Hunter Biden’s decision to speak publicly about his seat on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company – and his relationship with his father – makes clear that he, at least, is concerned that he could be a problem for his father’s 2020 presidential campaign.
“I did nothing wrong at all,” Hunter Biden told ABC News in an interview that ran Tuesday morning. “However, was it poor judgment to be in the middle of something that is – it’s a swamp, in many ways? Yeah. Did I do anything improper? No, not in any way. Not in any way whatsoever.”
Later in the interview, Hunter added this: “You know what? I’m a human. And you know what, did I make a mistake? Well, maybe in the grand scheme of things, yeah. But did I make a mistake based on some unethical lapse? Absolutely not.”
Hunter Biden was careful to note that he didn’t tell his father (or the campaign) before deciding to speak publicly about his seat on the board of Burisma Holdings, which reportedly paid him as much as $50,000 a month. And Hunter reiterated what he has said before – that he and his father had only a single conversation about Burisma in which Joe Biden warned his son, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
President Donald Trump has sought to use Hunter Biden’s connection to Burisma against Joe Biden – even soliciting help from the president of Ukraine on a phone call, leading to the current impeachment inquiry in the US House.
But Trump’s repeated insistence that Joe Biden did something nefarious by trying to remove a prosecutor in Ukraine is simply not borne out by the facts. No matter how many times Trump screams corruption, it doesn’t change the fact that there is zero evidence that Joe Biden’s actions in Ukraine as vice president had anything to do with his son. None.
OK, we all clear on that? OK! Good!
But that doesn’t mean that Hunter Biden won’t be a problem for his father’s campaign.
Now, it’s very unlikely that any of Biden’s Democratic opponents will publicly attack the former vice president over his son – either in Tuesday night’s debate or in the remainder of the primary. In fact, it’s more likely that Democrats in the race will rally around Biden on the issue as a sort of unified front against Trump and his tactics.
“I will be standing firmly in defense of Joe Biden throughout this process because this can in no way besmirch his character, his honor and his incredible service to this country over decades,” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker told CNN’s Jake Tapper last week about the Hunter Biden story.
But behind the scenes – and among undecided Democratic voters – Hunter Biden’s decision to admit an error in judgment and to do so on the eve of crucial debate (and moment) for his father’s campaign is likely to raise lots of questions. And very few of those questions are good for Joe Biden.
Because here’s the thing: Hunter Biden could very well be a problem for his father’s presidential campaign.
As the New Yorker’s Adam Entous put it in a lengthy profile of Hunter Biden earlier this year:
“There is little question that Hunter’s proximity to power shaped the arc of his career, and that, as the former [Biden] aide told me, ‘Hunter is super rich terrain.’”
Hunter Biden’s personal and professional weaknesses are both well-known and well-worn.
He had admitted to using cocaine in college and as an adult. He has acknowledged that he has struggled with alcohol addiction. In the early 2000s, he admitted himself into an alcohol rehabilitation center for a month.
And his relationships have been tabloid fodder, fairly or not. He and his first wife are divorced. For a time after his brother Beau’s death, Hunter and Beau’s widow were together. In May of this year, he got remarried after a short romance.
The Yale law graduate worked for a DC lobbying company although, according to his boss, never on clients that touched his father’s work as a senator from Delaware in any way. (Hunter Biden eventually dropped all of his lobbying clients and resigned from the board of Amtrak when his father was chosen as the vice presidential nominee in 2008.)
(Side bar: Hunter told the New Yorker of the move: “I wanted my father to have a clean slate. I didn’t want to limit him in any way.”)
And during his father’s years alongside Barack Obama in the White House, Hunter started a company with, among others, Chris Heinz, a stepson of former Secretary of State John Kerry. The company’s goal was to help foreign businesses expand into the United States and other markets. That’s where he came into contact with Burisma Holdings.
What’s clear here is that Hunter Biden has benefited from being the son of Joe Biden. Kind of like how Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump have benefitted from being the children of Donald Trump. In the same way, Donald Trump benefited from being the son of Fred Trump.
And on and on it goes. The scions of wealthy or influential – or wealthy and influential – people are often giving a series of helping hands by their parents as they move through life.
The question that voters in 2020 will have to answer is whether that fact of life bothers them. Or, more accurately, whether it bothers them enough not to vote for Joe Biden to be the Democratic nominee for president or to be the president come 2021.
But, that we are even asking the question isn’t great news for Joe Biden. We know from a slew of polling that a) Democratic voters prize electability over all else and b) Biden is, currently, regarded as the most electable Democratic candidate against Trump.
There’s no doubt that watching Trump turn Hunter Biden into a political pinata in the last few weeks will give some undecided Democratic voters pause when they consider what the President might do to the former vice president if the two squared off in the general election. And, that’s no good for Joe Biden.