Politics / June 3, 2024

The GOP’s Slapdash Hunter Biden Conspiracies

Ignoring actual facts, Republicans are trying to turn the president’s son’s sad, seamy saga into an election scandal.

Chris Lehmann

Hunter Biden, son of US President Joe Biden, departs a House Oversight Committee meeting at Capitol Hill on January 10, 2024 in Washington, DC.

(Kent Nishimura / Getty Images)

Now that Donald Trump has gone from con man to mere con, the forces of MAGA reaction will be doing what they do best: trafficking in lurid tales of a naked, coked-up Hunter Biden. By a quirk of courtroom scheduling, Hunter Biden’s trial in a Delaware federal court kicks off just three days after a Manhattan jury convicted the 45th president on 34 charges of corrupt election interference.

Because logic is the first casualty of Trumpian political warfare, there will not be much, or any, reasoned discussion of the facts in the Hunter Biden case. The presidential failson has already admitted to lying about his past chemical exploits on his application to own a firearm; the offense in question is very rarely tried in court, which is a key reason it was part of an earlier plea deal, since scuttled by a federal judge. MAGA toadies burst into righteous fury over that mundane arrangement, so the Delaware trial would, one might think, be a moment of vindication for them, in which the forces of impartial justice have prevailed over shady backroom legal deals engineered by “the Biden crime family.”

But one would, of course, be wrong. In anticipation of this week’s trial, Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz fulminated on his podcast that President Joe Biden, who made an unannounced visit to the home of Hunter’s former partner, Hallie, was engaging in “witness tampering,” since Hallie Biden is on the prosecution’s witness list. (In reality, Biden visited her ahead of the anniversary of the death of his son, Beau, Hallie’s ex-husband.)

Cruz’s outburst is an advance whiff of the faux outrage sure to be coming off the Trump movement as it seeks to exploit the seamy Hunter Biden saga for titillating clicks and slapdash insinuations of sinister wrongdoing in the House of Biden. This is, after all, the same pasteboard MAGA target who had his naked social-media photos emblazoned across a congressional hearing, to document the seemingly urgent public case that addicts exercise poor personal judgment. Congress’s Inspector Javert act in the Hunter Biden case became so baroque that it ultimately rested on the testimony of Alexander Smirnov, an FBI informant indicted on charges of lying to federal agents while allegedly laundering bogus claims from Russian intelligence sources. But the right’s lying useful idiot served his purpose: During the time when Smirnov was treated as a highly placed whistleblower, his reveries fueled 85 segments of Sean Hannity’s Mad Libs diorama of MAGA outage in 2023 alone. They also were the basis, to use the term generously, of the House’s predictably doomed bid to impeach Joe Biden.

When legal partisans don’t have the facts on their side, they pound the table, seeking to distract judges and juries with breathless allegations about the other side’s twisted motives and MOs. That was the refrain taken up by Trump’s congressional chorus of lickspittle supporters, and of course by the felon himself, in Truth Social tirade after Truth Social tirade contending that a corrupt Democratic legal system in New York had rigged every element of the case against Trump in advance. However, the inconvenient truth here is that David Weiss, the special prosecutor who helped arrange Hunter Biden’s original plea deal, was himself a Trump appointee, whose appointment was renewed by Biden’s attorney general, Merrick Garland. Even as determined a quisling as Cruz can’t concoct a lawfare conspiracy out of that.

Still, if the past eight years have taught us anything, it’s that implausibility is no barrier to MAGA resentments—if anything, it acts as an accelerant. So look for the Trump faithful to continue hammering away at the sordid, already well-documented evidence of Hunter Biden’s past debauches as evidence of the sitting president’s perfidy.

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You won’t have to overtax your imagination to picture where their rhetoric is headed: The same day that Donald Trump’s criminal conviction was announced, a “swatting” hoax, intended to create a trigger-happy emergency response, targeted the mother of former Capitol Police officer Michael Fanone. Fairfax County police received an e-mail from someone impersonating Fanone who claimed to have killed his mother and to set out to massacre students at a nearby school. Fanone, himself a first responder at the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, had provoked Trump’s legions by taking part in a press event outside Trump’s courtroom where he denounced the former president as an authoritarian for stirring up the January 6 mob into a melee that gave Fanone a heart attack, as he heard insurrectionists chant, “Kill him with his own gun!” Fanone, who voted for Trump in 2016, got an earlier dose of the GOP’s organized thuggery when then–House Speaker Kevin McCarthy brazenly lied to him in a private meeting, contending that Trump was unaware that the attack at the Capitol was happening.

This is, in other words, the self-described law-and-order political movement minting the travails of addiction into a grand election conspiracy in order to deflect from its leader’s real criminal plot to interfere with an election. I’d say its partisans should be ashamed themselves, but that concept has no operable meaning for anyone taking ethical cues from Ted Cruz.

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Chris Lehmann

Chris Lehmann is the D.C. Bureau chief for The Nation and a contributing editor at The Baffler. He was formerly editor of The Baffler and The New Republic, and is the author, most recently, of The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream (Melville House, 2016).

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