A thing about the President of the United States

The latest “revelations” into the Hunter Biden matter appear to clear up two questions I had: first of all, did Hunter Biden know that he was selling influence that he didn’t have? And second, did Joe Biden, as VP, participate in that pretense, understanding that it was essentially fraudulent? And the answer to both questions appears to be ‘yes’. That doesn’t appear to me to rise to the level of a crime, and certainly not a High Crime, but it is ethically troubling to me.

Q: In other words, it’s not that Hunter Biden was influencing U.S. policy. It’s that Hunter Biden was falsely giving the Burisma executives the impression that he had any influence over U.S. policy.
A: I think that’s fair.

I should say: there remains no evidence that Joe Biden actually did influence policy in favor of his son’s business associates, or evidence that he attempted to do that, or that he acted corruptly in his duties as Vice-President in any way. The new information backs up not only that he didn’t do that, but that his son knew that he wasn’t going to do that, and seems to back up that at least one of the American business partners was aware that he wasn’t going to do that—and that he was aware that it was a deliberate pretense, or fraud, on Hunter Biden’s part.

And it seems clear that Joe Biden was aware that this was going on, and could have prevented it, or put a stop to it, in a variety of ways, including saying on speakerphone during one of the meetings, when he was audio-gladhanding his son’s friends, “you guys know I’m not going to help any of you out with any of this business stuff.” And he did not. He allowed it to continue, and he allowed his son to make money representing him as corrupt, and I find that troubling.

Now, to be fair, this all encompassed a time when Joe Biden’s other son was dying, and also times when Hunter Biden was making some extremely poor life decisions, and it’s fairly clear that Joe Biden was very worried about his son’s substance abuse specifically and more generally about his son’s ability to, you know, keep his shit together, so it’s maybe harsh of me to expect that the Vice-President would do something that would seriously risk the deal. But we do ask people in high office to hold to high standards, and, as I say, I find it troubling that he was willing to wink an eye at this whole business.

(I should also say that as far as I know, there has been no public evidence whatsoever that Joe Biden either influenced or attempted to influence any of the legal cases against his son, or was involved in any way in the plea deal negotiations, or did anything corrupt in that matter at all—if he did attempt to influence those investigations or prosecutions, it would not just be ‘troubling’ but be grounds for impeachment. The accusations that he has done that are very serious, and should be seriously addressed, and in my opinion if it turns out that people who made those accusations did so knowing that they were false, there should be some sort of consequence for that, at least in reputation.)

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

4 thoughts on “A thing about the President of the United States

  1. Chris Cobb

    What if Hunter Biden was trading on his family name because his father has a reputation for honesty, and a company that is trying to enhance its reputation in a business environment where there is a lot of corruption is trying to enhance its bona fides by having a Biden on its board, since a Biden obviously wouldn’t get involved if there were illegalities happening?

    Would it be wrong on Joe Biden’s part to assist in his son’s effort to enhance his company’s reputation by showing that he was on good terms with his son and ready to indicate that he was, in a general way, supportive of his son’s work in the way that a father would be, if his son was doing a good job?

    I agree that the situation in which Hunter Biden was enmeshed was ethically complicated (how could it not be when one is working in DC as a lobbyist when one’s father is the Vice President?), but it’s not clear to me that what Hunter Biden was doing in this particular case was fraudently hinting that his father was corrupt in order to attract business to his company. It seems equally possible that he was trying to strengthen his own credibility as a reliable, law-abiding operator, by emphasizing his tie to his father.

    When we’re talking about the value of the Biden “brand,” as the transcript shows, it’s not clear that the brand’s value doesn’t lie in its assurance against corruption. If that’s the case, then Hunter Biden wasn’t seeking to mislead his business associates. I agree that it is possible that someone might have been misled about the implications of these interactions, but I don’t think it can be assumed from the context that I have seen that their purpose was to mislead anyone in this fashion.

    I doubt that it’s ever seemly to trade on one’s father’s reputation, but if that reputation is for being law-abiding, and one is using that reputation only to highlight that one is law-abiding oneself, and then one acts in a law-abiding manner, there is, at least, no fraud involved in such a case.

    Again, I wouldn’t say I’m sure that is what was happening, but one interpretation that seems more plausible to me than some others.

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      I would say that interpretation doesn’t really mesh well with what we know about the other investors and associates—and I don’t think it meshes well with what Hunter Biden’s own personal history. Or, for that matter, with what seems to be the tone of the emails that have become public.

      On the other hand, we don’t actually know much about any of this stuff, and I’m making a lot of assumptions. And also, as you point out: how can it not be ethically complicated for children of high office-holders to have a career that interacts with government? And yet, it hardly seems reasonable to restrict the children of all high office-holders to careers that avoid the entire milieu of their upbringing, away from the ideals of public service that, at best, we hope their parents to have? The most we can do, it seems to me, is to hold the office-holders to a high standard, come down hard on the serious transgressions, and also point out the things that are troubling, even if not so serious. And try to retain a sense of perspective on the difference between more serious and less serious transgressions.


  2. Chris Cobb

    I haven’t seen any more of the details concerning Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma, just what you linked to and one other transcript from the hearings, so I don’t know anything about the other people involved. if the interpretation I have offered doesn’t fit them, then that’s a problem for that interpretation.

    Holding office-holders to a high standard is important, and I think expressing disappointment at Joe Biden in this case is appropriate, and that’s also about the strongest level of censure that the situation merits. If Joe Biden had been, say, a federal judge with a code of conduct that he was expected to follow, and this violated that code of conduct, that would be a more significant problem, but with elected officials, I think that they have to talk to a lot of different people in a lot of contexts, and as long as they are clear and clean about not accepting gifts or doing favors, that’s about the only clear line that can be drawn. As far as I know — I am not an expert on the ethics for federal elected officials and not good with the gray areas.

    Stealing classified documents, campaign finance fraud, abuse of power, obstruction of official proceedings, civil rights violations, fraud against the United States: I think it’s much clearer that elected officials shouldn’t engage in those types of serious crime, and I wouldn’t trust the integrity of a candidate for office who had been credibly accused of such acts, much less indicted for them.

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      Sure—I am here comparing Our Only President with an ideal, not with Our Previous President, or even with any of the men who have held the office in my lifetime.

      I said that we do ask people in high office to hold to high standards and perhaps that was, like so much about America, aspirational rather than descriptive. I would prefer to hold people in high office to high standards.

      And really, the whole reason I wrote this up in the first place is that he is so wildly accused of such heinous behavior—and his predecessor is also accused, more soberly, of even worse—that I feel like saying that despite there being no evidence of serious wrongdoing, there is in fact some evidence of, as I say, troubling behavior.



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