Analysis: Hiring a special counsel solidifies Hunter Biden as a key campaign issue


In theory, hiring a special counsel could lower the temperature on a sensitive investigation — or at least move things in the direction of settling a major political row.

But the surprise announcement by Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday, which elevated the profile of the attorney general who has long been investigating the business dealings of President Joe Biden’s son, does the opposite.

Hunter Biden’s business practices, including work he did for foreign entities and possible intersections with his father’s official actions, are now slated to come through multiple investigative channels as Biden prepares for reelection.

A criminal investigation that only weeks ago appeared to be close to completion is now well under way – and unlikely to be concluded to anyone’s satisfaction in the foreseeable future. Democrats and Republicans alike view a by-the-books decision with skepticism, with few reasons to expect that any new situation will end any old arguments.

In elevating Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss to special counsel after what he said was Weiss’s request, Garland on Friday cited the “extraordinary circumstances” surrounding the case. He offered a public commitment to make “as much of his report public as possible.”

“I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint him as a special counsel,” the attorney general said in a brief news conference.

But there is no timeline for Weiss to conclude his work, and no practical limit to what his investigation might include. The appointment came as prosecutors in Vice’s office said in a new legal filing that they intended to pursue a criminal prosecution for tax-related offenses, effectively calling off plea negotiations that could have quickly resolved matters.

Just two weeks ago, Hunter Biden appeared before a federal judge with the expectation that he might end years of legal scrutiny by pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges. The Biden campaign and the White House had hoped this would be the end of an issue that could be contained to the partisan corners of the political spectrum.

Far from celebrating Garland’s move as an acquittal, Republicans gave quick notice that they would not necessarily trust the special counsel, or wait for Weiss in any way. Their own investigation – which has already sparked serious conversations about the impeachment inquiry – has produced new news that has cast doubt on the future of Hunter and his father.

House Chief Justice Jim Jordan — who has been at the forefront of investigations into Biden, and would be intricately involved in any impeachment effort — said in a statement that appointing Weiss “is just another way to whitewash the corruption of the Biden family.”

Jordan is among the many allies of former President Donald Trump who have sought to elevate Hunter Biden for years. Their distrust of Weiss, a Trump appointee, along with the Trump campaign’s references to what he calls the “Biden crime family,” serves the familiar political purpose of putting Biden in the middle of a murky Washington quagmire.

Notably, pro-Trump Republicans are not the only ones who see things this way. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has long demanded that Weiss be replaced with a special counsel, and former Vice President Mike Pence told ABC News’ Rachel Scott on Friday, “It’s high time we saw the appointment of a special counsel to get to the bottom of not only what Hunter Biden was doing but What the Biden family was doing.”

Even that sentiment creeps into Democrats’ conversations about the way forward. Biden does not face a serious primary opposition, but another Democratic presidential candidate — Marian Williamson — has indicated for the first time that the Hunter Biden issue could become campaign fodder.

“Hunter Biden is not his father, of course,” Williamson told ABC News in a statement. “It is up to the American people to decide how this complexity affects their view of President Biden’s candidacy and whether it is all the more reason to move forward.”

Biden and the White House have long regarded Hunter’s actions as those of a private citizen, emphasizing that the president and his son had never engaged in business before. The White House did not comment on Garland’s announcement on Friday, in line with his pledge to stay out of the business of the Justice Department.

Hunter Biden’s legal team has stressed the fact that Weiss has investigative authority and has, in fact, investigated him for about five years — noting that he was previously moving toward “resolving his investigation.”

However, legal texts are not the only consideration, given that Biden is a presidential candidate. Trump’s much worse legal quandaries may offer him a political defense, though only in part, especially with polls showing the public less enthusiastic about a Biden-Trump rematch.

At its best for Biden, the saga involving his son is a somber story: a junkie in a grieving family who cashed in on his family name to make a living, then some tinkered with tax laws while selling what one partner described as a once-in-a-lifetime sale. congressional committee as “the illusion of access.”

The worst case scenario is somewhat more compelling, even if a direct financial link is not created between Hunter Biden and his father. A father’s love for his son is unlikely to end relevant inquiries, and questions are likely to outweigh answers for the foreseeable future.

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