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Joe Biden hugs Hunter and Jill Biden after he was sworn in as president. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Hunter Biden hired a new attorney to assist with his federal criminal defense a month before his father became president. On Inauguration Day, one of that lawyer’s close colleagues was tapped to temporarily lead the Justice Department’s criminal division.

Why it matters: The moves put the new DOJ official atop a powerful arm of the justice system as his former colleague represents a client fending off a criminal probe. While their connection will fuel scrutiny of a politically charged matter, ethics experts say strictly adhering to conflict-of-interest rules can address any legitimate concerns.

What’s happening: In December, Hunter Biden hired former federal prosecutor Chris Clark, a partner at the firm Latham & Watkins. The president's younger son is said to be under investigation for possible tax and money laundering activities, with a potential counterintelligence component.

McQuaid, a former federal prosecutor, was tapped in January to serve as principal deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division. Additionally, he was installed as the acting assistant attorney general to replace a Trump appointee, making McQuaid one of a handful of acting AAGs appointed on Biden’s first day in office.

  • The president has yet to announce a nominee to permanently fill the post.

It’s not clear whether or to what extent the main branch of the Justice Department is involved in the Hunter Biden investigation.

  • While the investigation is being run by the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware, that doesn’t necessarily preclude involvement by Justice Department sections in Washington.
  • “It can really be quite ad hoc in the level of interactivity," said John A. Horn, a former U.S. attorney in Georgia. Any engagement is “very much dependent on the facts and circumstances of each case.”

Between the lines: Federal ethics laws and DOJ regulations would bar McQuaid from working on matters relating to the Biden investigation without a sign-off from Justice ethics officials.

  • DOJ guidelines, as well as an ethics pledge imposed by President Biden within days of taking office, bar federal officials from participating in matters involving former employers unless they receive a waiver of relevant laws and regulations.
  • “Potential conflicts between lawyers entering government and their former clients or firms are quite common,” said Kedric Payne, the senior director for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center.
  • “This situation is one of the many initial tests of Biden's ethics pledge, which looks great on paper, but time will tell if it is effective in practice,” he added. “Enforcement is essential.”

The bottom line: “While not speaking to any particular matter,” a DOJ spokesperson told Axios, “all department employees are governed by the department’s ethics rules, including rules concerning recusal.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include that National Law Journal first reported McQuaid’s hiring.

Go deeper

3 hours ago - Technology

3D printing's next act: big metal objects

Chief Scientist Andy Bayramian makes modifications to the laser system on Seurat's 3D metal printer. Photo courtesy of Seurat Technologies.

A new metal 3D printing technology could revolutionize the way large industrial products like planes and cars are made, reducing the cost and carbon footprint of mass manufacturing.

Why it matters: 3D printing — also called additive manufacturing — has been used since the 1980s to make small plastic parts and prototypes. Metal printing is newer, and the challenge has been figuring out how to make things like large car parts faster and cheaper than traditional methods.

Rising rates may hammer the stock market

Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

Stocks are much more vulnerable to interest rate swings than they used to be.

Why it matters: A sharp rise in rates in early 2022 is the key reason the stock market is off to an ugly start. And with the Federal Reserve making noise about trying to keep inflation in check, rates could go higher.

Ina Fried, author of Login
3 hours ago - Technology

Microsoft's Activision Blizzard deal complicates Big Tech regulation

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Microsoft's surprise $68 billion deal to buy Activision Blizzard is adding a fresh twist to the heated debate over which tech companies have monopolies that need to be reined in.

The big picture: The deal could force a question the company has happily ducked for a decade: whether its size and power make it just as deserving of regulatory scrutiny as its Big Tech rivals.