The hunt is on. The investigation of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, went dark in the months before the presidential election. Now federal prosecutors are ramping up their efforts to discover just what his business activities involved. They will be as important for Donald Trump as for Joe Biden. Trump may want to consider pardoning Hunter Biden as part of a more sweeping move to exempt his own family from federal prosecution. It would allow him to invite Hunter, not Joe, to the White House while he’s still president.
Hunter issued a statement today declaring that he committed no crimes: “I learned yesterday for the first time that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware advised my legal counsel, also yesterday, that they are investigating my tax affairs. I take this matter very seriously but I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisors.” Perhaps so.
But it’s also the case that his murky business dealings abroad in China and Ukraine may not be able to survive the close scrutiny that the FBI will subject them to, raising the prospect that he may be in deeper trouble than he or his father would like to admit. Investigators are looking into such issues as a 2.8-carat diamond that he received from Ye Jianming, the founder and former chairman of CEFC China Energy. Senator Tom Cotton is calling for a special counsel to investigate him. At a minimum, his affairs have become part of the incessant Washington hunt for a fresh scandal that can be operationalized as a political weapon.
The blunt fact is that Hunter was an albatross for his father during the campaign, blunting his attempts to depict the Trump era as a uniquely swampy one. This investigation will dog Joe Biden from the very outset of his presidency. As Biden contemplated his pick for Attorney General, he will be selecting someone who will be intimately involved in the decision of whether or not to prosecute Hunter, not to mention President Trump and his family. But there could be a perverse political upside: if his Attorney General decided to prosecute Hunter in court, then it could also render it more politically palatable to target Trump family members.
But this is also why Trump himself might consider pardoning Hunter as well as his own family. Reports are widespread that Trump is contemplating a sweeping pardon of his family as well as officials who worked for him. The difficulty for Trump has been that any such pardons would not only look self-serving, but also raise questions about trying to foreclose criminal liability since no charges have been leveled against Hunter or Ivanka or Don, Jr. These issues might not be enough to deter him, and Hunter Biden’s predicament would allow Trump to inveigh against the federal justice system more broadly. He could show magnanimity and evenhandedness by pardoning Biden’s scapegrace son.
For Trump to adopt this tack, however, would require something of a volte-face on his part. He spent a good part of the 2020 campaign championing the notion that the Hunter Biden scandal would bring down his Democratic rival. It didn’t. Now Trump is claiming that he would have won the election had the news about the investigation only been made public earlier. Trump is more than likely to weave the Hunter Biden episode into his broader drama about a stolen election. But if he’s really intent on doling out a passel of pardons, he may want to think again about how he handles the Hunter saga.
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of The National Interest.