Below is my column in The Hill on the impeachment inquiry and one striking pattern among the alleged crimes facing Hunter Biden: they all served to conceal the influence peddling efforts to sell access or influence to his father. The investigation and charging of Hunter Biden has, thus far, been strikingly surgical in avoiding this pattern of concealment.
New York Times columnist (and my former classmate at The University of Chicago) David Brooks said this week that the corruption scandal “merits an inquiry. It does not merit … an impeachment inquiry.” While I understand the distinction, I do not understand the basis for it in this situation. There are a variety of alleged crimes related to this corruption that may involve the President. There are also allegations like abuse of office that have been cited in past impeachments. We do not know if those connections exist but, if they do, they would clearly constitute impeachable offenses. Moreover, it is unlikely that we will get those answers without an impeachment inquiry. An impeachment inquiry does not inevitably lead to impeachment, but it does tend to lead to answers on whether impeachable conduct has occurred.
Here is the column:
In both the law and psychology, the concept of “willful blindness” is a long-recognized pattern of human conduct. It has been described as circumstances where “you could have known, and should have known, something that instead you strove not to see.”
The indictment of Hunter Biden on three counts of federal gun violations illustrates the myopic view of many in the media and the Justice Department.
Although there is a real possibility of additional charges against Hunter, the move to charge the gun violations reinforces a concern that the Justice Department continues to focus on charges that stay as far away from Hunter’s father, President Joe Biden, as plausible. The gun charges are conveniently self-contained and insulated for the administration.
The unseen pattern is becoming more and more troubling.
For years, many of us argued that Attorney General Merrick Garland’s refusal to appoint a special counsel in the Biden corruption scandal was baffling. Even some Democratic members of Congress and many in the mainstream media now admit that Hunter was engaged in a multimillion dollar influence-peddling scheme. He was also engaged in alleged criminal conduct.
However, the appointment of a special counsel on the influence-peddling would have required an investigation of the president himself. He was, after all, the one whose influence was being peddled as what Hunter’s friend and associate Evan Archer called the “Biden brand,” and he directly interacted with Hunter’s clients. It is impossible to pursue these payments and efforts without running into multiple references to the president or his various code names.
We also know that whistleblowers in the IRS said that they were told to avoid references to Joe Biden in their investigation of Hunter Biden. Moreover, they testified that the statute of limitations on the most serious charges related to these foreign payments were knowingly allowed to expire by the Justice Department, even though it would have been possible to extend the statute of limitations.
The Justice Department then attempted an absurd sweetheart deal to close off the case without felony charges or jail time. That deal collapsed after a federal judge confirmed that even the prosecutors themselves had never seen such a sweeping deal.
Garland finally yielded to the calls for a special counsel, then appointed David Weiss, who was responsible for the deal. He also did not expressly give Weiss a mandate to investigate the influence peddling or the president.
That brings us back to the gun charges.
Thus far, the Justice Department has surgically avoided charges that would implicate the president. This may simply be a coincidence, and correlation does not constitute causation. However, the other charges (including those that the Justice Department effectively killed by slow-walking its investigation) have an obvious potential connection: They all worked to help conceal the influence-peddling operation.
None of this means that this unifying theory is true, but it cannot be ignored by anyone investigating this corruption scandal.
First, there are the tax violations. While Hunter may be charged with some tax violations, the statute of limitations has now run out on the most controversial payments in the 2014 and 2015 period for foreign sources such as Ukraine’s Burisma. The obvious value in not claiming income is to avoid taxes. However, claiming income also highlights not just the receipt of these funds but their sources. Likewise, falsely claiming income as a “loan” can keep the money off the books or make it less likely to trigger scrutiny on the source and purpose of payments.
Second, there are the money transfers. The House has now detailed millions in transfers to Biden family members from a dizzying array of dozens of companies and accounts. The use of a complex labyrinth raises obvious concerns that it is a tactic used by individuals to conceal money transfers.
Third, many of us have noted that there seems ample basis for charging Hunter Biden under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, particularly given previous charges against such defendants as Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. Registering as a foreign agent obviously invites much greater scrutiny over foreign dealings and the specific nations involved in lobbying efforts.
Again Hunter could still eventually face charges for avoiding taxes. But there is little evidence that the Justice Department has actively pursued these broader implications or motivations.
For many, the marginalization of these charges raises troubling concerns, particularly in light of the failed sweetheart deal and the allegations from the whistleblowers. Even if the tax charges are brought, the framing of the investigation has been on the income rather than the influence sought in these dealings.
Instead, there seems confusion rather than clarity in how the Justice Department has handled these allegations for years. Even CNN legal analysts are now calling the handling of the investigation at the Justice Department an “unholy mess.”
This also explains why the public has little faith in the Justice Department in the investigation of Hunter Biden. In a new AP poll, half of the public says that they lack confidence in the integrity of the Justice Department’s investigation. Another 59 percent is extremely or somewhat concerned that Joe Biden committed wrongdoing in these dealings.
That follows an ABC News/Ipsos poll in which roughly half said they lack trust that the Justice Department will conduct the Hunter Biden investigation in a “fair and nonpartisan manner.” Finally, in a recent CNN poll, 61 percent of Americans believe Joe Biden was involved in his family’s business deals with China and Ukraine; only 1 percent of those who say he was involved believe that he did nothing wrong.
The public is not willfully blind to the evidence or the possible motives behind some of these alleged crimes. That is precisely why there is ample reason for the House to have launched its impeachment inquiry.
E.F. Schumacher wrote that “everything can be seen directly except the eye through which we see.” For the media and the Justice Department, it will become increasingly difficult to turn a blind eye to the evidence of corruption and influence peddling surrounding the Biden family, including the president himself.
These patterns and allegations can be disproven, but the public’s lack of confidence in the Justice Department increasingly appears justified. For most citizens wanting to see the truth behind these dealings, they will clearly have to look to Congress for the answers.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.