While the charges sound grave, they barely constitute a wrist slap
News broke today that Hunter Biden will plead guilty to tax-related offences and illegal possession of a hand gun. While the charges sound grave, in reality they barely rise to the level of a wrist slap. Biden will plead guilty to both charges but, according to the terms of his deal with the Department of Justice —which is run by a person who reports to Biden’s father — will not be prosecuted.
Much more importantly, though, is that the media element will have the biggest impact of all. The splashy headlines surrounding this deal will give the Biden administration a fighting chance of putting a painful political liability to bed ahead of the election while sidestepping the real issue at hand — allegations against both father and son of years-long dishonest dealings with foreign governments.
To be fair, the charges at least sound bad. “Hunter Biden to plead guilty to tax crimes and admit gun offence,” the BBC’s headline reads. And it’s certainly not a situation any regular person would want to face. But if this affair has demonstrated anything at all, it’s that Hunter Biden is no regular person.
Case in point: the ATF, the agency that oversees gun law enforcement in the US, publishes a foreboding list of cases concerning people who have been convicted of gun-related crimes similar to the one Biden will be charged with — namely, falsifying forms involving gun transactions. In all listed cases by the ATF, the defendants face up to 10 years in federal prison. As part of the terms hashed out by a scrum of white-shoe lawyers representing the President’s son, the Justice Department has agreed to charge but not prosecute him, rendering the proceeding little more than an elaborate legal kabuki ceremony — and, of course, a great headline.
That might be precisely the point. The charges to which Biden has agreed to plead guilty are misdemeanour tax charges related to his failure to file taxes on time, and to claims of expenses that may have been inflated or inaccurate. But the big headlines give a nod to accountability and equal treatment before the law while blotting out the real issue at hand — the tens of millions of dollars Hunter received from firms connected to the most corrupt foreign governments on earth while his father was the sitting vice president.
The approach calls to mind the use of small, controlled explosions by firefighters who blow up a little patch of forest in order to suck the energy out of the fire. Taking such an approach in any other cases involving such brazen — and thoroughly self-documented — wrongdoing connected to political nepotism would be foolhardy; the media pile-on would be savage and relentless. But it’s clear that with the media effort to have the contents of the infamous laptop that triggered these overlapping investigations declared “Russian disinformation”, Team Biden knows where to turn in their time of need.
The question that remains is whether House Republicans have enough tools at their disposal to keep the issue top of mind for Americans. If they don’t, we might just have witnessed one of the most successful efforts to exonerate a potentially corrupted political actor without ever having to discuss whether the man in question was innocent, or guilty.