Hunter Biden’s offer to testify before the House Oversight Committee is a clever evasion, nothing more. The president’s son says he will testify only if the hearing is publicly televised. Nice try. Subpoenaed witnesses don’t get to set the terms. The committee does.
Why make an offer that is bound to be rejected? For two reasons. The PR goal is for Hunter to appear willing to testify, when he actually wants desperately to avoid it. The legal goal is to prevent, or at least delay, the committee from enforcing its subpoena. Hunter and his hardball attorney, Abbe Lowell, probably figure the Biden administration’s Department of Justice won’t go to court and demand compliance. That’s not a bad bet. If the DOJ does refuse, the House will go to court itself, but that will take time and may not succeed.
This kerfuffle over testimony is only the latest twist in the investigation of Biden family influence peddling. The complexity of that family operation makes it easy to lose sight of what we know, what we don’t, and how deeply the president himself is involved.
It is useful to unpack the whole operation because it has lots of moving parts, law enforcement has covered it up, and the legacy media has remained deaf, dumb, and blind. Here’s an overview.
Hunter Biden is the center of multiple investigations, but his sleazy activities only matter politically if they implicate his father. There are really three overriding questions about his father and the law enforcement agencies that have looked into the alleged corruption.
- What did Joe Biden know about the millions flowing into his family from overseas, based solely on their connection to him?
- What, if anything, did Joe do to aid this family operation?
- Why did several top law enforcement agencies stifle legitimate investigations into this corruption?
The crucial points, as the investigation stands now, are that the Biden family earned tens of millions by selling its “brand”; the brand consisted solely of the family’s connection to Joe’s political power; Joe knew about that sales pitch and aided it, despite his denials. But there is very little evidence, so far, that he personally benefited from this family grift.
Without that direct evidence, an impeachment vote on the House floor would likely fail and, in any event, would be very costly politically. There is no chance the Senate would vote to remove the president without ample evidence that Joe himself committed corrupt acts. It’s not enough to show he met with Hunter’s business partners or lied about what he knew. He did both, but that’s not enough.
What do we know? What is still uncertain? And what happens next?
- The family members who earned this money had no marketable skills except their relation to the second-highest official in the U.S. government under Barack Obama.
- Nearly all of the Biden family income came from foreign sources – and not just any foreign sources. It came from countries where corruption was pervasive, where oligarchs earned big money from it, and where Vice President Biden had primary responsibility for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
- Hunter Biden traveled to many of these countries on Air Force Two. Arriving with his father on that plane conveyed Hunter’s ultimate insider status. That, of course, is what foreign partners were buying since Hunter had no other expertise.
- Joe Biden has consistently and vociferously denied he knew anything at all about these extensive, multi-year efforts to monetize his name and influence. There is ample evidence to refute that assertion. More on that later.
- To earn serious money, Hunter needed to do more than flaunt his family name. He needed to show his clients he maintained a close, working relationship with his father.
- Joe demonstrated that working relationship in at least two ways: making phone calls to his son’s business meetings and facilitating meetings for Hunter’s associates at the White House.
- On several occasions, Vice President Biden went further. On one official trip to California, he met with Hunter’s business partner, Tony Bobulinski, who says he and Joe discussed Hunter’s overseas business venture with Bobulinski, but only in general terms.
- Closer to home, the Vice President dined with Ukrainian Burisma executive Vadym Pozharskyi and Hunter in a private room at Georgetown’s chic Café Milano (April 2015). “The Bidens are also said to have met with Kazakh oligarch Kenes Rakishev and former Kazakhstan prime minister Karim Massimov at Milano,” according to the New York Post.
- After many such meetings, Hunter received substantial payments. Here’s just one instance. “Kazakh businessman Kenes Rakishev inexplicably wired $142,000 to Hunter Biden in April 2014 so he could buy himself a sports car. Mr. Rakishev sent the money around the same time then-Vice President Joe Biden dined with him at a Washington restaurant at Hunter Biden’s request.”
- As the foreign income flowed in, Hunter took extensive steps to conceal its sources and distribution to various family members. He had no legitimate business reason to open dozens of bank accounts or form multiple LLCs. They were used to move money between accounts, hiding the sources and ultimate recipients.
