The indictment of President Joe Biden’s son Hunter on three felony gun charges caused a splash, but a much bigger legal bombshell is expected to drop soon.
Hunter Biden will likely face federal tax charges for allegedly failing to pay taxes on $4.4 million in income he made in 2017 and 2018 from a Ukrainian energy company, a Chinese private equity firm, and other sources.
It’s those kinds of business activities that House Republicans are putting at the center of an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden and hope to make a major issue in the 2024 presidential election. The charges against Hunter Biden also raise the possibility of even more politically charged criminal trials during the campaign.
Hunter Biden appeared in Delaware federal court on July 26 to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of failing to pay taxes on $2.3 million in income in 2017 and $2.1 million in 2018. But that deal fell apart when the judge questioned whether the plea deal improperly insulated Biden from future prosecutions.
Prosecutors now have a fresh slate to charge Biden over the unpaid taxes. The plea deal to failing to pay reflected Biden’s contention that he simply forgot to pay his taxes during a period when he was in the grip of drug addiction. But if prosecutors have evidence that Biden willfully sought to avoid his tax bill, they could charge him with the more serious crime of tax evasion, which is a felony that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The political impact could be even bigger. The case would focus attention on Biden’s lucrative overseas income streams, which were detailed in his abortive plea agreement. In 2017, for instance, Biden made $1 million from a company he formed with the chief executive officer of a Chinese conglomerate, $664,000 from a Chinese infrastructure investment firm, $500,000 from a Ukrainian energy company, $70,000 from a Romanian business, and $48,000 from an international law firm. He also made $666,000 from U.S. business interests.
Those entities weren’t named in the plea agreement, but Biden has acknowledged ties to Chinese company CEFC China Energy, Ukrainian energy company Burisma and the law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner. In all, he made more than $2.6 million from CEFC and Burisma, according to the plea deal.
Republicans have long contended that the president’s son could only command that kind of pay by selling access to his father. Though no proof has yet emerged that Joe Biden performed any political favors for companies that employed his son, House Republicans, both in congressional probes and now in their impeachment inquiry, are pressing hard to uncover something they can use to attack the president as corrupt.
A criminal trial over Hunter Biden’s unpaid taxes could offer another avenue to spotlight the issue.
The gun indictment was filed Thursday in federal court in Delaware by special counsel David Weiss, and one on the tax violations is expected to follow soon in California or Washington. Prosecutors with Weiss’s office have also said they’re investigating whether his work violated a U.S. law requiring foreign agents to disclose their activities on behalf of other countries.
At the July 26 hearing, a prosecutor said Biden could still be charged under a law meant to prevent foreign governments from secretly trying to influence U.S. policy. The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires anyone acting on behalf of a foreign nation to register with the Justice Department.
FARA was used to prosecute a number of people in former president Donald Trump’s inner circle, including his former campaign chief Paul Manafort and national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump pardoned both of them before leaving office.
It’s not clear what nations or policy goals might be at issue in a FARA prosecution of Biden, but Republicans have long pushed a narrative that, as vice president, Joe Biden helped advance the interests of Burisma.