A new indictment of Hunter Biden became public on Thursday evening.
President Biden’s son faces a total of nine charges — three felonies and six misdemeanors — in relation to tax evasion and other tax-related matters.
Biden already faces gun charges, relating to allegedly lying about his use of illegal drugs in the process of buying a gun in 2018.
The new charges were approved by a grand jury empaneled by Special Counsel David Weiss. Weiss was first appointed as the U.S. Attorney for Delaware by former President Trump but continued in the role after Present Biden’s election.
Weiss has received criticism from Republicans more recently for purportedly being too lenient on Hunter Biden. He was appointed special counsel in August.
The charges, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, come after a plea deal collapsed during the summer.
Biden is expected to vigorously contest the charges. If convicted, he would face a maximum sentence of 17 years in prison.
Here are the political takeaways from the new indictment.
Trump and Hunter Biden criminal trials loom in an election year
There are plenty of differences in the trials facing former President Trump and Hunter Biden.
Hunter Biden has never held or sought public office. His alleged offenses, though serious, pose no fundamental threat to American democracy comparable with the details of Trump’s indictments relating to election interference and the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
But a Biden trial would be embarrassing for father and son alike.
The alleged law-breaking is only part of the story. There is also its luridness to consider.
Hunter Biden has himself written about his conduct while he struggled with drug and alcohol addiction following the death of his brother Beau in 2015.
A trial would bring fresh attention to a lifestyle that, according to the indictment, included vast expenditures on “drugs, escorts and girlfriends, luxury hotels and rental properties, exotic cars, clothing and other items of a personal nature, in short everything but his taxes.”
Among other embarrassing allegations: Biden placed women with whom he had romantic or sexual liaisons on the payroll of one of his companies, and a $10,000 payment, listed as being for “golf member deposit,” was in fact for membership of a sex club.
Even setting aside private peccadilloes, the sheer amount of money sloshing around Hunter Biden is highly incongruous with his father’s “Scranton Joe” image.
The core of the prosecution argument is that Biden failed to pay around $1.4 million in taxes on about $7 million in income — including a $1 million salary from Ukrainian energy company Burisma and a one-third cut of a $3 million payment “purportedly to help a Romanian businessperson…contest bribery charges he was facing in his home country.”
But no mention of President Biden in the indictment
Republicans will take glee in the indictment, thanks to its capacity to cause turbulence for the president.
But the GOP’s efforts to prove serious wrongdoing on the commander-in-chief’s part have come up empty so far.
They will get no help from the indictment in that quest. It does not mention, or even allude to, President Biden.
On Wednesday, President Biden complained to reporters about “lies” being told about his involvement in his son’s business affairs.
House Republicans are expected to hold a vote on formalizing their impeachment inquiry into the president next week.
The move will pass unless moderate Republicans balk — a possibility that appears to be receding.
But the GOP will need to find evidence elsewhere if it is to come close to proving “high crimes and misdemeanors” by the president.
Hunter forced back onto the defensive again with Republicans
Hunter Biden has been trying to wrest back the initiative from his critics in recent months, having previously taken a lower-profile approach.
The most obvious example is his recent counter-offer after House Republicans subpoenaed him to provide a deposition behind closed doors on Wednesday.
Biden, through his lawyer Abbe Lowell, said he was prepared to testify but only in public, not in private. Lowell stated this would allow the American people to see that various GOP allegations against his client are “baseless.”
The counterproposal was a rare public relations win for the younger Biden, even though House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) are now threatening to hold him in contempt of Congress.
Biden’s newly aggressive strategy has also included suing some of his most aggressive accusers outside Congress, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Patrick Byrne, the Trump loyalist who is the former CEO of Overstock.
Now, the new indictment puts him on the back foot once again.
A measure of vindication for the IRS whistleblowers
The Hunter Biden saga is long and convoluted, encompassing a years-long investigation, the now-collapsed plea deal, and a series of allegations and denials over how the probe was conducted.
But the bottom line is, the filing of serious criminal charges is a moral victory for those who argued that prosecutors had gone too lightly on him.
Of specific relevance to this latest indictment was an allegation from a whistleblower and IRS agent named Gary Shapley.
Shapley alleged that he had been shocked when Weiss revealed that he did not have final charging authority on the Biden case.
If true, that would have meant that the decision whether or not to charge Biden over conduct outside of Delaware’s jurisdiction would have been left to other U.S. attorneys — in this case, two appointed by President Biden: Martin Estrada in California and Matthew Graves in the District of Columbia.
Weiss said that he was never denied “the authority to bring charges in any jurisdiction,” and he has been backed up by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
But Shapley has not stepped away from his account, and he is joined in the broad allegation that the investigation was soft-pedaled by another IRS whistleblower, Joseph Ziegler.
Amid claim and counterclaim, the essence of Shapley and Ziegler’s argument — that Hunter Biden’s conduct merited deeper investigation and more serious charges than had been leveled — appears to have been borne out.
Fresh momentum for the story
The starkest political ramification of the new indictment might the simplest: it extends the Hunter Biden story, and adds another strand to it.
Now, there will be more court dates, more accusations and denials, and more speculation about whether the president’s son will be ultimately found guilty.
That’s a bad outcome for the president, regardless of the eventual outcome of any trial for his son.