World Food Program USA Board Chairman Hunter Biden (L) and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden attend the World Food Program USA’s Annual McGovern-Dole Leadership Award Ceremony at Organization of American States on April 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images for World Food Program USA)
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tore into the media last week for seemingly discovering the Hunter Biden story only after the election was over. It wasn’t entirely unjustified since left-leaning news outlets such as the New York Times and CNN indignantly scoffed at the notion of covering the topic before the votes were counted.
Granted, it was also made easier after Hunter and the Joe Biden transition team released statements confirming a federal probe. But even that seems to imply that the Biden team granted permission. Since Hunter’s statement, the Associated Press and others have reported that it’s less benign than taxes and involves younger Biden’s business deals in China.
Friday, December 18, marks one year since the Democrat-controlled House voted to impeach President Donald Trump. The predicate was—in part—that Trump was interested in Hunter Biden’s business deals. The Trump impeachment was already the first not to allege an actual violation of the law, as was claimed in the prior impeachments of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. The fact that it was largely about seeking an international investigation of someone who was already under investigation in the United States even further weakens the year-old case.
If only we knew then what we know now—except we did. The fact is that the mainstream media’s willingness to scrutinize Joe Biden’s wayward son isn’t entirely new. There was robust coverage of Hunter’s work with Ukrainian energy firm Burisma in stories from the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico, and ABC News long before Trump ever brought it up.
Actually, just three days before the infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Washington Post ran a story about Hunter Biden and quoted the former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin alleging he was fired for investigating Burisma and Biden.
We should note that doesn’t excuse Trump talking about military aid and referencing an investigation of the Bidens and Burisma. Yet as imperfect as the Trump-Zelensky call might have been, considering how much media we know Trump absorbs and his tendency to make conversations about himself, it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t broach the topic upon having the ear of the Ukrainian leader. If this was a nefarious scheme, it wasn’t a very thought-out one. The call transcript indicates Trump was more focused on silly notions about Crowd Strike than the Bidens.
Nevertheless, once this became the predicate for impeachment, a near media blackout ensued on Hunter Biden’s activities. Questioning Hunter became either a conspiracy theory or—the convenient default for some Democrats and media—Russian disinformation. Can you prove it’s not?
To be clear, it seems unlikely the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware is going after the Burisma caper. The China business interests are far more significant, though given Hunter Biden’s work on the Burisma board, this seems part of a larger pattern.
A zeal to impeach Trump over emoluments, Russia, or Stormy Daniels drove the Democrats’ progressive base. Then Special Counsel Robert Mueller didn’t give the new House majority what it had longed for on Russia. So instead they found justification in the phone call that relied heavily on guessing Trump’s motives and Zelensky’s interpretation, thus lowering the bar for impeachment. In lieu of identifying an actual crime, the articles of impeachment were about abuse of power and obstruction of Congress—which could be applied to almost any president.
It’s difficult to imagine any other president being impeached for something so murky. My new book, Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump, addresses this scenario in more depth. But what if in 2011, President Barack Obama had asked a leader of a country reliant on U.S. assistance to investigate whether Mitt Romney had used his clout as Massachusetts governor to shield a shady company his son had worked for from potential prosecution?
This might have prompted congressional hearings, probably led by Congressman Darrell Issa, who would have been skewered for it. Impeachment almost certainly wouldn’t have been part of the public conversation, except for maybe a handful of House GOP firebrands and a maybe a few conservative talk show hosts. We all know that in such a scenario, CNN and the New York Times would paint the Republican oversight hearings as a shameful political ploy to distract from shady dealings of the younger Romney by going after Obama.
Romney doesn’t have any such issues, but having been a presidential candidate might have guided his thinking in being the only Senate Republican to vote for Trump’s ouster in the Senate trial.
Before the 2020 election, Congressman Adam Schiff, who led the impeachment effort, claimed that disparaging accounts about Hunter Biden were Russian disinformation. Schiff’s own reputation wasn’t helped by impeachment, as he’s pushed his own disinformation. Also, during the hearing, virtually every impeachment hearing witness expressed uneasiness about Hunter Biden’s Burisma job as giving at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The impeachment was predictably dispatched of in the Republican-controlled Senate, but it wasn’t inconsequential. Beyond the long-term issue of lowering the impeachment bar, there was at least some impact on the 2020 election.
The fear that the media continuing to cover Hunter would have distracted from the Trump-Zelensky call had it all wrong. It’s the impeachment that was a successful distraction from the web of Hunter deals. Had this not become a predicate for impeaching Trump, it’s quite likely that Joe Biden’s Democratic opponents would have made family profiteering an issue. But when the matter became about Trump, even Biden’s primary challengers insisted the matter should never be spoken of.
A Biden scandal morphed into a Trump impeachment—again thanks largely Trump making conversations about himself. This distraction surely played a role in securing the Democratic nomination for Biden by making his family shenanigans unmentionable.
Fred Lucas is the author of Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump (Post Hill Press, 2020). He is also the chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal.
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