Dec 14, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Hunter Biden goes on attack against GOP, believing it helps dad

Hunter Biden speaks behind a microphone with the U.S. Capitol in the background.

Hunter Biden speaks to reporters outside the Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Tierney L. Cross/Bloomberg via Getty Images

After mostly lying low for years, Hunter Biden — ignoring the wishes of some White House aides — is going on the attack in the belief that it will help President Biden in the long run, according to people familiar with his team's thinking.

Why it matters: That's what led Hunter to go to the Capitol grounds Wednesday — not to be deposed in private, as House Republicans investigating the Bidens wanted — but to confront the GOP on camera for its tactics, and not letting him publicly testify as he offered.

  • In some of his most direct public remarks in years, Hunter said "there is no fairness or decency" in GOP efforts to connect his foreign business dealings to an impeachment inquiry into his father.

Later Wednesday, Hunter told Axios that Republicans "have weaponized my dad's love for me, and turned his greatest strengths — his compassion, his empathy, his authenticity — into evidence of corrupt complicity. They've made it really hard for people to square that circle, which is why the Trump cult is obsessed with me."

  • "I feel I have two equal responsibilities now," he added. "The first is staying clean and sober, and the second is defending my dad. My mistakes are in spite of him — not a reflection of him. And that's why I need to call out their lies as loud and as often possible going forward."

Between the lines: Hunter's new strategy has caused tension between his team and the White House. Top aides to President Biden originally crafted a plan to largely not respond to attacks and conservative media coverage — a risk-averse approach to avoid giving stories more oxygen.

  • But Hunter's team ultimately wasn't satisfied. The media coverage didn't die down. His team came to believe that his lack of a response was alienating potential Democratic allies — and hurting his father politically.
  • The team’s thinking: If voters believe Hunter's corrupt, they'll see Joe Biden's integrity as suspect, too.

Driving the news: Hunter's appearance outside the Capitol on Wednesday came as he was scheduled to appear under congressional subpoena for a closed-door deposition by the House Oversight and Judicial panels, which are leading the GOP's impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

  • Hunter said he was willing to testify in a public hearing but not in private — restating what his lawyer Abbe Lowell had previously offered.
  • In a reference to Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.) brandishing a nude photo of him in a July congressional hearing, Hunter said Republicans "displayed naked photos of me during an oversight hearing, and they have taken the light of my dad's love for me and presented it as darkness. They have no shame."

Republican committee chairs James Comer and Jim Jordan responded: "Hunter Biden today defied lawful subpoenas, and we will now initiate contempt of Congress proceedings."

Zoom in: Hunter's team keeps the White House and Joe Biden informed of its plans. But the president's team has far less control over Hunter's strategy than it once had.

  • Hunter has spoken up in rare instances before: Biden aides fumed at Hunter's freelancing during the 2020 campaign, when he spoke with The New Yorker, and again in 2021 when he released a memoir documenting his addictions.
  • But even if they disagree with Hunter's approach, most of the president's top aides aren't comfortable confronting Biden about his son.
  • White House officials privately praised Hunter’s statement Wednesday as powerful, a White House source told Axios.

Flashback: Hunter and Hollywood lawyer Kevin Morris — a close confidant— last year brought on Lowell, a prominent D.C. defense attorney who represented Jared Kushner during the Trump administration, to confront the GOP House investigations.

  • Not everyone welcomed the change. Chris Clark — who was representing Hunter in the Justice Department's investigation into the president's son and worked closely with Biden lawyer Bob Bauer — threatened to resign if Lowell was brought on, a person familiar with the episode told Axios.
  • Clark was persuaded to stay. But he left several months later, after a proposed plea deal for Hunter unraveled this past summer.
  • Lowell became Hunter's lawyer in both the congressional and criminal investigations. Hunter has been charged with a mix of felonies and misdemeanors related to filing his taxes and a gun purchase.

Zoom out: When Lowell met with Hunter's associates last year, he made the case that there was a difference between Hunter's best interests and the White House's.

  • "There's a lot of crossover, but there's always a gap," one person familiar with the conversation said.
  • "Every White House is even bigger than the president themself — they're there to protect the White House, protect the interests of that administration as a whole — almost as if the administration was its own being."
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