Monday, June 17, 2024

What Hunter Biden’s conviction means for President Joe Biden

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By Anthony Zurcher@awzurcherSenior North America reporter
Reuters Joe Biden and Hunter Biden deplane from Air Force One in 2023Reuters

Hunter Biden’s conviction for lying about his drug use on a handgun licence application will be a devastating personal blow for his father, Joe Biden.

The US president doubles as the patriarch of a tight-knit family that has seen its share of personal tragedy and trauma.

Now his surviving son has been found guilty on all three counts and faces a potential prison sentence.

But the verdict is unlikely to change how Americans vote in November’s election.

His father’s name will be on the ballot, not his. There’s no evidence connecting the president to his son’s offences. And there has been scant polling evidence that the public is following this trial closely.

At the start of the trial, the president released a statement hinting at the dual obligations demanding his attention.

“I am the president, but I am also a dad,” he said.

He added that he supported his son and was proud of the man he is today, but he wouldn’t comment on the proceedings.

Joe Biden may not have wanted to talk about the trial, but his son’s courtroom drama has followed him for weeks, as he conducts his official duties and campaigns for re-election. Hunter’s yet-to-be determined punishment may be similarly distracting as the president prepares later this month for a pivotal presidential debate.

While in France for D-Day commemorations last week, President Biden said that he would not consider using his authority to pardon his son. And he added that he would accept the jury’s verdict – a contrast from Donald Trump’s rejection of his own conviction as rigged and corrupt.

Trump’s trial became a partisan brawl, with Republican officials lining up behind the former president to condemn the proceedings. Hunter’s conviction had a different feel, marking the culmination of a dark period for a Biden family that has known more than its share of turmoil.

Reuters Hunter Biden, flanked by security and his wife, walks outside a courthouse in Wilmington, DelawareReuters

Hunter Biden spiralled into drug use around the time that his brother, Beau, died from brain cancer. His battles with addiction and the toll it exacted on his family relationships were presented in painful detail during the trial through excerpts from Hunter’s memoir, his text messages and emails, photographs and testimony from those close to him.

All the while, friends and members of Hunter Biden’s family – including First Lady Jill Biden and his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden – sat behind him, watched and sometimes hugged him or held his hand during breaks in the trial. His half-sister Ashley cried during the defence attorney’s closing arguments.

“Our family has been through a lot together,” Joe Biden’s earlier statement concluded, “and Jill and I are going to continue to be there for Hunter and our family with our love and support.”

The prosecuting attorney during his closing argument said the evidence presented was ugly and personal. He also said that it was overwhelming and it was necessary to show that when Hunter Biden filled out the federal background check application for a handgun, he knowingly lied when he certified that he was not using drugs.

In the end, a unanimous jury agreed. This guilty verdict means the president’s son – the only surviving child from his first wife, who was killed along with his infant daughter in a car accident half a century ago – may face years in prison.

Hunter Biden now awaits sentencing for his conviction, but even after the judge decides his punishment his legal travails will not be over. He is also facing a September trial on charges of failing to pay $1.4m in federal income taxes.

That trial, coming less than two months before the election, may not contain the raw emotion on display in the Delaware courtroom, but it could prove more politically damaging for the president. Hunter’s foreign business dealings and his financial ties to the president have been a source of continued scrutiny by Mr Biden’s Republican critics.

Drug addiction and the consequences of it have touched many American lives. Allegations of financial impropriety and tax fraud, however, may generate less sympathy from the voting public.

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