Hunter Biden and the rottenness of the US justice system

Supposedly neutral state bodies are going out of their way to shield the president and his son from scrutiny.

Sean Collins
US correspondent

Topics Politics USA World

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The US Department of Justice (DoJ) is an inherently conflicted institution. It is meant to uphold the rule of law without favouritism, but it is also part of the executive branch of government that reports to the president. That conflict is why the DoJ usually goes to great lengths to appear independent of the White House. However, under the current attorney general, Merrick Garland, the DoJ has dropped any pretence of neutrality. Its mission today is to insulate President Joe Biden from political and legal challenge. Indeed, the way that the DoJ has handled the investigation into the president’s son, Hunter Biden, exemplifies this perfectly.

On Friday, David Weiss – the Republican attorney general for Delaware, who has been overseeing the Hunter investigation since 2018 – was appointed special counsel in the DoJ’s probe into the younger Biden’s finances and dealings with foreign agents. Elevating Weiss to special-counsel status is supposed to make the investigation appear fully independent of the White House, because a special counsel has a greater degree of autonomy from the DoJ than an ordinary prosecutor. According to Garland, ‘the appointment of Mr Weiss reinforces for the American people the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters’. In reality, the move comes in response to external political pressure, and the overriding objective is to ensure Joe Biden doesn’t become implicated in the Hunter investigation. Rather than depoliticising matters, Garland is actually dragging the DoJ deeper into the political process.

The timing of the appointment is the first sign that Garland’s move is not what he claims it to be. He could have named a special counsel for the investigation when he took office two years ago. Indeed, it would have been natural to do so, given that the president’s son was the subject of the investigation. Only a few weeks ago, in late June, Garland was defending his decision not to name a special counsel sooner.

So what’s changed? On Friday, Garland said he was simply responding to a request from Weiss. ‘Mr Weiss advised me that, in his judgement, his investigation has reached a stage at which he should continue his work as a special counsel’, he said. But that beggars belief. It’s much more plausible that Garland is responding to the political heat that he and Joe Biden have recently been coming under from the various scandals involving Hunter.

Congressional hearings held in recent weeks by House Republicans have uncovered damaging revelations about the government’s handling of the case. These hearings included testimony from two Internal Revenue Service (IRS) whistleblowers, who allege that President Biden’s appointees were undermining the investigation into Hunter in various ways, such as by tipping off Hunter’s lawyers about searches before they happened, and by preventing agents from exploring Joe’s involvement in the case in any detail. Then, in late July, an outrageously favourable plea deal with Hunter – which included amnesty for any other potential past crimes that might be found, such as those related to dealings with foreign agents – collapsed when the judge questioned the deal’s unprecedented generosity.

As if the implosion of the plea deal wasn’t embarrassing enough for the DoJ and the Bidens, the deluge of bad news regarding the Hunter case has continued in recent weeks. Devon Archer, a business associate of Hunter, alleged to Congress earlier this month that Joe Biden joined his son on calls, dinners and other meetings with foreign business partners, starting when Joe was vice-president in the Obama administration. Archer’s testimony thus undermined President Biden’s long-standing claims that he never had any knowledge of his son’s business dealings.

Then, last week, the Republican-majority House Oversight and Accountability Committee released details of bank records showing that the Biden family received over $20million from foreign sources, starting when Joe was vice-president. Payments to Hunter Biden included $1million a year to sit on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma, $3.5million from Russian billionaire Yelena Baturina (who has remained off the Biden administration’s sanctions list for Russian oligarchs), and $142,300 from a Kazakhstani oligarch to cover the exact cost of a new sports car for Hunter.

If Garland were serious about putting the Hunter investigation on a more independent and convincing footing, he would have named someone new to the special-counsel role, rather than simply giving Weiss the designation. Weiss’s poor handling of Hunter’s case over the past five years means he is hardly a credible figure to restore public confidence. Indeed, Weiss is the one who has ‘slow-walked’ the investigation, as the IRS whistleblowers have alleged, to the point that some of the most serious allegations against Hunter have expired due to the statute of limitations. According to the whistleblowers, he has also ensured that any links with Joe Biden have been ruled out-of-bounds from the investigation. Perhaps most damning of all, Weiss even blessed the sweetheart plea deal his prosecutors offered to Hunter, until a judge exposed it as a sham.

The way Weiss has strung along the investigation, and shielded Joe Biden from scrutiny, is undoubtedly what gave Garland the confidence to name him special counsel. This is all about hiding the DoJ’s investigation from Congress and the public, and trying to control any potential political fallout. To this end, it is also convenient that, as a newly appointed special counsel, Weiss can now turn down requests to testify before the House Oversight Committee. Both Weiss and Garland can simply claim that they can’t speak about an ‘ongoing investigation’. There is now no major obstacle to the two of them dragging out the Hunter investigation until after the November 2024 presidential election.

This attempt to defuse the Hunter situation is unlikely to work in the long-run. House Republicans will keep digging, and may even seek to impeach Joe Biden, which would open the door to further investigations. As Politico notes, ‘the spectre of Hunter Biden’s legal problems [will] hang over his father’s re-election bid’.

Furthermore, many Americans don’t trust the DoJ anymore. A recent poll showed its favourability dropping to 49 per cent under Garland, and that was before its recent Hunter-related troubles. Garland’s naming of a special counsel won’t address those concerns. If anything, it’s likely to be seen for what it is – a diversionary tactic, rather than a way to get at the truth.

Meanwhile, the slow-walking of the Hunter Biden case stands in stark contrast to the fast and furious way that indictments are dropping on Donald Trump. Trump’s claims of a ‘two-tier justice system’ have some resonance. Indeed, the authorities’ desperate attempt to protect Joe Biden from the Hunter mess is not because of any deep loyalty to the man – it’s because Joe appears to be the only one who can stand in the way of the return of Trump to the White House. In the eyes of the US political establishment, anything is fair game if the end is stopping Trump – including trying to suppress the mounting evidence of the Biden family’s corruption.

This establishment, including supposedly neutral state bodies like the DoJ, have thrown their lot in with Joe Biden. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Sean Collins is a writer based in New York. Visit his blog, The American Situation.

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Topics Politics USA World


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