WASHINGTON - Hunter Biden frequently attended his father’s political events and rallies. But when former Vice President Joe Biden officially launched his Democratic presidential campaign in May in Philadelphia, Hunter Biden was a no-show.
His decision to stay out of the limelight came amid the latest in a stream of embarrassing stories about his turbulent personal life, alcohol and drug addiction, and questionable business decisions. Yet his efforts to lower his profile to help his father in his third and presumably final bid for the presidency proved unsuccessful.
For months, President Donald Trump has sought to undermine Joe Biden’s front-running candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination with broadsides suggesting unfounded corrupt practices by both father and son.
With the House of Representatives now conducting an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s effort to encourage Ukrainian meddling in the 2020 U.S. election, the embattled president is openly calling on Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens on charges long disproved or lacking in evidence.
Calls for investigation
Trump’s calls for investigations are not likely to slow the House Democrats’ impeachment investigation, which could be completed before the end of the year. But even some of Trump’s critics concede there is more than a whiff of impropriety to Hunter Biden’s exploitation of his family name to land highly lucrative positions while his father served in the Senate and later as Barack Obama’s vice president.
Those included positions with a private equity firm whose partners included Chinese entities shortly after visiting China with his father in 2013 and a major Ukrainian natural gas company beginning in April 2014 while Joe Biden was the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine.
“The reality is your name gets you in the door and you’re using that famous name on behalf of a private client,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of the Washington-based watchdog Issue One, without passing judgment.
Hunter Biden, 49, certainly followed that well-worn career path.
The youngest of Joe Biden’s two sons, Hunter Biden was born in 1970, when his father, then a practicing lawyer, served on the City Council in New Castle, Delaware. When Hunter was 2, he survived a car crash that killed his mother and sister and left Hunter and his older brother, Beau Biden, badly injured.
“The first memory I have,” Hunter recalled at Beau’s funeral service in 2015, “is of lying in a hospital bed next to my brother. I was almost 3 years old. I remember my brother, who was one year and one day older than me, holding my hand, staring into my eyes, saying, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’ Over and over and over again.”
Joe Biden, who had just been elected to the Senate, held his swearing-in ceremony in a Wilmington hospital as his two injured sons lay in bed watching their father.
As Hunter Biden told the New Yorker in a series of candid interviews, he picked up drinking in high school, followed by drugs in college, habits that took a toll on his life as he waged a decadeslong battle to kick them.
Hunter Biden married young, just one year out of college, in 1993. His 24-year marriage ended in a bitter divorce in 2017, providing fodder for tabloid stories about a life of “drugs, alcohol, prostitutes (and) strip clubs.”
Throughout his career — as a lawyer, banker and consultant — Hunter has been dogged by accusations of trafficking in his father’s name.
Though no evidence of wrongdoing has emerged, critics have raised questions about several positions that would not be readily available to a person of lesser fame:
- In 1998, Hunter Biden got a job as director of e-commerce policy for the Department of Transportation after then-Commerce Secretary William Daley, who had served on Biden’s 1987 presidential campaign, intervened on his behalf.
- In 2000, Hunter Biden joined a new Washington lobbying group founded by another former Biden presidential campaign volunteer, specializing in representing universities and hospitals seeking earmarks.
- In 2008, Delaware’s largest bank hired Hunter Biden, a move that Joe Biden defended.
- In 2013 and 2014, while Joe Biden was vice president, Hunter Biden entered into business deals that have sparked the latest assaults on the Bidens.
- In 2013, Hunter Biden joined the board of BHR Partners, a private equity fund created by Chinese investment banker Jonathan Li and others to invest Chinese money in companies outside China.
When Vice President Biden traveled to China later that year, Hunter Biden tagged along on Air Force Two, meeting with Li and his partner and arranging for Li to shake hands with his father.
The incident hardly made news at the time, but it has since sparked unproven allegations by Trump and others that Hunter Biden used the trip to raise $1.5 billion, a conspiracy theory first advanced by conservative writer Peter Schweizer.
China business interests
Hunter Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires, did not respond to a question about his China business interests, but he has previously said Hunter was not paid for serving on the board, did not conduct any business during the trip and did not take a stake in the firm until after his father left office in 2017.
Then in April 2014, just two months after protests overthrew Ukraine’s pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych, Hunter Biden, at a partner’s suggestion, joined the board of Burisma, a natural gas company founded by Yanukovych ally Mykola Zlochevsky. Former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski was another high-profile board member.
At the time, Vice President Biden was steering the Obama administration efforts to strengthen the nascent democratic government in Kyiv. At the Obama administration’s urging, the new government was investigating whether Zlochevsky had used his office for Burisma’s financial benefit.
To rights activists, the appointment of Hunter Biden, a man with no experience in Ukraine or energy, to Burisma’s board raised eyebrows.
“We were really frustrated to see such names and it wasn’t only Hunter Biden,” said Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kyiv, who along with other activists met Joe Biden during his March 2014 visit to Ukraine.
What came next lies at the heart of unfounded accusations that Joe Biden used the power of his office to protect his son’s business interests in Ukraine.
In December 2015, Vice President Biden traveled to Ukraine where he issued an ultimatum to President Petro Poroshenko to fire then-chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin or risk losing $1 billion in U.S. aid.
Two months later, Shokin resigned under pressure from Ukraine’s parliament.
“Well, son of a bitch, he got fired,” Joe Biden said as he recalled the incident at an event at the Council of Foreign Relations in 2018.
Hunter Biden stayed on as a board member, reportedly receiving $50,000 a month. But as Joe Biden prepared to announce his candidacy in April, Hunter Biden quietly quit Burisma.
Weeks later, Shokin, the disgruntled former chief prosecutor, claimed that Joe Biden had him fired because Shokin was investigating Burisma and Hunter Biden. The claim led to accusations of corruption against the Bidens.
No evidence has emerged to support Shokin’s claim. On the contrary, Ukrainian anti-corruption campaigners say Shokin’s dismissal was urged — and welcomed — by everyone in the international community.
“He got fired because he was corrupt, ineffective,” Kaleniuk said. “Shokin was absolutely incompetent.”
Shokin’s deputy, Vitaly Kasko, later told Bloomberg News that Shokin had shelved the Burisma investigation well before his dismissal. And Yuriy Lutsenko, another chief prosecutor, said there was no evidence that Hunter Biden had broken any laws.
But that did not stop Trump from pressing Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 phone call to investigate Burisma and the Bidens in an effort to dig up political dirt on his main Democratic rival. The call led the U.S. House of Representatives to open an impeachment inquiry into Trump.