Every time it looks like the Hunter Biden saga is over, it returns like a bad Halloween monster. As expected, it factored heavily in Thursday’s debate, with President Donald Trump trying to paint former Vice President Joe Biden as corrupt.
But even before the debate, the last few days have seen a flurry of Hunter Biden news, much of it pushed by Trump ally Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani claims to have obtained a trove of incriminating documents from a laptop allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden. Trump and Fox News have been obsessively pushing this all-too-convenient October surprise ever since.
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Giuliani is not the most reliable narrator. In the past, he’s peddled anti-Semitic theories about George Soros and debunked theories about the former vice president’s role in the firing of a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor. But there’s another reason why this story still festers: mishandling by the Democrats.
“Nothing was unethical,” Biden said the moment the debate moderator Kristen Welker mentioned his son’s past. It’s part of a pattern in which Biden’s campaign and many in the media refuse to accept the basic impropriety of Hunter’s business dealings. Instead, they have resorted to implausible denials, media blaming and “alternative facts” — in other words, the same sordid tactics used by Trump. That’s not just ineffective — George Bernard Shaw’s quote about wrestling with pigs comes to mind. It’s outright dangerous.
We’re allowing this scandal to sully the narrative at a time when we cannot afford to lose focus on preventing another disastrous Trump term, all because we fail to acknowledge a few basic truths.
The foreign intricacies of Hunter Biden getting paid to consult the corrupt Ukrainian energy company Burisma and other shadowy clients make the overall story appear complicated. It’s not.
Exotic details aside, these are accusations of garden-variety corruption: the son of a powerful man allegedly uses his last name to get into places he has no business being in order to make money. If you think that’s anything out of the ordinary for Washington, D.C., power circles, I have a proverbial bridge to sell you. Washington is teeming with lobbyists who leverage careers in government, stints in the military and social connections in the services of sketchy foreign entities.
This goes beyond individuals; in 2014, a stunning exposé revealed how the Brookings Institution — a premier Washington think tank — engaged in a campaign to whitewash the brutal government of Qatar. Needless to say, Qatar sank $14.8 million into Brookings — influence peddling pays well.
In fact, as journalists who cover this point out, the strangest thing about Trump allies Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn running afoul of lobbying laws is that the laws are almost never enforced. It’s just business as usual for Washington.
The simplest way to lance the Hunter Biden boil would have been for the Biden campaign and supporters to admit reality, pledge to have Hunter cease all lobbying, as well as provide reporters full access to his businesses and finances for the duration of his father’s presidency, and move on. This should’ve happened months ago.
Instead, the Biden campaign and Democratic pundits are still engaging in their own ridiculous brand of disinformation. They still claim that Hunter Biden did nothing wrong by joining the Burisma’s board; that Biden didn’t know about the bad optics of it; that because Biden’s Ukraine policy was in line with American objectives, it negates the inherent conflict of interest posed by his son’s Ukraine entanglements; and that pointing out the impropriety of Hunter’s lobbying makes one a Kremlin asset. All four points are easily disprovable nonsense.
First, Hunter Biden got his business opportunities the same as numerous other scions with big last names: old-fashioned nepotism. It’s no different than pretending Ivanka Trump became senior adviser to the president of the United States because of her stellar geopolitical acumen, not because she’s Trump’s daughter, or that decidedly un-stellar student Jared Kushner got into Harvard because the admissions office believed in his untapped academic potential, not because of the $2.5 million his father gave the school. Mistyped emails from Nigerian princes have more credibility.
There’s no evidence Hunter Biden’s actions were illegal, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t wrong, as Biden senior claims. Insisting that all was kosher only potentially alienates the millions of Americans who clamor for a restoration of justice to their land; it also bolsters Trump’s cynical strategy of portraying everyone as corrupt, with no difference between him and the Democrats.
Hunter Biden shouldn’t have joined the board of Burisma; his decision to do so hampered his father’s ability to work with Ukraine. Those aren't my words — those are the words of the editorial board of The New York Times in 2015. The fact that its board felt necessary to issue their warning demonstrates the seriousness of the situation.
The editorial also undercuts the assertion that Biden knew nothing about the issue. Last month, CNN asked the former vice president whether he realized the negative optics of his son sitting on the board of Burisma while he ran America’s Ukraine policy. “Optically, had I known earlier, I wish – we both wish it hadn’t happened that way,” Biden told CNN.
That’s very hard to believe. In 2014, Biden’s own spokesperson was forced to field ethics questions about Hunter Bidem and Burisma. Even the Obama White House itself had expressed concerns, with several officials raising the issue.
The third claim — that Biden’s Ukraine policy was not inappropriate and therefore no conflict of interest took place — is also false. Yes, Biden was cleared of any wrongdoing in pressuring Ukraine to fire a corrupt prosecutor, even by GOP investigations. But a conflict of interest doesn’t require actual impropriety: its existence is, in itself, improper.
Any traffic judge in America will recuse him or herself from ruling on so much as a $10 parking ticket, if the ticket is issued to the judge’s son. Whether the judge is able to make a fair ruling on the ticket is quite immaterial; what matters is the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The reason for such recusals is self-evident; one doesn’t need a Gallup poll to determine whether voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and elsewhere understand this elementary procedure of ensuring fairness. Once again, insisting there was no conflict of interest for the Bidens insults the very voters they’re trying to court.
Lastly, we come to the Biden campaign, prominent Democrats and even pundits accusing individuals who mention Hunter and Burisma of carrying water for the Kremlin. The latest fiasco over Hunter Biden’s laptop could be instigated by Russia — we don’t know yet, and that’s why the FBI is investigating. But in the interim, jumping to automatically painting Americans as foreign agents merits a conversation of its own. (It also echoes the way those who opposed the Iraq War were smeared as unpatriotic supporters of dictators.) For now, it’s enough to say that this argument, like the others, is wrong to the point of absurdity.
The Russia factor, even if there, doesn’t diminish the impropriety of Hunter Biden’s lobbying and the question of how it may impact a Biden presidency. Russian propaganda routinely (and gleefully) uses real events to further its goals, including stories of police shootings of Black Americans. That doesn't make the topic any less valid.
By that logic, the Times’ editorial board, the Obama White House, and everyone else who has previously called out the ethics of Hunter Biden and Burisma is either working for Moscow or, at the very least, furthering its nefarious agenda.
America already has the GOP and Fox News which routinely claim that black is white, that anything they don’t agree with is fake news, and that the other side is manipulated by shadowy forces like George Soros. If Democrats and mainstream media organizations engage in this, as well, we’re headed for a truly dark chapter, one whose ramifications will last far longer than Trump.