Below is my column in the Hill on the Hunter Biden scandal and how the media is attempting to cover a story that was dismissed as Russian disinformation throughout the campaign. The media like the Daily Beast is spinning the sudden disclosure of one and possible two related investigations as based on details that were “largely unnoticed” before the election. They were of course noticed. They were largely ignored.
Here is the column:
“Hunter is stuck on the roof.” That is what the transition team for Joe Biden should have said this week, instead of declaring that Hunter Biden is under federal investigation. The surprise was a lot to handle for many who have been insulated from real news about the case for weeks. The Biden team evidently never heard the old joke about the man who calls home during a trip to speak with his brother who was house sitting.
When asked how things are going, the brother blurts out, “Fluffy is dead.” The man is shocked and yells that is not how you tell someone their cat died. Instead, he claims, you build up to it and say the cat is stuck on the roof, and then call back to say she fell. After the brother apologizes, the man asks how their mother is doing, and the brother pauses before replying, “Mom is stuck on the roof.”
The problem is that Americans were assured that Hunter Biden was nowhere near the figurative roof. Before the election, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said the story involving the laptop was a “smear” from Russia. Some 50 former intelligence officials also insisted the laptop story was likely the work of Russian intelligence. Cable hosts and journalists laughed at the laptop story as fake news, and there was a virtual blackout on further coverage, until that loud thump after the election.
Most striking about the media blackout is that, as with the Trump-Russia collusion story, the media was coaxed to buy into a false narrative. Reporters became so invested in the denial that they couldn’t afford to acknowledge growing evidence of possible wrongdoing. If Hunter Biden and his uncle did conduct a global influence peddling scheme, these reporters were at best dupes and at worst enablers of a coverup, so the story could not be true.
The public shock was palpable because so many have been hermetically and journalistically sealed off from any negative reports on the Bidens. The media was openly in the bag for candidate Biden, and he was left unchallenged in ridiculous claims like his often repeated line “no one has suggested my son did anything wrong.”
Now some media outlets are trying to explain how Hunter wound up on the roof when, before the election, they told us he was resting comfortably. The Daily Beast reported the story by referring to “markings on a series of documents that were made public” but “went largely unnoticed.” It was referencing serial numbers that I and others discussed in detail when the story first broke in October. There was much speculation about what those numbers meant, and how the laptop may have been seized by the FBI to look into underlying business transactions, including possible money-laundering. So that aspect was not “largely unnoticed” — just largely ignored by virtually every media outlet.
There is little pushback on Hunter Biden claiming he just heard about an investigation into his taxes this week. This investigation appears to have been ongoing for two years. The laptop was evidently subpoenaed in 2019, and its emails were said to be packed with incriminating accounts of millions in payments or gifts and references to Joe Biden himself. A key business associate of the Bidens, Anthony Bobulinski, confirmed the authenticity of the emails and accused Joe Biden of lying about his involvement before the election. Yet most media reported none of that.
We now know that Joe Biden’s brother, James, is implicated in a separate federal investigation. But the Hunter Biden investigation remains more notable. The Biden transition team issued a statement saying this is solely Hunter’s “tax affairs” — but tax investigations can be a tad more intrusive and far more damaging than a “tax affair” gone wrong. They require scrutiny of underlying transactions and gifts, like those reportedly detailed on Hunter’s laptop.
The laptop reportedly refers to the Biden family discussing a $5 million interest-free unsecured loan from a Chinese state-owned enterprise that allegedly was part of a discussed wire transfer of $10 million. Since these exchanges strike some of us as raw influence-peddling, there may have been an effort to conceal or disguise them; accordingly, there reportedly were gifts like a 2.8 carat diamond for Hunter Biden from the firm’s founder and former chairman.
The laptop also reportedly contains direct references to tax problems. A former business partner sent Hunter Biden an email in 2017 warning him that he did not disclose on his tax returns some $400,000 in income from a Ukrainian natural gas company, Burisma. Eric Schwerin, then president of Rosemont Seneca Partners, wrote: “In 2014 you joined the Burisma board and we still need to amend your 2014 returns to reflect the unreported Burisma income.”
Moreover, reports indicate the investigation may not be simply about “tax affairs” but about money laundering and other suspect dealings. The New York Times reported a separate investigation into Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine “has escalated this year” in Pittsburgh. There is a possible investigation risk from the Senate, if Republicans win at least one of two seats in Georgia. A Biden administration would have to deal with those Hunter Biden inquiries while dealing with a special counsel looking into actions taken during the Obama administration to investigate Trump campaign figures in 2016.
At some point, Joe Biden should address his repeated denials of knowing about his son’s business dealings, an assertion even his son has contradicted. He also should answer such questions as whether he met with Hunter’s business partner, Anthony Bobulinski, in spring 2017, at the Beverly Hills Hilton to discuss any Chinese business deals. He can still rely on a media that is heavily invested in denying the seriousness of these investigations, but it will be hard for those news outlets to maintain radio-silence with a growing cacophony of investigations afoot.
Hopefully, now that Biden is elected and Trump defeated, some in the media may be willing to report on these investigations, and at least acknowledge that Hunter and his uncle are back on the roof.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.