Below is my column in the New York Post on the expanding scandal surrounding the Hunter Biden investigation. Even CNN legal analysts are now calling the handling of the investigation at the Justice Department an “unholy mess.” The responsibility for this theater of the absurd is Attorney General Merrick Garland who has again shown a lack of strength and leadership at a key moment for his department.
Here is the column:
“There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them.”
Those words from Inspector Jacques Clouseau may have to be emblazoned across the hearing room of the House Oversight Committee. It was a month ago that House Democratic members mocked the testimony of two whistleblowers who testified about the rigged investigation to protect Hunter Biden, the son of President Biden.
Now it appears that the controversial “sweetheart deal” was not the first choice of US Attorney David Weiss. He actually was planning to let Hunter walk without even a misdemeanor charge despite massive unpaid taxes, gun violations, and work as an unregistered foreign agent, among other alleged crimes.
The reason for his change at Justice, according to the New York Times? Those pesky whistleblowers.
One of the most insulting moments for the respected IRS agents came from ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who mocked the allegations as part of “this Inspector Clouseau-style quest for something that doesn’t exist [that] has turned our committee into a theater of the absurd, an exercise in futility and embarrassment.”
Raskin assured the public that these “disagreements” are “routine” matters in investigations (a position echoed by his junior colleague, Rep. Dan Goldman of New York). The IRS agents tried to object that they had never seen anything like what happened in this case.
Then the case became anything but a laughing matter for Democrats. The plea agreement with Hunter Biden collapsed within minutes of a federal judge asking a few basic questions.
When District Judge Maryellen Noreika balked at sweeping language on immunity, she asked the prosecutor if he had ever seen any agreement like this one. He answered “no” and the deal quickly fell apart, with Hunter Biden’s lawyer finally saying exasperatedly, “Just rip it up.”
The language was anything but routine.
Then an FBI agent spoke to Congress and confirmed testimony of the IRS agents, including that Hunter Biden was tipped off on an attempt to interview him. The agent said they were forced to sit a block away and told not to approach the house. The interview was then cut off. He described being “upset” and how this was not routine.
The New York Times, which has spent years downplaying the Hunter Biden scandal, has published an internal account of the investigation. The Times reported that US Attorney David Weiss was actually preparing to let Hunter walk “without requiring a guilty plea on any charges.” However, that “changed in the spring, around the time a pair of IRS officials on the case accused the Justice Department of hamstringing the investigation. Mr. Weiss suddenly demanded that Mr. Biden plead guilty to committing tax offenses.”
In other words, according to the Times, those two mocked whistleblowers prompted the Justice Department to prosecute. Why would that be?
Attorney General Merrick Garland insisted that no political pressure or political considerations would affect the investigation.
Yet it appears that the Biden team did raise the potential embarrassment for the president and the Justice Department if Hunter faced serious charges. New emails reveal that Hunter Biden’s lawyers told the prosecutors that, if there were serious charges, it would be President Biden in the spotlight.
Hunter’s lawyer Chris Clark (who just asked the court to be allowed to leave the Biden team) wrote Weiss and the prosecutors that the best thing for everyone was to just walk away: “This of all cases justifies neither the spectacle of a sitting President testifying at a criminal trial nor the potential for a resulting Constitutional crisis.”
So the Justice Department had the Biden team warning that it needed to avoid the embarrassment for the president from any trial while their own investigators were threatening to reveal embarrassing details on the special treatment afforded to Hunter.
The solution appeared to be a plea deal that would involve minor crimes with no jail time. The appearance of prosecution without any real consequences for the Bidens. No time would be served and, again, the investigation could be shut down without further complications or controversy.
Then the wheels fell off in court and left everyone in a bit of a muddle.
There was no way now to kill the case.
There was no way to ink the original plea deal.
Congress was calling Weiss and key Justice Department figures to answer questions about this investigation, the compromised investigation, and the sweetheart deal.
Weiss had agreed to supply answers when he thought the plea deal was a done deal. Now that “spectacle” was becoming more and more likely.
It got even worse. If Merrick Garland finally yielded to demands for a special counsel, the regulations specified that the person had to come from outside the Justice Department. That meant it could not be Weiss. That person would presumably start by reviewing not just the evidence but the crimes that might have been charged years earlier.
Yet the Justice Department reportedly allowed the statute of limitations to run on major crimes, including the tax offenses related to the suspicious payments to Hunter Biden from Ukraine and other countries.
Garland decided to violate the regulations and appoint the most controversial person (with the possible exception of Hunter himself) to offer an independent examination of the case: Weiss.
While Weiss may be able to justify his actions or contest these allegations, he is clearly viewed as compromised by many in the public. He stands accused of running an allegedly fixed investigation and, now according to the Times, only pursued the “sweetheart deal” when whistleblowers moved to expose the allegations of special treatment for the president’s son.
The question is why, knowing the distrust over the past handling of the investigation, Garland would make an appointment guaranteed to further deepen that unease. According to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll, almost half of Americans lack trust that the Justice Department will conduct the Hunter Biden investigation in a “fair and nonpartisan manner.”
For these Democratic members and Garland, the case has truly become the “theater of the absurd” that Raskin predicted … only no one is laughing.
Jonathan Turley is an attorney and professor at George Washington University Law School.