Last week, reports leaked to several media outlets that the Justice Department was investigating whether Hunter Biden had failed to pay federal income tax. Pro-Trump media from Byron York to Glenn Greenwald exploded in indignation that the allegations they had been pursuing against the Bidens, and which mainstream media had stubbornly failed to take seriously, had been confirmed. President Trump announced that the “corruption” he had been doggedly attempting to uncover in Ukraine had finally been found:
In reality, the charges against Hunter Biden do not remotely prove what Trump and his minions were claiming before the election. Here, from the official White House transcript, is how Trump framed the matter in his phone call with Ukraine’s president: “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
Notice Trump is not saying anything on this call about Hunter Biden evading income taxes. He’s claiming Joe Biden fired a prosecutor in order to protect Burisma, the Ukrainian firm that had put Hunter Biden on its payroll.
That charge was also the centerpiece of the allegations that Rudy Giuliani delivered to the New York Post in his attempt to engineer an October surprise. The lead sentence of the Post’s report claims, “Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice-President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company, according to emails obtained by The Post.”
There is no evidence that the Justice Department is investigating this crime. Indeed, the part about Joe Biden “pressur[ing] government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company,” which is the linchpin of the story, was obviously false. It has been established that the Ukrainian prosecutor Biden demanded to be fired was ineffective, was not pursuing charges against Burisma, and whose firing was demanded by democracy advocates in Ukraine and the West, none of whom had any financial interest in Burisma.
“So Hunter Biden’s business is news after all,” gloats the Wall Street Journal editorial page. “Who knew? Well, the New York Post did, and so did we and a few others.” Greenwald asserts, “The now-validated facts about Hunter are precisely those the U.S. media — in tandem with Silicon Valley and the intelligence community — suppressed based on lies.”
There are a few odd things about these boasts. First, the investigation into Hunter Biden’s alleged tax evasion is completely unrelated to the emails produced by Giuliani. FBI investigators “had already examined a laptop owned by Mr. Biden and an external hard drive that had been abandoned at a computer store in Wilmington and found nothing to advance the inquiry,” the New York Times reports.
Second, it’s more than a little strange for Trumpists to assume that anonymously sourced reports of federal investigations should be treated as unimpeachable evidence of guilt, after they’ve spent the last four years casting doubt on any such claims directed against Donald Trump and his associates. Now, speaking personally, I am less suspicious of the deep state than they are, and I consider it highly likely that Hunter Biden has committed tax evasion. The president-elect’s son is a hot mess, and the revelations of the last few days strongly suggest he is an even hotter mess than previously believed.
But, then, I haven’t taken the line that leaks from federal investigators are presumptively untrustworthy. It’s more than a little strange to see civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald suddenly treating leaked reports of ongoing investigations as proof of guilt.
And of course, Giuliani, the source of the Hunter Biden allegations, has not exactly enhanced his credibility over the last few weeks. Obviously, it is possible for even the most untrustworthy person to stumble onto real evidence. Nonetheless, at least some of the grounds for the media’s caution in repeating Giuliani’s charges was related to Giuliani’s public work in cooperation with an identified Russian agent and status as ongoing subject of a criminal investigation himself.
The last month of Giuliani spreading even more ludicrous accusations against Trump’s opponents should at least slightly increase one’s skepticism toward his claims about Biden. I have trouble understanding how your main takeaway from the postelection period could be that we didn’t take Rudy Giuliani seriously enough.
And, while it hardly excuses Hunter Biden’s sleazy doings, the far greater misconduct in this episode seems to have been undertaken by Attorney General William Barr. The Times story, which came out Friday night, lays out a harrowing pattern of political abuse. Barr has already crossed the line by establishing an “intake process” for the FBI to sift through whatever dirt Giuliani wanted to pass on. Biden’s campaign didn’t have a special back channel to turn campaign dirt into federal investigations of its opponent. That privilege was only afforded to Trump.
Giuliani’s special “intake process” had already been disclosed before the election. The Times further reveals that Barr handed the matter over to a notorious partisan who, during his tenure in the Bush administration, once “said he would never serve a Democrat, and he left after former President Barack Obama was elected.” What’s more, the Hunter Biden tax crime probe reportedly operated outside of “normal investigative procedures,” which sounds ominous.
Trump is enraged with Barr for keeping the Hunter Biden investigation secret until after the election, a fact Barr seems to be flaunting in order to cast his service to Trump in the most ethical light. And while it’s true that it would have been worse for Barr to leak the Hunter Biden tax probe, handpicking a partisan figure to go outside normal channels to follow up on leads supplied by a Trump lawyer who is himself the subject of a criminal investigation seems extremely corrupt. Less corrupt than Trump wanted? Sure, but that’s not much of a standard.
The mainstream media has done plenty of reporting on Hunter Biden cashing in on his family name. What Trump attempted to do was to use his powers to force the news media to circulate the completely different charge that Joe Biden had abused his powers for personal enrichment. The accusation against Joe Biden remains just as false now as it was before the election. The evidence of Trump’s abuse of power, on the other hand, continues to mount.