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    Biden plan to brand Trump a felon is hobbled by son’s conviction
    • June 12, 2024

    Hadriana Lowenkron | (TNS) Bloomberg News

    Hunter Biden, like Donald Trump, is now a convicted felon — a personal and political blow to his father, President Joe Biden, that complicates his 2024 campaign for reelection.

    The younger Biden is the first child of a sitting U.S. president convicted of a felony. He was found guilty of violating federal laws for illegally buying a gun during a period he was taking crack cocaine. Jurors delivered their verdict after deliberating for three hours, capping a one-week trial in a prosecution brought by his father’s own Justice Department.

    That outcome, and another trial for Hunter — on tax charges starting in September, just two months before voters head to the polls — threaten to hang over Biden’s campaign, posing a painful messaging test in his race against Trump. The president has assailed Trump as a “convicted felon,” to capitalize on the first former U.S. president found guilty of a felony for falsifying business records to conceal hush-money payments.

    “I am the President, but I am also a Dad,” Biden said in a statement moments after Hunter’s verdict. “Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today. So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery.”

    Biden, who has said he would not pardon his son, said he would “respect the judicial process” as Hunter considers an appeal, adding that he and the first lady, Jill Biden, “will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support. Nothing will ever change that.”

    How the conviction impacts the president’s campaign against Trump, whom he has cast as a threat to the rule of law, as well as the effect on voter perceptions of both candidates remain unclear. What is certain is Hunter Biden and Trump’s cases are poised to run on parallel tracks during the campaign as they face sentencing and potential appeals, another twist to an already close race.

    Todd Belt, director of the political management program at George Washington University, acknowledged the difficult situation facing the president.

    “He did promise us a return to normalcy and it’s not normal for presidents to comment on trials like this in such a way,” Belt said, ahead of the verdict. “He really wants to avoid the perception of partiality.”

    The political challenge posed by the conviction was almost immediately apparent. The verdict came in just hours before the president was poised to deliver remarks on his administration’s steps to ratchet up scrutiny on gun purchases at an Everytown for Gun Safety event. (Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, helped found and is a current supporter of Everytown for Gun Safety.)

    Republican Scrutiny

    A planned deal between Hunter and prosecutors that would have avoided jail time fell apart last year. Attorney General Merrick Garland then appointed a special counsel, David Weiss, who would indict Hunter Biden on the gun and tax charges. Hunter’s lawyers have accused Weiss of caving to political pressure from Republicans who cast the initial plea agreement as a sweetheart deal for the president’s son.

    Trump nominated Weiss to serve as the U.S. attorney for Delaware and was kept on by Biden. He was appointed as a special counsel by Attorney General Merrick Garland in 2023 to manage the cases against Hunter Biden.

    Republicans have long tried to connect Hunter’s troubles and business dealings to his father, without evidence or success. House Republicans opened an impeachment inquiry into the president, an effort that is all but dead. No evidence has turned up showing the president benefited from his son’s misdeeds.

    Democratic strategist Basil Smikle said Republicans “may seize on a guilty verdict and continue to find ways to connect the president to the actions of his son, even though it’s been clear that the president hasn’t been involved such that it would impact his presidency.”

    Cornell Belcher, another Democratic strategist, predicted Americans would be able to separate the son’s troubles from his father.

    “They’re not going to hold the president accountable for something that his child was accused of, just the way they would not want to be held accountable for something that their child is accused of,” Belcher said.

    Trump’s campaign in a statement called Hunter’s trial “a distraction from the real crimes” of the president and repeated unsubstantiated claims of corruption.

    Trump Impact

    Trump, who faces three additional criminal indictments, though the trials are unlikely to happen before the election, has assailed his prosecutions as politically motivated and orchestrated by the president, without evidence. A day after Trump’s conviction, Biden spoke from the White House, criticizing the Republican as “dangerous” and “irresponsible” for saying the hush-money trial was rigged.

    Some political strategists predicted Biden could use Trump’s guilty verdict to appeal to independents and undecided voters. John Malcolm, vice president of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Constitutional Government, suggested that approach would be undermined by a guilty verdict for Hunter.

    “That’s going to blunt the sting of the Trump conviction, although how much I don’t know,” he said.

    A conviction secured by the DOJ against the president’s own son could also help Democrats undercut Trump’s claims the agency is targeting him politically, but linking the cases that way pose its own risks to Biden.

    Smikle, the Democratic strategist, called Biden “very careful about drawing a line between what’s personal and what’s governmental.” He said the president can speak about Hunter best from “the perspective of a father who cares deeply about his son without necessarily bringing it to the campaign.”

    But he also saw little impact on Biden or Trump supporters.

    “If you’re going to vote for Joe Biden, this is not going to deter you,” Smikle said. “If you’re going to vote for Donald Trump, this will give you more reason to vote for Donald Trump.”


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