Hunter Biden’s trip to Congress shows split between his team, White House

Hunter Biden’s trip to Congress shows split between his team, White House

Hunter Biden’s trip to Capitol Hill this week is shining a bright light on how Hunter Biden’s approach to the GOP investigations into his business dealings is independent of the White House.

President Biden’s son has made two surprise visits to Capitol Hill in the last month, showing that he wants to defend himself — in his own words — without coordinating with the White House.

White House officials didn’t know the younger Biden was going to make an appearance Wednesday in a hearing of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee while members weighed whether to hold him in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena last month. A source familiar told The Hill that “no one” at the White House “was notified or advising Hunter” before the move.

Sources tell The Hill it’s not surprising White House officials wouldn’t have known in advance, and described that while the president and first lady have a close and transparent relationship with their son, he does not seek advice from White House staff.

A Democrat close to the White House described Hunter Biden’s opinion of the public relations people around his father as “very low.”

“Can you blame Hunter for not taking communications advice from this group?” the Democrat said, noting that Biden’s press team has been in place while the president’s approval rating and public opinion of him has been consistently and historically low.

Following Hunter Biden’s visit to the hearing, Republicans advanced the resolution to hold him in contempt of Congress. On Friday, he said he would accept a new subpoena and give testimony to Congress.

His lawyer, Abbe Lowell, shared the decision in a letter to Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) and Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), two Republicans who have led the investigations into the Biden family. In the letter, Lowell floated a “public deposition/hearing with alternating rounds of questions for Republicans and Democrats, and with similar rules (e.g., role of counsel in questioning), as is done in a closed-door deposition.”

Comer and Jordan said in response that they plan to move forward with holding the younger Biden in contempt of Congress.

A former White House staffer offered a different description of the split between the president’s team and Hunter Biden’s team, arguing the White House advising him would be “weird.”

“I didn’t get the sense that there was a rift, but our whole message was, ‘He’s a private citizen,’ so it would have been slightly weird if the White House was advising him closely,” the source said.

Democrats on the Oversight Committee — including ranking member Jamie Raskin (Md.) — said they were not informed beforehand of Biden’s plans to sit in on the hearing.

But a number of those lawmakers hailed his visit, saying it was an effective strategy for undercutting the Republicans’ argument that he’s unwilling to cooperate with their investigations.

“I thought it was a little stroke of genius. … It completely undermined the Republican argument that he is defying a subpoena. He’s right there in front of you, ready to be sworn in and testify,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “The visual was powerful, and it clearly disrupted whatever chain of narrative they thought they had.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wouldn’t say Wednesday whether the president was informed that the younger Biden would be making his surprise visit to Capitol Hill. She said in December that the president was “familiar” with what his son planned to say when he spoke to the press outside the Capitol at the time.

A former administration communications staffer described Hunter Biden’s team and the White House team as “wholly separate.”

“The press office was as separate as it could be, practically,” the source said.

When pressed on if it was frustrating for press aides to not have a say about what Hunter Biden did, the source added, “It’s just the way it was, because that’s how the president and team operates — with appropriate firewalls.”

The White House did not respond to questions about coordination with Hunter Biden’s team and claims on his opinion of the press shop. 

The Judiciary and Oversight committees issued subpoenas for Biden in November, and the House formally voted to authorize the impeachment inquiry into the president in December. That followed months of probes into the Biden family’s foreign business dealings and how the Department of Justice handled a tax crimes investigation into Hunter Biden.

Democrats this week were quick to note that Comer, the Oversight chairman, had prevoiusly publicly offered Biden the option of testifying in any manner he chose.

“You, Mr. Comer, went on national television and said he can come in public or he can come in private, but he’s got to come. Well, he chose to go public, and now you’re reneging,” Connolly said. “That’s your problem, not his.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), another member of the Oversight panel, agreed.

“I actually thought it was a very savvy thing to do, because it just proves the point: He is here, he is showing up, he is willing to comply with the subpoena, [but] he wants to do so through public testimony,” she said.

But other Democrats were less sure of the potency of Biden’s strategy, with some questioning his decision to appear on Capitol Hill just one day before he was due to appear in court in Los Angeles to face criminal charges.

“I’ll tell you this: It’s not a strategy to get out of an indictment. Like, that’s a whole different problem,” said a Democrat on the committee, who spoke anonymously to discuss a sensitive topic. “If I were indicted … I would be worried about that — going to prison.”

The younger Biden has been more public in recent weeks, as the House Republicans have ramped up the impeachment inquiry into his father.

While Hunter Biden has been seen alongside his father throughout the administration — traveling on Air Force One, shopping in Nantucket, Mass., or at a state dinner — he rarely was heard from on his own until last month. Around the same time he spoke to press at the Capitol, he had spoken openly about Republican attacks against him and his father on a podcast hosted by his friend, the musician Moby.

His family is also firing back. On Thursday, first lady Jill Biden said the barrage of allegations against her son from Republicans have been have been “cruel,” and Hunter Biden’s daughter, Naomi, accused Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) of lying during the hearing that he attended.

The Bidens speaking out, while the White House is not, aligns with the lack of coordination on issues surrounding Hunter Biden.

Hunter Biden’s low opinion of the communications team around his father has been documented. He bashed those working for his father in texts to him that were made public in 2020.

“Well dad, I guess you were right … that it would all just go away like that genius Kate and the rest said it would,” he said, which has been taken as a sarcastic reference to former deputy campaign manager and White House communications director Kate Bedingfield.

And, when the White House is asked about Hunter Biden, spokespeople say they don’t speak for him.

“He’s a private citizen,” Jean-Pierre said Thursday. “He’s not a member of the White House. He doesn’t work here.”

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