- Banks are familiar with transactions like this and were troubled enough to contact the U.S. Treasury, filing well over a hundred “suspicious activity reports.”
- Since SARs often signal money laundering, the Treasury routinely investigates them, especially when they are so numerous. Not in Hunter’s case. Later, when an IRS team probing Hunter’s taxes sought to follow up, they were blocked by the Departments of Justice and Treasury.
- Family members who received these foreign funds made sizable payments to Joe, marking the checks as “repayment of debts.” That claim is still ambiguous since no supporting documents have been made public.
- Joe Biden made extensive efforts to hide any traces of personal involvement in his family’s enterprise, using burner phones and fake email names and addresses. The content of those messages is still secret.
- Senior officials at the Department of Justice, FBI, IRS, and Department of Treasury have consistently blocked investigation of payments and transfers to Hunter and, even more intensively, to Joe. In several cases, lawyers in the U.S. attorney’s office explicitly said they would prohibit investigative steps that might touch on Joe Biden.
- When IRS tax investigators prepared to raid a location where Hunter stored documents and conduct surprise interviews with his business associates, some administration officials tipped off Hunter’s team. The documents then disappeared, and the associates became unavailable. This disclosure was improper and almost certainly illegal. No one has been investigated for it.
- The DOJ and senior IRS officials repeatedly blocked the IRS forensic team from undertaking investigative measures that would be routinely approved for other targets. One involved a direct threat Hunter made to a Chinese business partner, demanding a major payment. Hunter added leverage to the threat by saying his father was sitting beside him during the phone call and that Joe and Hunter would work together to harm the partner’s reputation if he didn’t send a large sum immediately. (He sent it.) When the IRS team investigating Hunter’s taxes learned of that call, they sought permission to use GPS data to determine if Joe Biden was actually sitting near his son at the time. They were denied permission without explanation. Photos taken later that day show Joe and Hunter were together in Delaware.
- After the IRS investigative team had been blocked multiple times, they sought and received whistleblower status from Congress. The IRS and Department of Justice retaliated by removing the entire team from the tax investigation they had been conducting for five years.
- IRS leaders falsely claimed the agents had no authority to request whistleblower status from Congress. In fact, requests like theirs are the purpose of the whistleblower act.
- When two IRS investigative agents finally testified before Congress, it was obvious they were non-partisan professionals with no political agenda. They were simply following normal procedures but facing unprecedented obstructions without legitimate explanations.
- The lead prosecutor in the Hunter Biden case, David Weiss, U.S. attorney for Delaware, was originally appointed by President Trump. Biden’s defenders stress that point. They omit that his name was put forward by Delaware’s two Democratic Senators. Whoever is responsible for Weiss’ appointment is less important than his painfully slow pace and inaction. Those speak for themselves.
- Weiss has taken over five years to investigate charges, some of which could have been filed within months. He inexplicably allowed the statute of limitations to expire on several major tax charges, leaving some taxes unpaid.
- Weiss dropped nearly all other charges, including Hunter Biden’s representation of foreign businesses. Those should have been prosecuted under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
- Weiss’ office proposed a sweetheart deal with Hunter Biden, which fell apart when the federal judge asked basic questions about whether the U.S. attorney was granting Hunter immunity on all other crimes.
- Another of Weiss’ failures involved his failure to obtain testimony from Hunter’s partner, Tony Bobulinski, who spoke on national television about his business relationship with Hunter and his meetings with Joe and Hunter about that business. Those public statements showed Bobulinski had information directly relevant to Weiss’ investigation. Yet the U.S. attorney never bothered to contact him. Faced with that stonewall, Bobulinski reached out to Weiss’ team and offered to testify. They never returned his calls. Bobulinski still hasn’t testified before a grand jury.
- As far as we know, neither Weiss nor the DOJ has investigated the accuracy of written notations that divided shares in some lucrative foreign business deals. The notes indicated that, in addition to Hunter’s own share, he would pocket an additional 10% for “the Big Guy.” Hunter is known to use that term for his father, and his business partners understood the term that way.
- Hunter also communicated privately with his daughter, complaining about having to share his earnings with his father. It is unclear if his claim is true or if the DOJ undertook any inquiries.
