. Not because it’s not worthy of investigation, but just because there’s two tons of stuff out there.” See Manafort, Paul and Cohen, Michael.

Because the potential political ramifications are so great, the U.S. attorney’s criminal inquiry is not the only Hunter investigation in town. Rudy Giuliani’s digging in Ukraine led to Donald Trump’s first impeachment back in 2019, and right-wing cable news hosts have been conducting their own probes of the 52-year-old Biden family scion for years. So, too, have Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the findings of these investigations are generally much more explosive than the DOJ’s alleged tax evasion and firearm charges, pointing to corruption scandals that ensnare the president himself.

On Monday, for example, Grassley sent a letter to Garland, Weiss, and FBI Director Chris Wray alleging the FBI is sitting on evidence that Joe Biden was aware of—and potentially involved in—Hunter and James Biden’s (Joe’s brother) lucrative business dealings in China while Joe was vice president. Tony Bobulinski, a former business partner of Hunter’s, is a semi-regular guest on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, where he recently claimed Joe Biden served as the “chairman” of his son’s business dealings. Alleged emails and text messages recovered from Hunter’s laptop reference “the big guy” as someone receiving a cut from a deal, and Bobulinski is adamant that’s the president.

But Biden has long denied having any involvement in his family’s business, even maintaining during the 2020 presidential campaign that he’d “never spoken” to Hunter about any of his overseas dealings. The White House has kept up those denials, repeatedly refusing to address “alleged materials on the laptop,” even as leaked voicemails from Joe to Hunter seem to chip away at those categorical declarations.

If Republicans take back the Senate and/or House, expect to hear a lot more about these allegations. “There’s going to be hearings,” GOP Rep. Scott Perry promised Fox News last week. “We’re going to start daylighting all this information, this treasure trove from the Hunter Biden laptop, as well as the information found in open source reporting from the IRS, from the banks, etc., that not only implicate Hunter Biden and James Biden, but most importantly, the president himself, which is what this has really been all about.” He claimed, without evidence, that the “low-level” tax and firearm charges are an attempt to make sure “we don’t unpack what is essentially in King Tut’s tomb.”

Asked if all this outside noise is affecting how Justice Department staffers are conducting their investigation, another former federal prosecutor told The Dispatch that it shouldn’t. “You put your own prosecutorial chops behind [your work],” he said. “And ultimately, you’re going to have to be the one to open up your mouth in court and withstand the scrutiny of defense counsel, and the judge, and all that stuff. It’s a big deal. So any federal prosecutor of appropriate substance would not care what the cable news networks are doing.”

“That should not impact a federal prosecutor and his or her investigative team doing their job of collecting the best evidence, assessing witnesses, corroborating evidence, and making a proposal.”

Dispatch Website Tip of the Day

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As always, if you have any questions or need help, don’t hesitate to drop us a note here.

Worth Your Time

  • Lest we imagine U.S. veterans are more immune than Brits to foreign money—the Washington Post reported Tuesday that since 2015, more than 500 retired U.S. military personnel have taken jobs for foreign governments, many helping upgrade the militaries of countries engaging in human rights abuses at home and abroad. The Post filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits against four military branches and the State Department to find out more. “Foreign governments pay handsomely for U.S. military talent, with salary and benefit packages reaching six and, sometimes, seven figures—far more than what most American service members earn while on active duty,” reporters Craig Whitlock and Nate Jones write. “Many U.S. generals and admirals have profited from connections built during wartime by later working for Middle Eastern countries where they were once stationed. Records show that a few American officers even negotiated jobs with foreign governments while they were still on active duty.”
  • When Gregory Hahn showed up at a North Carolina courthouse for jury duty, he didn’t expect to end up behind bars. But when the judge ruled him in contempt of court for refusing to wear a mask—despite no mask mandate in the state, county, or courthouse—Hahn spent 24 hours in jail. “Judges have wide latitude to find individuals in contempt of court—including for failing to abide by the personal rules of the judge,” Emma Camp writes for Reason. Judges have freedom to make any courtroom rule that doesn’t conflict with a person’s constitutional rights, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers head Lisa Wayne told Reason, adding that she once had a judge who wouldn’t let women wear pants in the courtroom. “The irony of all this whole thing is the judge was talking to me without a mask on,” Hahn said. “I was dumbfounded.”
  • We can’t excerpt a podcast in TMD, so you’ll have to take our word for it that “The Prince” is worth your time if you’re looking to understand Chinese leader Xi Jinping—who at the moment looks likely to stay in power for quite a while. Following a recommendation from a member in the comments, we gave a listen to this podcast miniseries from The Economist’s Sue-Lin Wong and found it an excellent introduction to Xi’s background as the son of fallen party royalty, his rise to power, and his political thought and governing tactics. It’s a story that features a singer and an NBA player alongside courageous Chinese protesters and a glimpse at the Chinese Communist Party’s growing political indoctrination and censorship apparatus.

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

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Also Also Presented Without Comment, Part 2

Toeing the Company Line

  • Hey, have we ever mentioned The Dispatch has an Instagram account? Because we do. It’s run by Jonathan Chew, our new social media coordinator, and we might be biased, but if you’re on Instagram we think you should check it out and give us a follow.
  • How did a maritime shipping advisory panel end up suggesting that feds charge all past and current members of two libertarian think tanks with treason? Haley has the details in Tuesday’s Uphill on some surprising intensity over the Jones Act.
  • Vibe check time: in Tuesday’s Boiling Frogs (🔒), Nick goes through polling’s current data problems and argues that the much-vaunted “Roevember” blue wave is canceled. “The prospect of a true black-swan election in which the in-party defies all laws of modern political gravity to retain their majorities seems out the window,” he writes.
  • In Tuesday’s edition of The Sweep (🔒), Sarah, Audrey, and Andrew bring the latest on Republicans’ optimism about  their prospects even in Democratic strongholds, whether MAGAs will show up for RINOs, Utah Democrats’ decision to support an independent candidate, and why gerrymandering isn’t the talking point it used to be.
  • Abusers, harassers, and election deniers all lose David’s vote—and that last category includes Stacey Abrams, David writes in the latest French Press (🔒). “Stacey Abrams’ election denial was less dangerous than Trump’s,” David writes. “Yet we cannot paper over the reality that Abrams is the highest-profile and most relentless election denier in today’s Democratic Party.”
  • To celebrate The Dispatch’s third birthday, Jonah invites Steve back on The Remnant to discuss the state of the institution, reflecting on our internal growth, departure from Substack, and some of the most memorable events of the past year before previewing some exciting plans for the future. Plus: What sets The Dispatch apart? Will the fabled Dispatch app ever be invented? And how optimistic should we be about American political life?
  • And if you want even more Dispatch navel-gazing, members who missed last night’s “Ask Steve Anything” Dispatch Live—also featuring Declan—can catch up on the details of TMD’s inception, the new website launch, and the announcement of a Dispatch event in Chicago on November 3.
  • On the site today, Price provides an update on the race to replace Rep. Peter Meijer in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, Jonah has a column on the arrogance of Peter Thiel, and Cliff Smith draws on the civil rights leader Howard Thurman for an analysis of the negative effects of propaganda.

Let Us Know

Do you have confidence the Hunter Biden probe will reach its conclusion free of political pressure? Would Hunter being indicted change your view of his father?

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