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Hunter Biden and Republicans' Load-Bearing Lie
As yet another investigation of Joe Biden's son shows him to be a recovering addict, Republicans cling to conspiracy theories that cast him as a globe-trotting gangster
Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, pled guilty to federal crimes, getting fines and probation, and Republicans are upset. Prosecutor David Weiss, appointed by President Donald Trump in 2018, completed his multi-year probe by charging Hunter with unpaid taxes and possessing a firearm while on illegal drugs, but didn’t validate right-wing conspiracy theories that cast Hunter, who doesn’t work in government, as a politics-shaping international criminal.
“A slap on the wrist for Hunter Biden,” complained Senator Rick Scott (R-Fl), who ran a company convicted of 14 felony counts of Medicare fraud, and paid a fine but faced no jail time or probation.
“In the midst of an alleged influence-peddling scandal, Hunter has emerged with a plea that brings a new meaning to the word ‘bargain,’” wrote conservative attorney Jonathan Turley, ignoring the fact that the allegations come from Republican political operatives and media, and a Republican prosecutor couldn’t substantiate them.
Some tried to use the news to defend former president Donald Trump from more serious criminal charges, casting him as a victim, and stoking Republicans’ feelings of persecution. “Hunter Biden has received a sweetheart deal and is not facing any charges on the massive corruption allegations that have been made against him,” Florida governor and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis wrote in a fundraising email, insisting, like Turley, that accusations Republicans made up that no one can prove be treated as fact. “If Hunter Biden were a Republican, he would have been in jail years ago… We need to end the two-tiered system of justice.”
This isn’t the first time Republicans’ lurid fantasies about Joe Biden’s son have crashed into reality. But rather than breathing a sigh of relief that the corruption they worried was hurting America isn’t real, they plow ahead, portraying normal reactions to the absence of evidence as yet another conspiracy against them.
For Republicans in the Trump era, Hunter Biden conspiracy theories are a load-bearing lie. Having abandoned so many things they once claimed as principles, they defend or at least excuse Trump’s attempt to overthrow the Constitution, and denounce federal law enforcement for doing its job. To keep that going, they need rationalizations.
But what if Hunter Biden really is what he appears to be: a recovering addict who used to mess around with drugs, guns, and prostitutes; another example of a presidential relative, like Roger Clinton, who tried trading on the family name but had no effect on government policy? What if he’s not a high-level operative in a secret, world-bestriding criminal enterprise run by his father?
In that case, these seven things would be true:
Trump giving his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner top White House jobs—even though Kushner couldn’t pass a standard security clearance check—which they used to get themselves money from foreign states was uniquely heinous corruption. It’s not something everyone does, brushing off concerns when it’s someone on their “side.”
Trump had business interests in Russia and Turkey, pocketed millions from the Saudis, and tilted U.S. foreign policy in their favor. Jared Kushner got real estate bailouts from Qatar and UAE, then $2 billion to invest from Saudi Arabia. Ivanka got her brands trademarked in China. Don Jr. ran the private company his father still owns, and traveled to India to trade on his father’s name, costing U.S. taxpayers nearly $100,000. I could keep going, but there’s so much that recounting it feels tedious.
Joe and Hunter Biden are obviously not doing that. Years of federal prosecutors, Congressional committees, conservative media, and Republican operatives all searching for evidence keep coming up empty. If the theories were real, they would’ve panned out by now.
There’s insinuation and speculation, sure, but never actual evidence. A good illustration is GOP House Rep. James Comer claiming to have bank records showing Biden corruption (that didn’t involve nor mention Biden), and that a key witness would testify (who Comer then said he lost track of).
Joe Biden isn’t perfect, and Hunter sure isn’t. But Americans recently saw what a corrupt presidential administration looks like, and Biden’s ain’t it.
2–Rule of Law
President Biden and Attorney General Garland standing aside as a Trump-appointed prosecutor decided how to investigate and charge Biden’s son shows a commitment to Department of Justice (DOJ) independence that prioritizes avoiding even the appearance of politicization.
Respect for impartial rule of law has been the Biden administration’s approach the whole time. Another clear example is the year-plus of deference to Trump’s status as a former president regarding the secret national security documents he’s now indicted for hoarding, with the government quietly proposing numerous avenues for Trump to cooperate and avoid charges—like Joe Biden and Mike Pence both recently did—that he kept choosing not to take.
3–Losing in 2020
Donald Trump lost re-election in 2020 because he was an unpopular president and millions more Americans preferred Joe Biden. It wasn’t because Twitter (under old management) censored a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop for two days before admitting they overstepped and reversing. That bears criticism as a content moderation decision, but its impact on the election was minimal, not least because the controversy drew more attention to the story, which was easily accessible online via the NY Post’s website and elsewhere.
