The Republican party is obsessed with Hunter Biden, his laptop, his other laptop, his photos, his taxes, his divorce. Entire conservative news cycles have been crafted completely of Hunter Biden’s mysterious Wilmington computer repair guy. Tucker Carlson even did a bizarre “the dog ate my homework” monologue about a UPS package that purportedly had in it irrefutable evidence about some wrongdoing by Hunter Biden. Unsurprisingly, the evidence was never produced nor did Tucker explain how it might be damaging to the presidential campaign of Hunter’s dad, Joe Biden.
Over the past year, Donald Trump and his supporters have invested a lot of energy maligning Hunter Biden, going back to those unsubstantiated charges about his dealings with Ukraine. So obviously they were delighted this week when news broke that Trump’s Justice Department is now investigating Hunter for his taxes.
The rebirth of the Hunter Biden story made the right wing media giddy (and perhaps distracted them momentarily from the news of yet another rebuke by the Supreme Court over the increasingly fantastical attempts by Trump supporters to overturn the 2020 presidential election). This was it, they practically crowed—the vindication that we’ve been seeking. On Fox News, both Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham devoted large chunks of their prime time programs to the Hunter Biden news—perhaps desperate to reclaim the Trump-rabid audience they are losing to Newsmax and OANN—and Ingraham continued to hammer away on Twitter this weekend.
Republicans demand answers about Hunter Biden's dealings, investigation. pic.twitter.com/SbNxrUNPQc
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) December 12, 2020
An entire conservative outrage news-cycle was inspired by this news of a federal criminal investigation into Hunter Biden’s taxes. “I’m not going to turn a blind eye on this,” Ron Johnson, Republican U.S. Senator from Wisconsin told Fox News on Wednesday. “We’ll keep digging.” And Republican Representative Ken Buck wrote to Attorney General William Barr, “This investigation is critical to defending the integrity of our Republic and ensuring a potential Biden Administration will not be the subject of undue foreign interference.”
In response, Hunter Biden released a statement on Wednesday: “I learned yesterday for the first time that the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware advised my legal counsel, also yesterday, that they are investigating my tax affairs.” He added: “I take this matter very seriously but I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisors.” (The investigation came up briefly at at the end of a Joe Biden press briefing on Friday, “Did Hunter Biden commit a crime? Have you spoken to your son, Mr. President-elect?” a reporter shouted, as Biden began to walk away. Without turning back, Biden responded, “I’m proud of my son” and continued walking.)
But is Hunter Biden the presidential offspring we really need to worry about? How about those two grifters-in-chief, Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner? Hunter Biden is no Boy Scout; that’s been well-documented. But he had no official role in his father’s campaign, He will not join his father’s administration in any capacity. Ivanka and Jared, on the other hand, work in the White House!
The very same week that the investigation into Hunter’s taxes was announced the president’s favorite employee, his daughter Ivanka, announced that she and Jared had purchased an 184-acre plot of land on a private, 29-residence island in Miami for roughly $30 million. (There is feverish speculation that Ivanka may use Florida as a launching pad for her own political career in the next few years.) Don’t worry about the cost: They can afford it. According to published reports, the couple made at least $36 million in outside income in 2019 alone, all while working for her father as government employees. (The average salary of a Trump administration staffer is about $183,000 a year.)
And it seems that Ivanka may be in for some legal scrutiny of her own, a development that—surprise, surprise!—has gotten little air time on Fox or Newsmax. This week, Ivanka sat for a five-hour deposition with the Washington, D.C., Attorney General’s Office as part of an ongoing investigation into spending by the Trump 2017 Inaugural Committee. One issue is whether the Trump family, including Ivanka, gouged the Inaugural Committee by substantially overcharging them for use of the Trump Hotel in Washington.
One specific point of inquiry: The rental of a ballroom for an inaugural party. According to legal filings, the committee was charged $175,000 (“a fair market rate,” as cited in an email from Ivanka), even though another member of the committee suggested that the price should be roughly half of that—and that another non-inaugural group was charged just $5,000 to use for an event earlier that day.
After her deposition, Ivanka tweeted, “This ‘inquiry’ is another politically motivated demonstration of vindictiveness & waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Meanwhile the president’s son-in-law went back to the Middle East one more time last week for reasons that remain opaque. You’ll remember Jared Kushner as the guy who may have used Whatsapp to chat with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which may have led to MBS hacking the phone of Jeff Bezos. And, really, shouldn’t Jared be spending more time trying to shore up the shaky finances of his real estate empire than meddling in foreign affairs—an area in which he is both spectacularly unqualified and also highly vulnerable. In February 2018 the Washington Post reported, “Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.”
But tell me more about Republicans’ worries about Hunter Biden.
One of the first things Trump did after he was elected was hire his both daughter and son in law to what were nominally unpaid advisory staff positions. Sure, the Justice Department had concluded that, under a 1967 anti-nepotism act, appointments of family members were illegal for Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. But Trump just ignored this anti-nepotism act because early on in the Trump presidency Trump discovered he could just ignore all the laws and norms, and no one would stop him. Republicans were too power hungry or too cowardly to stop him and Democrats didn’t control either the Senate or the House back then. So Trump did what Trump always does, which is whatever he wants. And that’s how Trump created the most nepotistic White House ever, employing not only his daughter, and son-in-law but later getting the Republican National Committee to give Don Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle a cushy, high-paying job. (The son of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the son-in-law of Attorney General Bill Barr also have White House staff positions.)
I’m all for investigating Hunter Biden and Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Investigating abuses of power shouldn’t be a partisan issue. And this is certainly not the first time that presidential offspring have traded on the power of their father’s name. In 1990, Neil Bush, the oilman son of George H.W. Bush, was accused of violating conflict of interest regulations by serving on the board of directors for Silverado Banking Savings and Loan Association, which went bankrupt in 1988 and later received a billion-dollar bail-out from taxpayers. And decades earlier, James Roosevelt, the eldest son of FDR, was accused of using his political position as his father’ personal secretary to steer lucrative business to the insurance firm he ran on the side.
Presidential kids shouldn’t be allowed to engage in corruption in any way; you can lock them all up for all I care. But fundamentally, Hunter Biden is not the same as Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who were given keys to the United States government. I don’t think Hunter Biden should work in the Biden White House, and, more important, he won’t because it’s against the law. Sometimes false equivalencies are just false.
If you’re in a rage about Hunter Biden but willing to give Ivanka and Jared a pass, your partisanship is preventing you from seeing the forest for the trees.