Terry H. Schwadron
May 26, 2019
With former Vice President Joe Biden emerging early from the Democratic presidential crowd, Donald Trump has saved special political venom for the Biden family as a tool in his political kit for reelection.
In recent days, Trump has been calling for formal Justice Department investigation of business practices by Hunter Biden, the younger Biden son, for deal-making in the Ukraine and in China. Trump’s rationale is pretty simple: If Donald Trump Jr. is fair game for Democrats, investigators ought to look into business practices by the Biden son.
The call — it was noted at the time and since, but has taken on renewed interest because of 2020 — has been raised in conservative Republican circles, including on Breitbart News, which has run several pieces. So, we’ll all be hearing about it at inconvenient points in the presidential campaign, and may as well know what this fuss is all about.
Apart from all else about Biden, it is well beyond any line of appropriateness, of course, for Trump to be directing an independent Justice Department about launching investigations of political opponents. But just as he has threatened to lock up Hillary Clinton or called for investigation of the “18 angry Democrats” who he thinks made up the staff of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s team, Trump recognizes no line to overstep in his continuous campaign for self-love.
That is supposed to be our job, in protection of our democracy. Meanwhile, Atty. Gen. William P. Barr, whose actions have made him a Trump protector — he calls himself a protector of the presidency rather than Trump — is in a pickle. To remain independent, he ought to simply thank Trump for the referral and send him away, but to remain in the role he has adopted, he may just stoop to order yet more politically inspired investigations.
The problem with investigating Hunter Biden is that it is unclear what exactly would be investigated. At worst, he took advantage of his dad’s name and access to do business as a lawyer and investment firm advisor — or, to turn it around, Trump thinks that to promote his son’s business interests, Joe Biden shaped U.S. policy-making to be helpful to his son.
In both the Ukraine and China, that seems a stretch, but you decide. Conservative author Peter Schweizer,a Breitbart editor, is a lead voice in the call for congressional hearings into the doings of Hunter Biden — along with his sometimes partner, Chris Heinz, a step son of former Secretary of State John Kerry.
As The New York Times summarizedafter looking into the cases, “during his father’s second term as vice president, Hunter Biden increased his international business efforts, including with individuals and entities viewed warily by the United States government and its allies. In addition to his work in Ukraine for the energy company Burisma, Hunter Biden advised a Romanian businessman with ties to the United States, Gabriel Popoviciu, whose real estate dealings had come under investigation, according to people familiar with the arrangement, which has not been previously reported. The investigation, which came as the United States and its allies were pushing Romania to clamp down on corruption, led to Popoviciu’s conviction and a prison sentence.”
In a separate deal, “Hunter Biden and a business partner, Devon Archer, were involved in a fund that reportedly pursued an investment from the Chinese government-owned Bank of China. The fund was announced in late 2013 — days after Hunter Biden and one of his daughters flew to China from Japan aboard Air Force Two with the vice president, who was in the midst of a diplomatic mission intended to calm rising tensions in the region. During the trip, Vice President Biden warned Chinese leaders not to use fighter jets to enforce an air defense zone created by Beijing over contested waters.”
A lawyer for Hunter Biden said he did not conduct any business related to the China investment fund on that trip, and was not an equity owner in the fund while his father was vice president. He later acquired a 10 percent interest in the entity that oversees the fund, but to date has not received any money from the arrangement, according to the lawyer. Biden himself said he never discussed his son’s business interests and learned of them through media reports.
In the Ukraine, Hunter was on the board of Burisma, an energy company doing business in Ukraine, while his father was vice-president; certainly, that could be read as having a conflict of interest by young Biden. The Ukrainian owner of Burisma came under attack from that country’s top prosecutor who was seen by many as attacking political enemies. Vice President Biden joined European leaders in calling for removal of the prosecutor, giving rise to the idea that the vice-president was guided by a desire to protect his son.
In interviews, Trump has attacked Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine, claiming that the country’s top prosecutor at the time “was after” Hunter Biden. The Times said there is no publicly available evidence that the younger Biden was a target of any of the cases that were open under the prosecutor, which instead involved the owner of Burisma and his companies, or that that the former vice president intentionally tried to help his son by pressing for the prosecutor general’s dismissal. Again, Hunter Biden and his father never discussed Burisma or the investigations, according to statements from Hunter Biden and his father’s campaign spokeswoman.
The strange part of all this is that Hunter Biden hasn’t been setting political policy for his father, as have Donald Trump Jr. or daughter Ivanka. Hunter has not been arranging meetings with Russian operatives. And doesn’t Ivanka have exactly the same kind of China deals for her clothing company? Indeed, what about Jared Kusher’s family talking with Chinese banks about significant loans while Kushner was a White House adviser.
But none of these business deals has been the subject of a Justice Department investigation, only the involvement in campaign affairs.
Hunter Biden seems like someone who could easily have made a living staying away from stepping anywhere near his father. Nevertheless, circumstances aside, it is unclear what exactly is wrong with what he tried to do.
How about we hold off from investigating families just for political gain? How about we recognize appropriateness of using the Justice Department as a political tool? How about we actually have some idea of what is wrong before we start criminal investigations, rather than a hazy notion of “influence.”