Nor did Trump lose because a group of former intelligence officials wrote an open letter saying “that we do not know if the emails, provided to the New York Post by President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, are genuine or not and that we do not have evidence of Russian involvement,” but decided to raise suspicion because they saw “classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” Some headlines exaggerated their claim—Media sensationalize? No!—but the suspicion was reasonable at the time, and remains incompletely answered. (Explained in detail here.)
Some of the blame Republicans direct at Twitter and the former intelligence officials is displaced frustration with the 2020 Trump campaign putting so many eggs into the Hunter Biden basket—even to the point of Trump getting impeached for trying to extort Ukraine into manufacturing a case against Hunter—but failing to turn it into Hillary’s Emails 2.0, and losing.
That frustration is also evident in the embarrassment of the “Twitter Files,” disclosures hyped by new Twitter owner Elon Musk as proving a conspiracy to suppress factual information about Hunter Biden that, if anything, showed the opposite. Independent journalist Matt Taibbi—apparently picked because he, too, wanted to believe the conspiracy—tried distortions to prove it, casting requests to follow Twitter’s policy of taking down unauthorized nude photos as political censorship, and glossing over requests by the Trump White House to remove speech insulting the president.
But the supposed evidence was so weak, and the manipulations so easy to spot, that the “Twitter Files” didn’t catch on with anyone who didn’t already believe. And that, in turn, raised more frustration.
5–The Punishment Fits the Crime
Hunter Biden and Donald Trump’s actions were different, which is the main reason law enforcement is treating them differently. Unpaid taxes and firearm possession are relatively minor, especially when compared to hoarding secret Pentagon war plans and showing them to people who don’t have clearance. Unlike Trump, Hunter cooperated and pled guilty, getting fines and probation. By comparison, Trump ally Roger Stone resolved his unpaid taxes case in civil court and paid a fine.
The one similarity is both Trump and Hunter increased the likelihood of criminal charges by announcing their crimes in public. Owning a gun while on illegal drugs is rarely charged, not least because it’s hard to prove after the fact, but Hunter’s memoir says he lied about drug use on a gun application. Meanwhile, Trump admitted obstruction on television, but claimed justification by insisting that classified material is his personal property, not the government’s, in defiance of both law and common sense. (We’re talking war plans and nuclear secrets, not a personal diary).
Bigger crimes + obstruction instead of cooperation = bigger charges. Obviously.
6–Retaliation and Rationalization
Republican threats to retaliate against the FBI and the Justice Department, and to manufacture criminal investigations into political opponents, are an attack on rule of law they’re choosing to do, not something somehow forced on them by someone else. If the claims of a weaponized DOJ persecuting conservatives were anywhere close to true, we’d see a burst of manufactured criminal charges against Republicans, especially Trump’s kids. After all, a Trump-picked prosecutor went after Biden’s son!
But we don’t see anything like that dark fantasy. “We have to, they did it first” is a desperate rationalization, a lie some who know better tell themselves to stay on board.
The Republican Party, as currently constituted, is trying to put Donald Trump above the law. Giving him the special ability to commit crimes without consequence is apparently more important to them than U.S. national security, including the classified material rules they claimed to care deeply about in 2016, and Constitutional democracy.
Despite January 6 and the larger coup attempt that caused it, and now despite evidence Trump knowingly committed felonies that risked national security, Republicans have stuck with him. Trump is way ahead in polls (RCP’s average on June 21 has him up by 30.8 points), and most of his primary rivals are joining the lie-based attacks on federal law enforcement. They’re choosing to stoke the persecution complex, rather than, as Josh Barro suggests, using the front-runner’s legal problems to campaign against him.
The first primaries are seven months away. Republicans could choose a different course. But recent trends and eight years of behavioral patterns point towards lining up behind Trump again. And if not, behind someone else who will intervene to give Trump special treatment.
The Republican 2024 candidates speaking truthfully about the Trump cases and supporting rule of law, former governors Chris Christie and Ava Hutchinson, are polling at 3 percent combined.
If Trump gets the Republican nomination, the 2024 election is effectively a referendum on rule of law. If he becomes president again, he will give himself and his associates permission to commit crimes without consequence, purge the government of non-loyalists, and weaponize federal law enforcement. This isn’t just my speculation, it’s Team Trump’s plans for a second term.
But if even a few of the seven things listed above are true, how could any Constitutionalist, supporter of law and order, or American patriot go along with it?
Hunter Biden conspiracy theories help answer that question. They provide a foundation for lies about differential prosecution and unequal treatment, for the broader MAGA persecution complex, and false “everyone does it” or “you made me do it” rationalizations.
Besides, the lie is canon now. It’s something everyone inside the right-wing bubble “knows,” and telling the truth gets you shunned, like former Rep. Liz Cheney. But inside the bubble you’re a persecuted victim, allowed to do immoral, undemocratic, un-American things in response. And that feels better.