Begin with the premise that there’s no good way for presidential candidate Joe Biden to address the issues that arose from his son Hunter’s work for Burisma Holdings. The former vice president isn’t going to throw his son under the bus, and Hunter can’t resign from his position as a Biden offspring. In mid-October, Hunter Biden did a defiant television interview, declaring he had “no regrets” about anything he did with Burisma. Joe Biden can’t contradict his son and admit that Hunter shouldn’t have taken the position on the company board.
Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, you have to pity Hunter Biden. Every child of a famous elected official faces challenges in life; Hunter seems to have hit every potential scandal and problem along the way: a drug problem leading to a discharge from the Navy, the messy divorce and relationship with his brother’s widow, a new revelation of a child out of wedlock and unpaid child support after a DNA test, all kinds of unsavory tales from strip clubs in Washington and New York City . . . and, most consequentially to his father’s potential ambitions, the need to cash in with a minimal-work position with Burisma.
Joe Biden has to make audaciously sweeping denials, like the ones he made in a recent interview with Axios, insisting that “there’s not one single bit of evidence — not one little tiny bit — to suggest anything done was wrong,” and then in the same interview pledge that his son “will not be engaged in any foreign business” and blame the new rule upon “what’s happened in this administration.”
Biden has to insist, as he did in a recent interview with NPR, that “nobody warned me about a potential conflict of interest. Nobody warned me about that. I never, never heard that once at all.” Never mind that Hunter Biden’s role at Burisma was asked about in the White House press briefing and the State Department press briefing. Forget that the New York Times wrote about it, the Washington Post wrote about it, the New York Times editorial board declared, “this is not a board he should be sitting on,” and the Guardian wrote a scathing editorial about it.
Biden has to claim that his staff never told him about any potential problems or questions regarding Hunter’s job, even though The New Yorker reported this summer:
The former senior White House aide told me that Hunter’s behavior invited questions about whether he “was leveraging access for his benefit, which just wasn’t done in that White House. Optics really mattered, and that seemed to be cutting it pretty close, even if nothing nefarious was going on.” When I asked members of Biden’s staff whether they discussed their concerns with the Vice-President, several of them said that they had been too intimidated to do so. “Everyone who works for him has been screamed at,” a former adviser told me.
George Kent testified before the House Intelligence Committee that he contacted the vice president’s office about the potential conflict of interest that Hunter Biden represented.
Anyone in the Obama administration who did raise concerns about Hunter Biden’s consulting to the vice president must now take one for the team and be struck by convenient amnesia. Otherwise, confirming that the vice president was warned would move him from naïve and oblivious to willfully blind and acquiescent to the conflict of interest. Joe Biden and Hunter Biden insist they never discussed Burisma or its interests with each other, but we have no way to prove that one way or another. Neither man has earned the benefit of the doubt in this circumstance.
The fact remains that Joe Biden boasted of getting the Ukrainian government to fire state prosecutor Viktor Shokin. Everyone has seen the video of Biden in 2018 at the Council on Foreign Relations, boasting, “I said, ‘We’re leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor’s not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a bitch, he got fired.” Shokin was replaced with Yuriy Vitaliyovych Lutsenko. The U.S. State Department would eventually find Lutsenko a disappointment in fighting corruption; as the Times noted, “While Lutsenko initially took a hard line against Burisma, within 10 months after he took office, Burisma announced that Mr. Lutsenko and the courts had ‘fully closed’ all ‘legal proceedings and pending criminal allegations’ against Mr. Zlochevsky [the owner of Burisma] and his companies.”
On behalf of the administration, Biden helped push out one prosecutor, and the replacement closed the case regarding a company that had his son on the board. Maybe all of that was on the up-and-up, but there’s no way to prove it in the murky world of Ukrainian politics — which is why the children of American government officials shouldn’t be serving on the boards of directors of foreign companies in the first place. When you’re a president or vice president, the job comes with a lot of perks. Asking your kids to not jump at every shady foreign character who comes along promising a lucrative gig isn’t too much to ask. Hunter Biden jumped at a lot of them — Chinese energy tycoon Ye Jianming and his associate Patrick Ho, among others.
Just about all parents have a blind spot toward their children. This is why elected officials need someone around them to tell them the hard truths, before situations get out of hand.
Joe Biden is an old-school politician in a lot of ways — and there are few features in politics more old-school than friends of a powerful officeholder creating a lucrative minimal-responsibility job for the officeholder’s idiot son. No one ever has to outright request a favor down the road; there’s an unspoken understanding that hiring the offspring will ensure a powerful friend in Washington, the kind of friend who answers the phone quickly. For a long time, this kind of nepotism was widespread, bipartisan, and so common among Washington elites that it was considered rude to notice, much less publicly criticize. Getting lucrative gigs in large part because he was Joe Biden’s son is pretty much what Hunter Biden has done with his adult life after law school — at the biggest bank in Delaware, at a D.C. lobbying firm, at a New York hedge fund he purchased with his uncle, and so on. A bit of extra money going to the family, and not covered by the officeholder’s public financial-disclosure forms, helped grease the wheels.
It’s easy to understand why powerful Democrats and powerful Republicans would agree to a truce to avoid calling attention to the other side’s idiot sons; in their eyes, this is all a grand system of benevolent nepotism, to ensure that those shouldering the responsibilities of government never have to worry too much about Junior, who barely made it through all those expensive prep schools and the finest higher education that a lot of money and a famous name can buy. (It is odd how many of our elected leaders who publicly boast of their spectacular IQs have offspring that seem . . . deficient in certain important traits.)
But the rest of us never signed on to any truce to avoid calling attention to anyone’s idiot sons. And we didn’t sign on to believe the implausible claim that no one warned Joe Biden about any of this, either.