Hunter Biden Threatens Fox News With Defamation Suit

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty

Hunter Biden has told Fox News that he plans to sue for defamation, according to a demand letter obtained by The Daily Beast.

According to the letter, a detailed 14-page missive that Biden’s counsel sent to Fox Corporation on April 23, the right-wing network has engaged in a years-long conspiracy to defame the president’s son in the name of profit.

The notice demands that Fox News—whose obsessive coverage has mentioned Hunter Biden more than 13,000 times in the last four months alone—take immediate steps to remedy scads of coverage over the last five years that Biden’s attorneys say has falsely maligned him.

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They specifically mention hundreds of articles and broadcast segments based on now-debunked bribery allegations from an indicted FBI informant, a fictional mock-trial series, and the promulgation and exploitation of racy images of Biden which, according to the letter, violate laws against “revenge porn.”

“While routinely defaming and disparaging Mr. Biden, FOX has simultaneously sought to profit by the unlawful exploitation of Mr. Biden’s image, name, and likeness for commercial purposes and reprehensible dissemination of salacious photographs depicting Mr. Biden,” the letter states.

It further warns that “FOX’s failure to expeditiously comply with the foregoing removal demands will subject FOX to significant liability for its continued and blatant copyright infringement,” as well as potential damages for defamation.

Attorneys for Biden told The Daily Beast on Monday that they have not heard from the network since the letter was delivered last week and are prepared to file a lawsuit shortly.

“For the last five years, Fox News has relentlessly attacked Hunter Biden and made him a caricature in order to boost ratings and for its financial gain. The recent indictment of FBI informant [Alexander] Smirnov has exposed the conspiracy of disinformation that has been fueled by Fox, enabled by their paid agents and monetized by the Fox enterprise,” Biden’s counsel told The Daily Beast in a statement. “We plan on holding them accountable.”

Fox News didn’t immediately return The Daily Beast’s request for comment.

hunter biden

Hunter Biden (center) leaves with his attorney Abbe Lowell (left) for a closed-door deposition on Capitol Hill on February 28, 2024. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)"

Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The letter comes as Hunter Biden’s lengthy legal and political battles enter new stages. While Justice Department prosecutors move forward with tax evasion and firearms charges, the House GOP’s political case for impeachment has fallen apart, the most spectacular implosive force coming with Smirnov’s February indictment.

Still, the years of salacious and highly complicated allegations made by various figures against Hunter Biden—many of them unfounded, misleading, or outright lies—have generated their own micro-economy in right-wing media circles.

That farrago of information and misinformation has become nearly impossible to sort out, but the impeachment and prosecutorial efforts seem all but certain to play a factor as the 2024 presidential campaign ramps up.

The suit could also land one year after Fox News paid $787 million to settle defamation claims from Dominion Voting Systems related to the network’s role in promoting false conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. The discovery process in that suit revealed reams of damaging internal information that fueled a months-long parade of embarrassing headlines. Fox is still fending off a similar lawsuit from another voting systems firm, Smartmatic.

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Hunter Biden has previously taken legal action against other parties involved in the promulgation of claims about him, most specifically in connection to what he claims was the theft and unlawful dissemination of material about him ahead of the 2020 election. Those lawsuits have targeted a Delaware computer repairman, a former Trump White House staffer and conspiracy theorist, and Rudy Guiliani.

Biden’s legal team has also made its own criminal referrals, including for key witnesses against him, as DOJ prosecutors tighten the screws in court. This month, a federal judge in California rejected Biden’s motion to dismiss the tax charges. That blow came one month after a federal judge in Delaware ruled that the government’s case on federal firearm law violations can move forward, with trials in both matters possibly coming as early as June.

The new demand letter lays the blame for widespread misinformation about Hunter Biden squarely at Fox’s feet. Biden’s attorneys paint a portrait of a network eager to pounce on any damaging claim, no matter how tenuous, with star broadcasters breathing life into anything scandalous or salacious while backseating traditional journalistic concerns for the reliability and veracity of those claims.

Biden’s counsel highlights three core areas of concern: hundreds of reports promoting since-debunked allegations of bribery; the 2022 mock trial series, entitled “The Trial of Hunter Biden”; and the unauthorized dissemination and exploitation of Biden’s image.

Since May 2023, the letter states, Fox pushed Smirnov’s bribery allegations “as part of its politically-motivated attacks against the President and his family.”

But those allegations—which also underpinned much of the House GOP’s rapidly collapsing impeachment inquiry—unraveled two months ago, following Smirnov’s arrest on charges that included lying to the FBI in a recorded interview about that specific scheme.

However, as Biden’s lawyers point out, the Justice Department had issued a warning about those claims soon after Republican officials first released Smirnov’s interview last May, cautioning that the existence of the interview does not have any bearing on the veracity of the claims.

Despite that fact, the letter points out, Fox News “repeatedly reported that the source of the bribery allegation was ‘highly credible.’” While the “highly credible” description was seemingly not Fox News’ own claim, the network attributed the endorsement to an anonymous source on deep background, then pointed back to it in subsequent coverage.