- Weiss and Attorney General Merrick Garland falsely informed House investigators that Weiss had full authority to bring criminal charges against Biden family members outside the US attorney’s home district in Delaware. When he actually tried to do that, however, he was blocked by Biden-appointed U.S. attorneys in California and D.C. That could not have happened if Weiss and Garland’s testimony were true.
- To overcome these roadblocks, Weiss then went to top officials at the DOJ and requested authority to bring charges outside Delaware. He was denied. The request and denial further contradict claims by both Weiss and Attorney General Garland to Congress, stating Weiss had full authority to file those charges in other districts. He didn’t, and Main Justice declined to give it to him.
- Weiss did finally receive that authority, but only after the DOJ was publicly humiliated by the IRS whistleblowers’ testimony.
- After Weiss received that authority, he opened a grand jury investigation of Hunter Biden in California, probably for tax issues and perhaps for FARA violations.
Joe Biden’s defense against this tsunami of family corruption is that he loves his son, that his son’s mistakes are attributable to his drug addiction, that any evidence of family corruption on Hunter’s laptop was Russian disinformation (a claim now disproven by multiple forensic investigations), and that there is no proof Joe himself was ever involved in influence peddling, benefited from it, or even knew about it.
The DOJ, IRS, FBI, and Treasury Department have offered no explanation for their sustained efforts to prevent investigations that would touch on Joe Biden, to block standard procedures by IRS specialists, and to let the statute of limitations expire on major charges, including some that let federal tax obligations go unpaid. They have not explained why FARA charges against Hunter disappeared despite ample evidence of violations.
James Comer (R-KY), who heads the House Oversight Committee and leads the impeachment inquiry, appears to be nearing the conclusion of his investigation. Over the past two weeks, he issued subpoenas to Hunter Biden, Hunter’s business partners, James Biden (Joe’s brother), and other witnesses with direct knowledge of the family’s transactions. He has also sought their bank records. Zeroing in on these key witnesses normally signals the impending conclusion of an investigation.
The latest subpoenas raise hard questions. The first is whether all the witnesses, including Hunter Biden, will comply. The second is whether, if some refuse, the Department of Justice will enforce the subpoenas, as they should. If the DOJ declines, the committee could go directly to federal court and seek enforcement, but that’s time-consuming and requires approval by heavily Democratic courts in D.C. The committee will argue it has a clear legislative purpose (impeachment) and a right to see the documents and hear from witnesses under oath to fulfill that purpose.
The final and most vexing question is whether the committee has gathered sufficient evidence to propose impeachment. That is ultimately a political decision, and not an easy one. Although the Republicans almost certainly win that vote in committee, they have only a three-vote majority on the House floor (and only two if George Santos is expelled, as seems likely). They would need uniform Republican support to move forward. All Democrats would oppose them.
It is far from certain all House Republicans would vote for impeachment. More than a dozen were elected from districts Biden won in 2020. Those vulnerable representatives know that impeaching the president would distract from other public business, alienate some centrist voters, and die in the Senate.
Many Republicans have yet another reservation. They don’t want to do anything to drive Biden out of the 2024 race since they believe he is the weakest Democrat candidate.
Whatever the political outcome of the House inquiry, it is clear the Biden family reaped millions in foreign income from Joe Biden’s powerful political position and that senior U.S. law enforcement agencies have consistently obstructed investigative measures that could implicate him. The whole affair reeks of corruption and cover-up, including the legacy media’s refusal to investigate or even report. We can cut through this complexity and sum it up in two words: It stinks.
This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.
Dr. Charles Lipson taught international relations at the University of Chicago, where he was the Peter B. Ritzma Professor in Political Science and the College. His research deals with international cooperation and conflict and with political aspects of the world economy. His most recent book on international relations, Reliable Partners: How Democracies Have Made a Separate Peace, explains one of the most striking features in world politics: why democracies do not fight wars against each other. (Princeton University Press, 2003). Dr. Lipson has also written extensively on international trade, debt, and investment. His book, Standing Guard: Protecting Foreign Capital in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, has been widely praised for combining politics and economics. It is concerned with the problems faced by successful corporations when they operate in difficult political environments around the world.
Professor Lipson's most recent work deals with the problems of forging international cooperation after the Cold War. He is currently writing about the sources of international order in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
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