With decisive wins in key states, Joe Biden has reemerged as the favorite to secure the Democratic nomination for president. That development means the foreign business dealing of his son, Hunter will come back into public discourse. While Biden served as Obama’s Vice President, his son took a lucrative position on the Board of Ukranian gas company, Burisma. The company has ties to crooked oligarchs and has been investigated for money laundering. Hunter Biden had no previous experience in the energy sector.
Donald Trump baselessly accused Biden and his son of impropriety and withheld military aid to Ukraine to see them investigated, leading to his impeachment. The optics were poor and the situation was rife with potential conflicts of interest. However no credible evidence has surfaced to suggest Biden, in his capacity as Vice President, did anything untoward in regard to his official duties towards Ukraine.
Trump’s eldest son, Don Jr. has challenged Hunter Biden to a debate. It is his position that he has not benefited from his father’s public office, while Hunter has. Here’s what the substance of that debate might look like.
Trump Jr.’s argument would probably start with a kernel of truth and sprout into a bevy of untruths in misdirection. Hunter Biden has most assuredly benefitted from having a father who held a Senate seat from 1973, until he served as VP from 2009-2017. After law school he secured a position in the US Chamber of Commerce and later a five year term on Amtrak’s Board of Directors. Biden was able to join the Navy at the age of 43, needing waivers due to his age and drug-related issues. He was made a direct commissioned officer. Could the younger Biden have earned these positions on merit? It’s possible, but it is farfetched to think that having a father entrenched in Washington politics played no role in him securing one cushy government position after another. Those charges would all be a matter of public record, and examples of nepotism, but hardy fitting any reasonable definition of graft or corruption.
Most all other accusations of impropriety by the Bidens are right-wing conspiratorial disinformation. Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer said Hunter pulled a billion dollars out of China and his father had a prosecutor who was investigating him fired. Such claims are completely unsubstantiated. Biden served on Burisma’s board at a salary of up to $50,000/month. The prosecutor, whom Joe Biden helped have fired,Viktor Shokin, was lax on corruption and an impediment to reform. Biden’s efforts to help fire Shokin were in support of US government and International Monetary Fund policy towards Shokin’s office. If Hunter Biden was involved in anything nefarious in Ukraine, his father firing a pro-corruption prosecutor could only stand to damage him.
In China, Hunter was a co-founder at BHR, a firm looking to invest Chinese money abroad. The ‘’billion dollars’’ he got out of China, appears to be pulled completely from thin air. One could argue Hunter was under qualified for either position, and that he created a faux scandal for his father to contend with, but he has not been credibly accused of personal malfeasance in either role. Nor is there any evidence to suggest Joe Biden, as vice president, took any action to benefit his son’s business interest or that ran counter to US policy.
Hunter’s debate talking points would be far more substantive. According to Forbes, Donald Trump Jr. has a net worth of approximately $25 million. After graduating from college, he bartended for a year, then joined the Trump Organization. He has remained there for the last 18 years and change, rising to the level of Executive Vice President. Trump Jr. followed his father’s footsteps into real estate as well as several failed ventures, such as Trump Morgages, which failed after less than a year. It is not inaccurate or unfair to say that his extravagant wealth is derived solely from his role as a Trump Org. Executive, which is predicated on his last name, and not his business acumen.
President Trump’s decision not to divest of his businesses was a controversial one from the time of his election. Don Jr., along with his brother Eric, took over the reins of the family business when their father was sworn in. It was fortuitous timing for them as rates for rooms at Trump hotels tended to tick upwards once Trump took office. The Trump International for instance, hiked rooms from $416/nigh to $660/night. Membership fees doubled to $200,000 at Mar-a-Lago. Around the same time Trump properties saw a sharp increase in investments by political, business and advocacy groups, potentially looking to curry favor with the president. This created a serious conflict of interest, but not for the president’ eldest son, a private citizen who needed only sit back and fill his coffers with the dollars of those looking to buy influence.
A sizable and untold sum of tax-payer dollars have been funneled into Trump Properties since January of 2017. Since he was elected, Trump alone has spent 202 days between his resorts at Bedminster and Mar-A-Lago. Accompanying him, at full cost are the Secret Service members assigned to protect him, and any other staff that may be necessary. With each visit, the president and his entourage stay in posh lodgings (at an artificially inflated rate), with the bill going to the American taxpayer. Though the exact figure is deliberately incalculable (still waiting on those tax returns), Trump Jr. has been the direct beneficiary of his father’s ongoing scheme to profit off his office.
Don Jr. has also monetized other opportunities that would not be possible without his father’s position. Triggered, his rambling political diatribe in book form, debuted at No.1 on the New York Times Nonfiction list. The sale were boosted by a bulk purchase by the Republican National Convention of 94,000 units. Eight other conservative groups made similar purchases. The RNC offered signed copies with a pledge of at least $50 to Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. Trump Jr. has been paid handsomely on the lecture circuit. Prices start at $50,000 and go as high as $100,000 to be graced with a beautiful, tremendous oration from the president’s son. Could he have written a book or solicited speaking fees independent of his father’s tax-payer funded office? Of course, but without his father’s position and his built-in fanbase, Jr. would be culturally irrelevant with a much smaller pool of clientele lining up to throw money at him.
Hunter Biden’s international business endeavors are a product of run of the mill nepotism, afforded all too many children of wealthy individuals. It isn’t fair or meritorious, but it is not in and of itself illicit or indicative of any graft. Trump Jr.’s monetary gains of the last four years lie in far murkier ethical waters. His father had had conflicting interests since he was sworn in, and Trump Jr has overseen the day-to-day operations of the business that presents said conflict. Additionally he has branched out into other ventures, which would not be possible otherwise.
Any network would be delighted to host the ratings bonanza that would be a Biden vs. Trump: Who’s Grifted More? debate. Hunter Biden has yet to respond to Trump Jr.’s challenge earlier in the week, but it’s a safe bet it won’t materialize. Perhaps it’s best the hypothetical spectacle remains just that, because the subject of which son has profited more from his father’s public office isn’t debatable at all.