Jun 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

The exiled Biden: Trial reveals anguish of Hunter's ex-wife

Kathleen Buehle in a blue suit with a white blouse

Kathleen Buhle (center), ex-wife of Hunter Biden, leaves the federal courthouse in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

WILMINGTON, Del. — Kathleen Buhle dropped the Biden name in 2019, but she hasn't been able to escape being a Biden and the family drama that has come with it.

Why it matters: Hunter Biden's felony trial in Delaware this week has been the latest painful episode for President Biden's ex-daughter-in-law, who was largely exiled from the Bidens as they rallied around Hunter, her former husband.

  • The melodrama playing out in court has revealed a family devastated by the death of Hunter's brother Beau in 2015, and then again by Hunter's drug addiction — traumas that have shadowed Joe Biden's campaigns for president in 2020 and 2024.
  • The Bidens' relationship with Buhle has further soured during their time in the White House. Joe and Jill Biden circled the wagons around Hunter as he got sober and started a new family, according to six people familiar with the dynamics.

Driving the news: Testifying this week under subpoena, Buhle somberly recounted a series of embarrassing incidents that occurred as her marriage to Hunter crumbled in 2015 and 2016, and his addiction to crack cocaine took hold.

  • Buhle also was confronted with testimony from Beau's widow, Hallie Biden, who said Thursday that her romantic relationship with Hunter began in late 2015 and early 2016 — when Buhle had said she and Hunter were separated but still working on their marriage.
  • That's also several months before Hunter claimed his relationship with Hallie began in his 2021 memoir.
  • "I was at my lowest, [Hallie] was at her neediest, and we clung to each other with abandon," Hunter wrote about a period in the fall of 2016 after he'd been through a stint in rehab. "By the time we returned to Delaware at the end of the week, we were no longer just two people bound by shared grief."
  • Buhle had been skeptical of Hunter spending so much time with Hallie Biden after Beau's death, but she wrote in her own memoir she didn't have confirmation their relationship was romantic until her daughters found messages between Hunter and Hallie on a device in November 2016 — and confessed to Buhle in front of a therapist.

Buhle's testimony this week also recounted petty slights: She said that when she and Hunter divorced in 2017 he wouldn't release her phone number from the family's cellular plan, requiring her to get a new number.

  • On Thursday, the prosecution noted Hunter sent Hallie a text message in October 2018, when he temporarily began using Buhle's old number as his own: "This is Kathleen and I'm gonna beat you up," he tried to joke.

Zoom in: During his trial on gun charges this week, Hunter has had a phalanx of family, friends, Delaware political figures and even producers from a Hunter-focused documentary behind him in the courtroom.

  • When she testified Wednesday, Buhle entered and exited solo, and didn't glance at the president's son as she left.
  • Hallie Biden had support in the courtroom in her new husband, John Hopkins Anning II, whom she married last weekend.
  • On Wednesday, Jill Biden left before Buhle's testimony and then returned afterward.

Zoom out: The Bidens' relationship with Buhle fractured in 2017, after some of her divorce filings — claiming Hunter had used drugs and been with prostitutes — were reported by the New York Post.

  • Joe Biden and much of his family privately blamed Buhle for the details becoming public, according to people familiar with the matter.
  • Buhle's friends thought the Bidens were enabling Hunter's behavior by appearing more angry at the revelations becoming public than at Hunter for what he'd done.

Between the lines: President Biden and much of the family deeply resented that Buhle wrote a memoir in 2022 that largely focused on her marriage with Hunter and his addictions, people familiar with the dynamic told Axios.

  • Buhle's defenders who knew her during and after Biden's vice presidency note that she largely didn't discuss her breakup with Hunter after the divorce was finalized in 2017 — and opened up in the book about Hunter's drug use only after he wrote about it and their marriage in his 2021 book.
  • Later in 2022, Buhle's friends and allies were enraged on her behalf after a Vogue cover photo shoot for her daughter Naomi Biden's wedding at the White House featured only Naomi and the first lady — the mother of the bride wasn't included.

Flashback: About nine months after her divorce from Hunter was finalized, Buhle was diagnosed with colon cancer.

  • She later moved into a smaller place in Washington, D.C., and after mostly having been a stay-at-home mom, she founded The House at 1229, a nonprofit women's social club.
  • Since 2019, she's been locked in a legal battle with Hunter over at least $1.7 million in unpaid alimony and legal expenses, which her lawyers claimed last year had grown to $2.9 million, as Axios first reported.

What they're saying: The White House, a representative for Hunter, and Buhle did not respond to requests for comment.

  • The White House declined to provide a contact for a representative for Naomi Biden.
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