Skip to content
What Does Hunter Biden’s Conviction Mean For His Dad’s Reelection?
Go to my account

What Does Hunter Biden’s Conviction Mean For His Dad’s Reelection?

Plus: Republicans hope a different Biden prosecution will make political hay.

Welcome to your regularly scheduled Collision! Hunter Biden was found guilty on three felony gun charges, as our special emergency edition from Tuesday explained. Today we’ll dive a little deeper into the political implications of the conviction.

The Docket

  • Hunter Biden will face sentencing in a few weeks. While the maximum he could get is 25 years in prison, the federal sentencing guideline range will be much lower. Illegal gun possession charges usually carry some prison time, but this is not the usual case. There is substantial evidence that Biden is clean and sober now, so the judge could decide not to give him any time or to sentence him to home confinement rather than federal prison. Whether the sentence is put on hold while he appeals his conviction is also an open question.   
  • Former Fulton County special prosecutor Nathan Wade gave an interview to CNN Wednesday, in which he said that he believed Donald Trump would face a criminal trial in Georgia even if he wins reelection. “I don’t believe that it … it looks good to the rest of the world,” he said. “But certainly I don’t think that there’s anything that would prevent that from happening.” This may signal that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis intends to try to move forward even if Trump is elected. While it has never been litigated, most constitutional scholars believe that sitting presidents are immune from criminal prosecution while in office, and the case would be delayed until Trump’s successor is sworn in (meaning, in 2029). 
  • By the way, check out this segment of the CNN interview, when anchor Kaitlan Collins asks Wade multiple times about when his romantic relationship with Willis began. The start of their relationship was a key question after a Trump co-defendant in Fulton County made a motion to dismiss the case and disqualify Willis and Wade from prosecuting it. (The motion failed, but Wade was forced to resign and the decision is being appealed.) After telling Collins in many words that the question is a “distraction,” Wade steps away from the cameras to consult with someone on his team before returning to finish the interview. When Collins asks again, Wade once again fails to answer and says the question itself is a distraction.
  • The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress. The vote comes after a dispute between House Republicans and the Department of Justice over the latter’s refusal to release the audio tapes of special counsel Robert Hur’s interview with President Joe Biden. Last month, Biden exerted his executive privilege to block the release of the audio. The October 2023 interview with the president formed some of the basis of Hur’s report, in which he declined to recommend prosecuting Biden for his unlawful retention of classified documents after he left his position as vice president.
  • Garland released a statement in response to the vote: “It is deeply disappointing that this House of Representatives has turned a serious congressional authority into a partisan weapon. Today’s vote disregards the constitutional separation of powers, the Justice Department’s need to protect its investigations, and the substantial amount of information we have provided to the Committees. I will always stand up for this Department, its employees, and its vital mission to defend our democracy.”


Fact-based reporting and commentary about the law

Original Jurisdiction aspires to be a source of incisive, fair-minded, and occasionally entertaining commentary about law and the legal profession. Each week, David Lat breaks down the most important news about the courts (especially SCOTUS), law firms, and law schools. If you enjoy The Dispatch, you should enjoy Original Jurisdiction.

The Political Peril for Joe Biden and His Son’s Conviction

It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump’s conviction last month in Manhattan will have any discernible effect on the presidential election. Can Democrats effectively sway swing voters toward Joe Biden by arguing Trump is a “convicted felon”? Can Republicans press their advantage by portraying Trump as a target of politically motivated lawfare and promising retribution? Those competing messages are already at work, and the overall effect on the polls is muddled.

Yet Hunter Biden’s conviction may make a more obvious difference in the election than any of Trump’s legal woes. Hunter is not his father, the gun charges don’t implicate his father, and unlike the elder Biden or Trump, he’s not running for president. But the successful prosecution of the sitting president’s son by the Justice Department is no small thing—and it may have an effect on both parties’ strategies moving forward.

On the whole, Biden’s trial has gone exactly as every Democrat not named Joe Biden was (secretly) hoping. Democrats hope the conviction can neutralize Republican arguments that the justice system is set up to target Trump for the sole benefit of Biden: The justice system isn’t broken—the president’s son has been convicted for committing a crime by the president’s Department of Justice in the president’s home state. As veteran Democratic operative Dane Strother told The Collision, the conviction is “further proof that no one’s above the law, and further proof that the DOJ is impartial.” Democrats, he said, can continue to hammer Trump for his own criminal conviction.

“Look, holding Trump’s feet to the fire for being a felon is a big part of the message,” Strother said.

