Editor’s Note: W. James Antle III is the politics editor of the Washington Examiner and author of “Devouring Freedom: Can Government Ever Be Stopped?”
For Republican voters, there is a powerful split screen that drives how they view the 2024 presidential race, and on no day was it presented in sharper definition than on July 27 when Hunter Biden’s plea agreement fell apart. That Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday elevated the prosecutor behind the deal, David Weiss, to the position of special prosecutor, with a trial likely in the wake of the aborted plea deal, does little to assuage GOP concerns.
Republicans have long claimed that President Joe Biden’s son has gotten special treatment from prosecutors looking into his business practices and allegations of tax and gun crimes, even as former President Donald Trump has faced the strictest legal scrutiny for any and all potential offenses. When Hunter Biden’s plea agreement fell apart at the end of July, the GOP position on the president’s son received vindication from US District Judge Maryellen Noreika, who rejected an “unusual” plea bargain the Department of Justice had offered him.
The Justice Department appointing a special counsel now is too little, too late. One should have been appointed long ago; now it feels too much like a clean-up attempt. House Republicans in particular won’t have confidence in Weiss – especially given the events around the plea deal – and will prefer their own investigations.
The plea deal that Noreika was asked to approve would have spared the president’s son prison. The deal, brokered in June, was presented to her even though IRS whistleblowers the week before told Congress they weren’t able to treat Hunter Biden like a typical target of their investigations, couldn’t pursue leads against his family members and recommended far harsher charges than were leveled. (Joe Biden has said he wasn’t involved in his son’s business deals.)
Noreika, a Trump appointee supported by both of Delaware’s Democratic senators, took the rare step of telling the parties that she wasn’t willing to accept the deal when it came before her last month. She said the arrangement related to Biden’s gun possession offense was “unusual” and contained “non-standard terms,” such as “broad immunity” from other potential charges. She said she also had “concerns about the constitutionality” of the gun deal for fear it might violate the separation of powers.
The hearing ended with Biden entering a plea of not guilty on two tax misdemeanors. Prosecutors claim that Biden didn’t pay $1.1 million to $1.5 million in taxes on time. (He has since done so.) Separately, he’s also alleged to have made false statements on an application to buy a gun in which he didn’t acknowledge using drugs at the time of the application.
It’s not surprising that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has raised the prospect of an impeachment inquiry of the president and the business dealings of his family members given the lack of adequate pressure from the Justice Department, the allegations leveled by the whistleblowers and the need for public disclosure of testimony from former business associates of Hunter Biden.
At the same time, the twice-impeached Trump is facing the prospect of a fourth indictment, this one in the state of Georgia for his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in that state. That comes on top of the novel legal theory that was used to bring charges against the former president in New York on a hush money case, alongside federal charges of mishandling classified documents and conspiring to undermine the 2020 election. (He has denied any wrongdoing in all three cases.)
And yet, Trump claims above 50% of national Republican support for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. One recent poll showed Trump up 30 points over his nearest opponent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in Iowa. His worst New Hampshire poll has him leading by 14.
Hunter Biden is one reason Trump is able to survive, even thrive, under circumstances that would have felled almost any other candidate. Rank-and-file Republicans see the president’s son as a prime illustration of a double standard.
They think Trump is getting a raw deal and has been the target of an obsessive campaign to bring him down. The Republican base thinks the criminal charges against Trump are politically motivated, that he has been treated differently than not only Hunter but also President Joe Biden and his 2016 rival Hillary Clinton.
Perhaps the most damning evidence is the report by esteemed former public prosecutor John Durham, another DOJ special counsel who looked into the FBI’s investigation of Trump over accusations he had colluded with the Russians.
Durham conducted a nearly four-year review of the Russia probe and concluded that the same Justice Department that has been accused of going easy on Hunter Biden had a weak basis for its investigation into Trump on Russia collusion even as it didn’t get as worked up about claims of foreign election interference when they concerned Hillary Clinton.
“[B]ased on the evidence gathered in the multiple exhaustive and costly federal investigations of these matters,” Durham wrote, “neither U.S. law enforcement nor the Intelligence Community appears to have possessed any actual evidence of collusion in their holdings at the commencement of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation,” the name for the Trump-Russia probe. The FBI responded to the report by stating that it had “implemented dozens of corrective actions.”
At the same time that the DOJ and the mainstream media were overturning every pebble as part of this investigation, powerful players dismissed evidence found on Hunter Biden’s laptop raising questions about his business activities. In the heat of the 2020 presidential campaign, former intelligence officials, many appointed by Democrats, opined that the laptop was the result of a Russian disinformation campaign, which made news outlets hesitant to cover it and social media companies restrict sharing the stories that did get published.
Even once that was disproven and the DOJ investigation of Hunter Biden heated up, the IRS whistleblowers testified that they were blocked from interviews they would normally conduct and rebuffed in recommendations for further charges. Joseph Ziegler, a career IRS official who identifies as a Democrat, testified that prosecutors “slow-walked the investigation, and put in place unnecessary approvals and road blocks from effectively and efficiently addressing the case. A lot of times, we were not able to follow the facts.”
(The DOJ and the White House have denied these allegations. Democrats have noted that Weiss, who has been running the investigation, is a Trump-era appointee, and that it’s common for there to be disagreements between different people involved in investigating complex cases. Weiss has also denied the whistleblowers’ accusations and defended his independence.)
Perhaps there are good reasons for the difference in how the Trump and Biden investigations were handled beyond partisan bias. To be sure, some of the charges against Trump in the classified documents case and January 6 riots have much more serious national and domestic security implications than those against Biden the younger, who was never a political leader.
But the voters who will decide the next GOP presidential nominee are not wrong in thinking that something about Hunter Biden’s treatment doesn’t sit right. It’s not surprising this is then channeled into suspicion of the legal cases brought against Trump – and suspicion of Weiss in the special prosecutor role. As McCarthy tweeted Friday, “If Weiss negotiated the sweetheart deal that couldn’t get approved, how can he be trusted as a Special Counsel? House Republicans will continue to pursue the facts for the American people.”
While Trump isn’t always an innocent victim, many Republican voters are no more inclined to believe what a Justice Department run by a Biden appointee says about Trump than a news media they deem anti-Trump. Worries about liberal media bias have been common among Republicans since at least Richard Nixon’s administration.
Republican voters believe Hunter Biden is set to get off with a slap on the wrist while their favored candidate is the one being hunted. Weiss’ appointment will only feed their fury.
This piece has been updated to reflect the latest news developments in the Hunter Biden investigation.