Republicans hunt for Hunter Biden scandal big enough to sink Joe, save Trump

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Washington: Things are getting messy in the Biden household.

For years, questions have been raised about the business dealings of Hunter Biden, the presidential son whose history of sex, drugs and money has made him a political liability for the White House.

President Joe Biden and his son Hunter leave a church service last year.Credit: AP

But now, with a US election on the horizon, suggestions that Joe Biden may have lied about his potential links to or knowledge of Hunter’s dubious business dealings are becoming harder to ignore as Republicans lay the groundwork for a potential impeachment inquiry.

Could this be enough to neutralise the pressure Donald Trump faces over his own scandals?

The issue came to the fore last week when one of Hunter’s former business associates, Devon Archer, testified to the House Oversight Committee about the pair’s time working for the Ukraine energy giant Burisma. It followed Hunter Biden’s surprise plea of not guilty in July to a tax evasion case that could have potentially ended further investigations on the matter.

Hunter joined the board of Burisma in 2014, where he was reportedly paid up to $US83,000 per month, adding value to the company because he was part of a “brand”, Archer said.

Devon Archer, Hunter Biden’s former business partner, joined at left by lawyer Matthew Schwartz, departs after giving closed-door testimony to the House Oversight Committee.Credit: AP

That brand, according to a transcript of Archer’s testimony released on Friday (AEST) was the Biden name – and it was Joe Biden “that brought the most value” to it.

Archer recalled about 20 times when he and Hunter were meeting business associates, and the younger Biden would put his father, who was then vice president to Barack Obama, on speakerphone.

While the conversations were fairly trivial – small talk about the weather; chit-chat about fishing – the obvious intent was to exert influence by having proximity to power.

“People would be intimidated to mess with them,” he told the committee. “… Burisma would have gone out of business if it didn’t have the brand attached to it.”

As for whether Joe Biden had any knowledge of his son’s business activities? The president and the White House have long insisted that he has “never spoken” to Hunter about his overseas business dealings in Ukraine or China.

However, Archer testified under oath that the president showed up at the upscale Georgetown restaurant Cafe Milano on April 16, 2015, and “had dinner” with several of Hunter’s business associates, including Burisma executive Vadym Pozharskyi, Russian billionaire Yelena Baturina and her husband, and former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov.

He also produced a letter from then vice president Biden saying how “happy” he was that Archer was in business with Hunter, which was written after a lunch they’d attended with visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao.

And later, in an interview with axed Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Archer declared it was “categorically false” that Joe Biden had no knowledge of his son’s business affairs.

“He was aware of Hunter’s ­business. He met with Hunter’s business partner,” he said.

It’s worth noting that Devon Archer isn’t exactly a saint: in 2018, the 48-year-old Yale graduate was convicted for defrauding a Native American tribe and other clients by deceiving them into issuing faulty bonds.

Nor did his testimony provide the smoking gun Republicans have long sought to prove their main theory: that Joe Biden engaged in bribery and corruption.

That theory is centred on the stunning suggestion that Burisma founder Mykola Zlochevsky had paid millions to “the Bidens”, supposedly to help protect the company from Ukraine prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was investigating Burisma.

Despite months of digging by House Republicans, the bribery claims remain unverified and Archer could not corroborate them during his five-hour deposition last week, in which he also said he was “not aware of any” wrongdoing by the president.

Biden’s son also suffered from now well-publicised drug and alcohol issues around the time of his dealings with foreign businesses, which included drug-fuelled episodes with sex workers.

But the danger is that ongoing ructions surrounding the Biden family will continue to be a headache for a president heading into an election with record-low approval ratings.

Firstly, Archer’s testimony shows poor judgment on Biden’s behalf for repeatedly allowing himself to be in the presence of Hunter’s business associates – whether it be on phone or in person – as they sought power and influence across government in Washington DC.

The House of Representatives votes on the second article of impeachment of US President Donald Trump in 2019.Credit: Getty

Secondly, it undercuts Biden’s many claims that he knew nothing about his son’s shady business dealings. These dealings don’t just extend to Burisma, but also Chinese energy firm CEFC, which, over the course of 14 months paid $US4.8 million ($7.3 million) to entities controlled by Biden Hunter and his uncle, James, who is the president’s older brother.

And thirdly, it makes you wonder what else is likely to shake out as more details emerge about the Biden family mixing politics and business – particularly if Republicans make good on their threat to open up an impeachment inquiry in the autumn session of Congress.

Such an inquiry would be a first step towards bringing articles of impeachment against Biden – just as Trump faced two impeachments during his four years in office – and strengthen the House’s oversight power to obtain more documents and testimony, including, potentially, from Hunter himself.

Democrats, however insist there’s nothing to see, and bank on the matter being so “in the weeds” that most Americans will either struggle to understand or care, particularly when issues such as the economy or cost of living pressures are far more pertinent.

Maybe so, but with 15 months until the election, the drumbeat of allegations is getting louder. What started as a low hum could soon become deafening.

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