Biden’s Break-The-Glass Option: Pardon Hunter and Withdraw from the 2024 Election

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Below is my column in The Messenger on what I called Biden’s “break-the-glass” option after the disaster in Delaware. After the column ran, Fox News asked White House Spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre about the possibility of a pardon. Jean-Pierre cut him off and responded  unequivocally “no.” I hope that proves to be true but it would have been more assuring to come from someone who did not clearly misrepresent the President’s earlier denial just a day earlier and change his long-standing position. The President previously denied a series of facts that have been proven, including the fact that his son did make money in China and President Biden did have knowledge of (and interact with) his son’s business dealings. The real question is whether the fix in this case will fail and leave the President with the pardon option behind the glass.

Here is the column:

The collapse of the Hunter Biden plea bargain has left many in Washington shocked. After all, this is a city that knows how to fix a fight. After five years, the Biden corruption scandal was supposed to die with a vacuous plea bargain and no jail time. Most everyone was in on the fix, from members of Congress to the media to the prosecutors. The problem was the one notable omission: Judge Maryellen Noreika of the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.

The sentencing hearing was a moment that made the Hindenburg disaster look like a seamless landing. Noreika asked a basic question on the implications of the agreement, and the entire deal immediately collapsed.

Now the Justice Department is in a bind. It could not admit in the hearing that Hunter Biden could escape future liability for a host of uncharged crimes. Yet, when a defendant backs out of a generous plea deal, federal prosecutors ordinarily will pursue all of the available charges — and jail time.

While President Joe Biden once declared, in more colorful terms, that no one messes with a Biden, the Justice Department may now find it has no choice. It could be forced to actually treat Hunter like an ordinary citizen.

The debacle in Delaware still could result in a plea deal. The parties have a month to “work things out,” and most judges sign off on deals, given the discretion afforded to the executive branch on criminal charging decisions. They just need to be clear about the terms, and clarity is something neither side seemed eager to establish publicly during Wednesday’s hearing. However, an agreement would require prosecutors either to fight to preserve a sweetheart deal — one without additional future charges — or to proceed, as they would in most cases, with a full prosecution.

That would include obvious potential charges under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Noreika forced the Justice Department to admit that it still could charge Biden as an unregistered foreign agent. That was the charge used against onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the similarities between the cases are striking. It took little time for the Justice Department to use the charge against Manafort. Yet, in the Hunter Biden investigation, five years have passed, and the Justice Department seemed mired in doubt over applying the same standard to the president’s son.

A FARA charge could further expose Hunter’s alleged influence-peddling operations, with what House GOP investigators say were millions in foreign payments from a virtual rogue’s gallery of foreign officials. The Justice Department also would face pressure to seek the same long jail sentence given to Manafort; he was sentenced to 73 months of imprisonment, which included the statutory maximum 60 months for a conspiracy to violate FARA. (That same year, political consultant W. Samuel Patten pleaded guilty to lobbying and consulting on behalf of the Opposition Bloc, a Ukrainian political party, and received 36 months of probation.)

That is not even including potential felony charges for the original gun violation, money laundering, or other crimes. If the Justice Department were to show the same aggressive effort toward Hunter Biden that was shown to figures like Manafort, Hunter could be looking at a real possibility of years in jail.

There is, however, the ultimate “break-the-glass” option that I raised previously if the Bidens and their supporters could not rig the process: Joe Biden could pardon his son and then announce that he will not run for reelection.

Facing an impeachment inquirylow public support, and a son in the legal dock, Biden could use the case to close out his political career. Of course, a pardon would be what I consider another abuse of the pardon power for personal benefit. President Bill Clinton waited until the end of his second term to pardon his half-brother. Biden could do the same by acknowledging that the pardoning of his son is a form of raw self-dealing. However, as he has said throughout the scandal, he loves his son and blames his crimes on his struggle with addiction and grieving.

With that, Biden could bow out of the election without admitting (as many on both sides are saying) that old age has taken its toll on his mental and physical capacity. He would end his political career with an act as a father, which some would condemn but most would understand. That would clear the way for a new generation of Democratic candidates who would have a better chance of defeating Donald Trump or another Republican presidential candidate.

President Biden could even give Hunter a preemptive or prospective pardon. That would effectively end any federal investigation, although the pardon would need to cover the waterfront of possible charges. By resigning and becoming a lame-duck president, Biden also would undermine congressional Republicans’ impeachment calls. And it would allow his own allies to declare the scandal over, with Biden taking responsibility by giving up a second term in office.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the congressional investigation would end. Even if such a move dampened the demand for an impeachment inquiry, it would not likely stop Republicans from pursuing answers about the official handling of this investigation and claims of political interference.