Biden’s lawyers reference prior research from the Democratic-aligned shop Media Matters that revealed a staggering breadth of coverage given to Smirnov’s allegations, most specifically from two network stars, Maria Bartiromo and Sean Hannity.

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On Bartiromo’s shows—“Mornings with Maria” on Fox Business, and Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures”—Smirnov’s discredited claims were invoked at least 219 times last year, with Bartiromo personally highlighting Smirnov’s allegations at least 126 times and “treating them as credible.”

Hannity’s nightly program aired 325 segments about Hunter Biden in 2023, the letter notes, with eighty-five of them—including 28 Hannity monologues—mentioning the allegation that Joe and Hunter Biden had received $5 million bribes, a Smirnov claim that Hunter Biden’s own prosecutor now says was false.

Further, Biden’s lawyers state that Fox News didn’t make immediate efforts to correct or reframe its reporting after Smirnov’s arrest in February, or even cover it in earnest. “FOX’s silence on this issue did not go unnoticed,” the letter says.

Instead, the attorneys say, the network displayed “a brazen show of no remorse.” The letter cites New York Times reporting that Fox doubled down on the false claim, casting Smirnov’s arrest as an “intimidation tactic” designed to quell other potential “whistleblowers” and implying that the indictment belied an “even deeper conspiracy.”

“We hereby demand that FOX take immediate steps to update its readers and viewers that the source of these allegations has been federally indicted for fabricating the allegations,” Biden’s lawyers state. Those steps would include updates with editorial notes for all online articles mentioning the bribery allegations, and instructing all hosts—including Hannity and Bartiromo—to inform audiences on-air “that they have been sharing a debunked allegation from a source who has been federally indicted.”

Biden’s lawyers also cite claims from Lev Parnas, the former Rudy Giuliani associate who since his arrest and subsequent convictions on campaign finance and fraud charges has come forward to share his knowledge of the machinations that drove the Hunter Biden narrative.

In a televised congressional interview last month, Parnas described how he and Giuliani had endeavored to work the refs at Fox News, with the network using their narrative “to manipulate the public” ahead of the 2020 and now the 2024 election.

The letter then turns to “The Trial of Hunter Biden,” a six-part mock trial miniseries that Fox first released in October 2022. Biden’s lawyers argue that the miniseries—which contemplates theoretical bribery and foreign agent charges that have never been brought—is “fictionalized” and bereft of news value, thereby unlawfully exploiting Biden’s image “for the purpose of trade and advertising.”

“While using certain true information, the series intentionally manipulates the facts, distorts the truth, narrates happenings out of context, and invents dialogue intended to entertain,” the letter states. For evidence, Biden’s lawyers point to mock testimony from figures that the miniseries cast as potential central witnesses, but which ultimately promoted “all-pervasive distortions, inaccuracies, invented dialogue, and the narration of happenings out of context.”

“Thus, the viewer of the series cannot decipher what is fact and what is fiction, which is highly damaging to Mr. Biden,” the letter states. The lawyers cite prior New York case law where accounts revolving around a “true occurrence” were so riddled with fictitious or dramatized elements that they forfeited their newsworthiness exemption.

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Lastly, the letter alleges that Fox may have violated copyright laws by using Biden’s name, image, and likeness without authorization, with some of those instances potentially tripping statutes against “revenge porn.” These claims also center in part on the mock trial, which published intimate photos of Hunter Biden as part of the “evidence” presented in the case.

“FOX knows that these private and confidential images were hacked, stolen, and/or manipulated digital material which were intended to remain private and confidential and which were unlawfully procured and published without Mr. Biden’s consent,” the letter says, noting that when some of these images first appeared on Twitter ahead of the 2020 election, the social platform quickly removed them as “violative of its revenge porn policies and other terms of service.”

The letter demands that Fox preserve a number of records in anticipation of a lawsuit, including documents and communications related to star hosts like Hannity, Bartiromo, Jesse Watters, Jeanine Pirro, Miranda Devine, and Laura Ingraham, dating to January 2019.

The letter also asks the network to preserve records related to the early stages of the Hunter Biden narrative, including “strategy meetings” involving Giuliani and Parnas’ efforts to promote allegations, “Skype interviews between Ukrainian officials and a Congressman Devin Nunes senior staff member,” a “planned interview of former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin by Sean Hannity” in Vienna, Austria, last year, and an alleged Oct. 2019 meeting in a Fox News conference room featuring Parnas, Giuliani, right-wing journalist John Solomon, and two Republican lawyers tied to Giuliani’s Ukraine efforts.

The retention demands also extend to communications and documents involving a wide cast of characters, from computer repairman John Paul Mac Isaac to indicted Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, Trump-whisperer Steve Bannon, former Trump campaign communications chief Tim Murtaugh, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), and even former Attorney General William Barr.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove a potential timeline for the lawsuit.

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