OPINION - Hunter Biden's woes aren't over — he could deal his father Joe a hammer blow in September

US president Joe Biden hugs his son Hunter, who can been found guilty of federal gun charges (AFP via Getty Images)
US president Joe Biden hugs his son Hunter, who can been found guilty of federal gun charges (AFP via Getty Images)

Politically, the best possible outcome of the trial of Hunter Biden for his father was a guilty verdict, which was duly delivered by a jury in Delaware yesterday. What better proof could there be that the US justice department was unbiased when it prosecuted Donald Trump for paying hush money to a porn star to subvert an election — and charged the president’s own son for lying that he was not addicted to drugs while buying a gun?

Personally, the optimal outcome of the Hunter Biden trial for his father would have been a not guilty verdict. The fact that Joe Biden is both president and dad of the deeply-damaged Hunter will have doubled the family anguish. Biden has promised not to pardon his son — to state otherwise would be politically unthinkable — but I would not be surprised if he changed his mind before leaving office. It is harrowing for Biden that Hunter, who was only two when he was injured in a car crash which killed his mother and baby sister, is now a convicted felon.

You can be sure the doting Biden is racked with guilt, not least because he shares responsibility for Hunter’s predicament. The inconvenient truth is neither Trump nor Hunter would have been prosecuted were they not involved either directly or indirectly with the 2024 election. Trump’s suppression in 2016 of his alleged sex with Daniels would have been long-forgotten if he were not running again for president; while Hunter’s gun offences are small beer in a nation awash with 400 million firearms. He was targeted by Republicans because he is the president’s son.

It is fascinating how the two court cases have been running on parallel tracks. Democrats have long sought revenge on Trump for suppressing the sordid evidence that he paid off a porn star on the eve of the 2016 election. They finally got their man last month when the 77-year-old became the first former president to be convicted of crimes. On Monday, Trump had a Zoom interview with the probation service ahead of his sentencing next month. A guilty verdict has consequences.

And now, the Republicans have nailed Hunter Biden, 54, the first president’s son to be convicted of crimes. Trumpists have been fuming for years about Hunter’s laptop, the contents of which were dismissed by Democrats as Russian dirty tricks when his addiction to crack cocaine and prostitutes emerged on the eve of the 2020 election. The refusal by most US media to take the story seriously was a key source of grievance for Trump and one of the reasons why he continues to insist the election was “rigged”. In both cases, the details are so tawdry and outlandish you couldn’t make them up.

There is no doubt Hunter was a selfish junkie, a bomb primed to explode at any time under his 81-year-old father

It is still not clear how Hunter’s incriminating laptop was obtained by his father’s political enemies. Certainly, the addled Hunter has only himself to blame for dropping the “laptop from hell” off at a local repair shop and failing to collect it. How it ended up in the hands of Trump ally Rudy Giuliani, who passed it to the New York Post, remains a mystery. Was Hunter being spied on? James Clapper, a former CIA director, recently refused to retract his 2020 allegation that the laptop had “all the earmarks” of a Russian influence operation. On the other hand, there is no doubt Hunter was a selfish junkie, a bomb primed to explode at any time under his 81-year-old father.

Barely a day has passed since the laptop’s discovery without photographs of the naked Hunter smoking crack appearing in Trump-friendly media. In court, grim details were aired about how he had an affair with Hallie Biden, his brother’s widow, and got her hooked on crack before she finally sorted herself out (she is now remarried). It was her panicky decision to throw Hunter’s Colt.38 revolver into a dumpster in 2018 that led to the case against him.

For much of the time, the First Lady, Jill Biden, was in the courtroom to show support for her wayward stepson.

You would think Republicans would be delighted with the guilty verdict. Mission accomplished! But an acquittal would have served their purpose better. Hunter’s conviction is so damaging to their case that Trump is the victim of a vicious political persecution that they have come up with a cock-and-bull story to explain the discrepancy.

Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior adviser, first spread the message on X that Hunter’s trial for relatively trivial gun offences was “a giant misdirection… This is all about protecting Joe Biden”. It was soon echoed by an official Trump campaign statement claiming: “This trial has been... a distraction from the real crimes of the Biden Crime Family, which has raked in tens of millions of dollars from China, Russia and Ukraine.”

On the face of it, the argument is preposterous. But it does suggest the Trump camp is worried that his status as a felon is damaging his election prospects. The polling website, 538, currently shows Biden neck-and-neck with Trump, a small but discernible rise in Biden’s fortunes. It seems anything that dents Trump’s victim status has to be fought tooth and nail in case it breaks the spell cast over his Republican fan base.

Conversely, there is little evidence to suggest that Hunter’s conviction will have a negative impact on his father’s political fortunes. Too many American families are familiar with addiction, including Trump’s (his brother was an alcoholic). Biden is an indulgent parent, but also a loving one. If anything, it is the personal, not political, aspects of the case that could cause him trouble.

David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to Barack Obama, said: “I don’t think voters are going to hold Biden accountable for his son’s addiction or his son’s misbehaviour. But I think the real question is the toll it takes on him and his family.”

At the D-Day commemorations in Normandy last Thursday, Biden looked perilously old and distracted. On Monday at the White House, he appeared to freeze while celebrating Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery. Tomorrow he will be in Apulia, Italy, for the G7 leaders’ summit, where he can boast that the US has the strongest economy. But it is a punishing schedule for anybody, let alone for an elderly parent grieving his son’s misfortune.

It is not the last of Hunter’s travails. In September, the prodigal son will be back in court charged with failing to pay $1.4 million in taxes, while squandering millions on drugs and escorts. It could be a hammer blow for his father, just weeks from the election, while Trump’s Stormy Daniels trial will be a fading memory.

Sarah Baxter is director of the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting