By Nandita Bose and Ashraf Fahim
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New criminal charges filed against U.S. President Joe Biden‘s son, Hunter Biden, last week are difficult emotionally for him as he runs for re-election in 2024 but could also undercut one main assertion of his rival Donald Trump: that Biden controls the Department of Justice.
Officials within Biden’s Justice Department on Thursday accused Hunter Biden of failing to pay $1.4 million in taxes while spending millions of dollars on a lavish lifestyle. He faces up to 17 years in prison if convicted. His lawyer said that his client had repaid his taxes in full.
Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican 2024 nomination who faces dozens of criminal charges himself, including for his attempts while still president to overturn Biden’s 2020 election win, denies wrongdoing and has accused the Justice Department during Democrat Biden’s administration of political interference.
Biden did not mention the new charges in a series of fundraisers in California over the weekend. And he continued to push a familiar refrain – that the wealthy in the United States should pay their fair share of taxes.
Hunter Biden, in a podcast interview conducted by a friend, said in response to the charges that critics of the president were “trying to kill me” and to destroy his father’s presidency. The president and his wife, Jill, have repeatedly expressed their public support for Hunter, who has fought drug addiction in the past. Hunter’s brother, Biden’s older son, Beau, died in 2015 and the president has spoken openly of his grief.
Despite the emotional toll Hunter’s legal problems are likely to cause the elder Biden, one White House official said they could show that the president has followed his promise not to intervene with the Justice Department.
“Does it erode the moral high ground the president asserts as he seeks reelection? Absolutely not. It helps him make that case,” the official said. “We mean it when we say no one is above the law. It helps him paint a contrast with the other guy. No one (no Democrat) is calling this the weaponization of the Justice Department. No one is calling it that for a reason.”
BIG POLITICAL IMPACT SEEMS UNLIKELY
Matt Bennett, executive vice president of the Third Way think tank, which champions center-left policies, said the charges would be difficult for Biden emotionally but not really politically.
Hunter Biden was hit with three felony and six misdemeanor tax offenses; the indictment, filed in California, said the president’s son had spent large sums “on drugs, escorts and girlfriends, luxury hotels and rental properties, exotic cars, clothing, and other items of a personal nature” including over $70,000 on drug rehabilitation.
“I’m sure it’s very difficult for him to see his son facing these kinds of charges. But, you know, I think he can weather that,” Bennett said about the president.
“Politically I don’t think it’s going to have an enormous significance. People have known for a long time that Hunter Biden is under investigation and there is absolutely nothing in this indictment that indicates in any way that Joe Biden is involved in anything.”
Previous opinion polls by Reuters and others show most Americans think Hunter’s legal trouble are unrelated to Biden’s service as president.
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives took a procedural step on Thursday toward voting to authorize an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. They accuse him and the Biden family of improperly profiting from policy decisions Biden participated in as vice president during President Barack Obama’s 2009-2017 administration.
The White House has dismissed the Republican investigation as baseless.
Not all Republicans see the probe against the president’s son as a potential political advantage ahead of next November’s election. Republican political strategist Mary Anna Mancuso said Hunter Biden’s lifestyle was lavish, but that did not necessarily hurt his father.
“It is very difficult to try to make hay out of this because … we haven’t been able to find a connection between Hunter Biden’s lavish lifestyle and penchant for women, sex, drugs and rock and roll, so to speak, to be basically reliant on what the president is doing running for reelection or in any way has Joe Biden benefited,” Mancuso said.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Ashraf Fahim; writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons and Grant McCool)