The federal investigation into President-elect Joe Biden’s son Hunter has been more extensive than a statement from Hunter Biden indicates, according to a person with firsthand knowledge of the investigation.
On Wednesday, Hunter Biden said he had been contacted about a tax investigation out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware.
In addition to Delaware, the securities fraud unit in the Southern District of New York also scrutinized Hunter Biden’s finances, according to the person with direct knowledge of the investigation. The person said that, as of early last year, investigators in Delaware and Washington were also probing potential money laundering and Hunter Biden’s foreign ties. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
In addition to the probe into Hunter Biden, federal authorities in the Western District of Pennsylvania are conducting a criminal investigation of a hospital business in which Joe Biden’s brother James was involved. Federal officials have asked questions about James Biden’s role in the business, according to a second person with direct knowledge of that investigation, who said it remains ongoing.
There is no indication that Joe Biden himself is under investigation, but if the cases remain open when Joe Biden takes office, they could complicate his presidency, and shine an unflattering light on his relatives’ dealings, which often seek to capitalize on the Biden family’s political connections.
“I take this matter very seriously but I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisors,” Hunter Biden said in a statement. Neither Biden’s transition nor George Mesires, a lawyer for Hunter and James Biden, immediately responded to requests for comment.
The Biden-Harris transition, which had previously denied any awareness of federal probes into Hunter’s business dealings, struck a defensive note in a statement accompanying Hunter’s.
“President-elect Biden is deeply proud of his son, who has fought through difficult challenges, including the vicious personal attacks of recent months, only to emerge stronger,” the transition team said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Biden pledged that his relatives would avoid conflicts of interest. “My son, my family will not be involved in any business, any enterprise that is in conflict with or appears to be in conflict, with inappropriate distance from the presidency and government,” he said.
But the existence of probes involving the president-elect’s son and a business with ties to his brother present a new set of challenges for the incoming administration.
Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in government ethics, said that under longstanding post-Watergate norms, communications between the Justice Department and the White House concerning criminal investigations should be strictly limited. Clark said that Attorney General William Barr has eroded those norms, and that any ongoing investigation of Biden’s relatives should prompt the next leader of the Justice Department to reaffirm them.
“It would be important for some internal messaging in the Justice Department to underline the Justice Department’s independence,” Clark said. “What Biden and a Biden DOJ need to do is emphasize that Biden will not interject himself in specific DOJ investigations.”
The investigation of Hunter Biden has dealt primarily with his financial ties to foreign figures and businesses, according to the person familiar with it. In a standard practice for tax investigations, the Tax Division at Main Justice in Washington has also been involved in the probe, the person said.
In recent years, Hunter Biden has served on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, whose founder faced allegations of corruption, and did legal work for Gabriel Popoviciu, a Romainian businessman accused of corruption.
Hunter Biden has also pursued deals with Chinese oil magnate Ye Jianming and an associate of Ye’s, Patrick Ho. In 2018, Ho was convicted in the Southern District of New York of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act over his attempts to bribe government officials in Chad and Uganda.
Another business partner of Hunter Biden’s, Devon Archer, was convicted in 2018 in the Southern District of New York on unrelated fraud charges. Bank records showing foreign payments to Hunter Biden surfaced as a part of that case.
After a judge overturned Archer’s conviction in late 2018 (an appeals court reinstated the conviction last month), prosecutors in the SDNY securities fraud unit revisited Archer’s case and began last year to scrutinize those foreign payments to Hunter Biden, looking for signs of money laundering, according to the person with firsthand knowledge of the investigation. But after conferring with prosecutors in Delaware, whose investigation was already well underway and acknowledged Wednesday by Hunter Biden, prosecutors in the SDNY securities fraud unit ceased their probing without opening a separate, formal investigation, the person said.
Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec declined to comment, as did spokespeople for the SDNY and Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Offices.
Hunter Biden has also faced recent tax problems. In July, the District of Columbia levied a $453,000 lien against him for unpaid state taxes, which he quickly satisfied, according to D.C. tax records accessed through the database service Nexis. The lien was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon.
FBI agents, meanwhile, have been asking about James Biden’s dealings with the hospital company Americore Health, an operator of rural hospitals, as part of an investigation based out of the Western District of Pennsylvania, according to the person with direct knowledge of that investigation.
In late January, FBI agents raided an Americore hospital in Ellwood City, Pa., and carted off boxes. The raid, which has been previously reported, followed crippling dysfunction at the hospital.
Americore, which is in bankruptcy, has faced allegations of mismanagement unrelated to James Biden, and it is not clear whether his activities are a focus of the investigation.
The exact nature of James Biden’s involvement with Americore is also disputed.
POLITICO previously reported that he briefly had an office at the company’s Florida headquarters in 2018. A business card identifying him as a “principal” of Americore was entered into court records in a civil case in Tennessee, but he has disputed that he is a principal of the company.
Former business contacts of James Biden’s have said that he invoked his powerful older brother’s name and influence in the course of his involvement with Americore, though he has disputed their accounts.
A Biden campaign official previously told POLITICO that Joe Biden has never discussed Americore with his brother or expressed support for the business.
Americore’s founder, Grant White, attended a September 2017 fundraiser for the Beau Biden Foundation that Joe Biden was present for. The two men met at the event, according to a former Americore executive. The Biden campaign previously told POLITICO that any interaction between Joe Biden and White would have been perfunctory.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general’s office is also involved in the investigation of Americore Health, according to the person familiar with the situation. Spokespeople for the HHS IG’s office and for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania both declined to comment.
Previous presidents have taken a variety of approaches to dealing with federal investigations related to their family members. Richard Nixon was criticized for instructing his Attorney General, John Mitchell, to wiretap his brother Donald in order to keep tabs on Donald’s dubious business dealings. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, agreed to be questioned under oath as part of an investigation of his brother Billy’s relationship with the government of Libya.