The Son of Biden Must Be Above Suspicion
In Ancient Rome, there were many secret cults and rituals that attracted the interest of wealthy patrician families seeking to appease any one of the many gods in the Roman pantheon. Perhaps one of the most popular was the cult of Bona Dea, an ancient goddess of fertility who protected the people of Rome.
The traditions of this cult developed over the years. By the first century BCE, the fertility goddess's rites demanded that only women attend this ceremony, participating in rituals that forbade male onlookers. Cicero wrote that a man who even glimpsed the affairs could be punished by blinding.
In 62 BCE, the rites’ hostess was the wife of a young, up-and-coming officer by the name of Gaius Julius Caesar, a man whose first name has mostly been dropped by history. That year, an enterprising trickster named Clodius snuck into the festival with the intent of seducing the hostess and embarrassing her husband. Once discovered, Clodius’s calumny erupted into one of the greatest scandals of Roman history.
But perhaps the most noteworthy thing that happened had nothing to do with the litigation. Julius Caesar claimed ignorance – any knowledge of the affair could only hurt his political aspirations, after all – but he nevertheless divorced his wife Pompeia.
Caesar never believed that his wife had fallen prey to Clodius’s seductions, but he insisted that no scandal could be tolerated in his household. His final justification was, famously, “the wife of Caesar must be above suspicion.”
We now find ourselves mired in another political scandal. Hunter Biden, the son of the President-elect of the United States, has apparently played on his father’s name to secure lucrative business enterprises for himself and other family members. During the Obama administration, Vice President Biden was tasked with overseeing American relations with countries like Ukraine and China. Perhaps coincidentally, and perhaps not, his son has secured executive positions in businesses in exactly those countries worth millions of dollars. It has given rise to the appearance, if not substance, of claims that American foreign policy can be bought. This is, at the very least, unseemly, and at the very worst, a betrayal of the trust of the American people.
I do not know whether or not Vice President Biden was ignorant of these developments. The fact of the matter is that nobody does. It appears that Hunter has followed the mantra of The West Wing’s Arnold Vinnick, “when in doubt, do the right thing, the rest of the time get away with whatever you can,” but nobody can be certain. The established facts of the case thus far suggest that a son who was, by all accounts, down on his luck appears to have leveraged his family name for financial gain. The real questions that now must be answered are whether the Vice President knew of these relationships and whether he afforded unfair access or concessions to these business interests in light of his son’s involvement.
At a moment where nobody knows the full truth of the matter, except for those involved, it seems clear that people should be demanding answers of their elected officials. Perhaps Hunter will eventually learn a lesson first taught by President Reagan: “Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book.” But until the day when Hunter writes a tell-all book explaining his side of the story, the simple fact of the matter is that nobody knows exactly what happened in his private conversations and what was promised in those backroom deals.
Thus far, the Department of Justice has opened investigations into the younger Biden’s tax avoidances, but Attorney General Barr has not yet appointed a special counsel to address the lingering issue of political corruption. All federal investigations had been conducted in secret until recently, predicated on the somewhat spurious logic that it might influence the outcome of the election. Of course, by not disclosing the investigation, they’ve still influenced the outcome of the election, just in the other direction. Regardless, it seem unlikely that the outgoing Trump administration will be able to do much of anything on this front with just a month left in office.
But as we look to the future, the Biden transition team has signaled that the President-elect will not even be asking potential AG picks about a potential investigation of Hunter’s actions. This, on its face, may be fitting and proper. It’s entirely possible that the transition team does not want the answer to condition the choice of nominee. It also affords the President-elect a measure of plausible deniability and preserves the Department of Justice’s appearance of independence. Still, it might be wise for the transition team to heed the first law of holes: when you’re in one, stop digging. The Biden family shouldn’t be worried if they have nothing to hide. If there was never any act of corruption or criminal violation, any investigation could only exculpate the First Family. And even if there’s nothing to this story, as settlers along the Platte River in Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska used to say, “it’s a mile wide and an inch deep, but you can still drown in it.” The longer Biden and his team dig their heels into avoiding investigation, the louder their critics will be. The shadow of scandal would haunt the new administration’s legislative agenda.
In the end, no matter how the Biden team decides to handle a potential investigation of his son’s conduct, this should be a critical question for any reasonable Senate confirmation hearing. It is perfectly appropriate for the Senate, as part of its constitutional obligation to advise and consent to presidential appointments, to demand that an incoming Attorney General be willing to open an independent investigation into legitimate, substantiated allegations of presidential malfeasance. Any incoming Attorney General must be able to demonstrate to Senators on both sides of the aisle that he or she would be willing to take an independent role in executing the laws of the United States of America, even if that means initiating warranted investigations into the conduct of the President’s family. It is entirely possible that such an investigation could be conducted fully and professionally without the appointment of a special counsel. Attorney General William Barr recently said that he simply thought that a special counsel was not the right tool for the Biden investigation. But regardless of the methodology adopted by an incoming Attorney General, Americans should be confident that he or she has the prosecutorial independence to conduct any warranted investigations and the moral fortitude to see it through. At its core, none of this says anything about the specific merits of the Hunter Biden case. It may very well turn out to be a series of unfortunate coincidences that falsely implicate the incoming First Son. More likely, it rises to the level of non-criminal influence-peddling that besmirches the family’s reputation but fails to produce indictments. But what should concern everyone in the public is that it rises even higher than that, to what may be the least likely scenario – that the Vice President knowingly allowed or abetted his son’s efforts to trade on his political connections in an effort to enrich his family. So far, we have no evidence that this is true, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility. The American people deserve to know with certainty that the First Family is above suspicion. The health of the republic depends on it.