Yet, any damage would be contained by Biden offering himself up as a sin-eater for his family. Democratic candidates would not likely face backlash for their opposition to investigating the scandal; their chances of retaking the House could be substantially increased. Likewise, the media would not have to face the mounting evidence that it has steadfastly ignored for years.

The pardon-and-apology approach might appeal to Biden not only as an effort to convert vice into virtue but to justify his withdrawal from the election as a selfless act.

Everyone in Washington would win — except, of course, the public: The Bidens would keep alleged millions in influence-peddling profits; Hunter would not even have to pay his full taxes; members of Congress and the media could avoid taking responsibility for burying the reports of corruption.

That is what is called a “happy ending” in Washington.

Jonathan Turley, an attorney, constitutional law scholar and legal analyst, is the Shapiro Chair for Public Interest Law at The George Washington University Law School.

224 thoughts on “Biden’s Break-The-Glass Option: Pardon Hunter and Withdraw from the 2024 Election”

    1. Hunter would likely sell out his own dad before he did that. (By the way, that would be OK with me).

  1. The Biden DOJ has prosecuted just over 4000 “lie and try” cases thus far. Hunter Biden is the FIRST time they have offered a pre-trial diversion.

    Nothing to see here, right Dennis, gigi, fish lips???

    1. How many times and in how many places have the communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs, AINOs) impeached/indicted Real President Donald J. Trump for “fake” “crimes” such as telling his audience to peacefully and patriotically protest then being charged with insurrection, or for exercising his constitutional power as President to classify, declassify, and archive, in perpetuity, classified material? These are grounds for intervention by the Supreme Court under Judicial Review.

  2. Hunter is the one with the fire ax…..and as his legal peril heats up, Hunter will give Joe an ultimatum to be pardoned or he’ll burn Joe’s legacy to ashes. The DNC will cease the opportunity and add additional pressure for Joe to ax himself for the good of the country (party).

  3. We must start anew. Our Federal Government as envisioned by the founders is a disaster of criminality from the top to the bottom and half of them have apparently refused to return to their assigned offices from the Covid vacation….hmmm maybe that is a good thing… no they do just as much in the way of theft and criminality from the beach as from their DC office.

  4. Reasonable column Professor….but Biden is not reasonable. He is desperate. Doesn’t it occur to you the CIA could provoke an escalation of the Ukraine War-maybe involving Poland and Belarus or an attack on Crimea, which Russians consider part of Russia, in order to “rally” the country around Biden’s administration?

    That is, if the UFO testimony was not enough of a “look over there” distraction…

    These are dangerous times.

  5. It is expected that he will pardon Hunter and use the justification that he was a father protecting his son as a campaign strategy. The media will likely commend him for his parental instincts. If the media is unable to manipulate his poll numbers and they decline, he may withdraw from the race, paving the way for Newsome to potentially become the leading Democratic candidate for president.

  6. Look deeper, Biden is just one of the many in a pyramid of corruption. Look deeper, they didn’t do it alone and the corruption is broad and deep. Let the People deal with them all. Out of chaos comes order.

  7. Has no one thought about what will be best for the body politic? This is an “inside the Beltway” solution — “a pox on both your houses” consequence. Biden should abstain from any action on behalf of his son, but use the proceedings as a way to bow out, “to ensure the rule of law, no one is above the law, etc.”. The public will not tolerate Biden’s pardoning his own son — what is Turley thinking, or he is oblivious to public opinion, a bipartisan failing?

    1. What exactly would the public do in not tolerating Biden’s pardoning his own son? Asking for a friend…

  8. Congress is, they are slick.. at sweeping things under the carpet because they believe we, citizens, are stupid. They are capable of bringing down our Republic because they have no ethics. AND IF they pass on Biden, Civil War might be the response. I am disgusted. They should be ashamed.

  9. The Judge must listen to people outside the bubble who warned her Joe Biden is on the wrong side of the law and she’d better tread carefully for fear of being caught up in another Biden family disaster. We’ll see what happens over the next 30 days. We’ll see if the fair judge stays true or whether she falls back into line. I won’t hold my breath for justice just yet.

  10. So, if Joe pardons Hunter and then says he won’t run again, the Republicans should just look the other way from a President that indulged in tens of millions of dollars of bribery to enrich himself from other countries over his career?!

    That sounds like a monarchy, not America!

  11. Impeach Biden, Garland, Mayorkas, Wray —perhaps even in the same impeachment procedure, each with different counts to apply where their crimes do not overlap.

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