The message discipline will be tested by the sitting president himself. In the months before his son’s trial, Biden had arguably stepped over the line by commenting inappropriately on the very prosecutions his Justice Department was pursuing – something most recent presidents have tried to avoid doing. And while Biden’s statement following the verdict Tuesday reiterated his position that the president “will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process,” there are plenty of potential political traps between now and Election Day, not least of which is the first planned presidential debate later this month. Can Biden avoid defending Hunter in ways that undermine his own argument that Trump’s conviction proves he is unfit for office?

Still at play is the question of the presidential pardoning power. Yes, in an interview with ABC News last week—before the jury reached a verdict—Biden promised not to pardon Hunter. But as we noted on Tuesday, the president did not rule out commuting Hunter’s sentence, particularly if the sentence includes prison time. On Wednesday, the White House declined to rule out the possibility Biden could do just that, even as press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeated Biden’s pledge not to pardon Hunter.

If Hunter Biden is sentenced to prison and the judge refuses to stay his sentence while he appeals his conviction, President Biden could potentially need to make that decision before Election Day. But any word or action from this point forward that suggests Biden could be putting his very powerful thumb on the scale for his son could be a political risk.

Republicans Pin Their Hopes to a Different Biden Trial

Meanwhile, Republicans are finding themselves over a barrel on the Hunter Biden conviction. An acquittal would have worked well to illustrate their message of a two-tiered justice system: one that targets Trump, and one in which Democrats and particularly Biden’s circle get off easy. (Never mind that Biden’s Justice Department is currently prosecuting Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez on corruption charges.) Instead, the uncomfortable fact that Biden has successfully prosecuted his only living son makes that shot less clean. 

But as one person close to the Trump campaign told The Collision, Hunter Biden’s gun charge is ancillary to the broader case against the president and his family.

“The Hunter Biden case was never central to anything that we have done,” said this person, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about internal thinking. “Our central messaging has been the Biden crime family: Taking money from Ukraine, taking money from China, and personally enriching themselves. And also the weaponization of the Justice Department.”

For that reason, this person said, Hunter’s upcoming trial in California this fall could be more politically beneficial to Trump. The tax fraud charges—which like the gun charges are being brought by special counsel David Weiss—mean there’s great potential to draw attention to evidence that Biden’s family members, including Hunter, made money in the foreign influence game by trading on their last name. The Trump team is hoping the evidence prosecutors could unveil at that trial might cause swing voters to rethink whether Biden deserves to be rewarded with another term in office.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s been the premise of the House Republicans’ impeachment inquiry into Biden. And despite plenty of hype around the investigation, including some drama over Hunter Biden defying a subpoena to testify before Congress, the inquiry has essentially fizzled on lack of evidence of any wrongdoing by Joe Biden himself. As we wrote in a Collision earlier this year:

House Republicans have unearthed plenty of questionable communications—including dozens of emails between then-Vice President Biden and one of Hunter’s business associates. None, however, show a direct link to Biden either selling his access through Hunter or to Hunter’s business influencing Biden to alter Obama administration policy. And it’s been clear that Joe Biden’s own blanket denials of his knowledge of Hunter’s business activities are dubious at best.

But whatever the merits to some of the Republican claims, the effort to identify actual impeachable offenses and produce articles for the House to vote on and the Senate to hold a trial on was undercut last month by a particularly inconvenient indictment.

It also didn’t help House Republicans that a source for much of the information undergirding their inquiry has been indicted by Weiss’ office for providing “false derogatory information” about Joe and Hunter Biden to the FBI.

Regardless of these setbacks, Republicans’ narrative about a “Biden Crime Family” has gained a foothold among their base of voters. And the wish to stumble upon a smoking gun has spurred the belief that there must be one—so much so that Republicans who have spoken to The Collision have taken to dismissing Hunter’s conviction on the gun charges as a feint or a distraction from the real crimes that Weiss and the DOJ are failing to prosecute.

“Hunter Biden just became the Deep State’s sacrificial lamb to show that Justice is ‘balanced’ while the other Biden crimes remain ignored,” tweeted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia Republican.

But that’s a complicated, bank-shot argument that Republicans may find difficult to convey in a 30-second ad or on a presidential debate stage.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.

Sarah Isgur is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in northern Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she had worked in every branch of the federal government and on three presidential campaigns. When Sarah is not hosting podcasts or writing newsletters, she’s probably sending uplifting stories about spiders to Jonah, who only pretends to love all animals.