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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Robert Tait in Washington

Hunter Biden conviction could boost father against Trump, experts suggest

Men in suits at air base
Joe Biden with his son Hunter in Delaware on Tuesday. Photograph: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Hunter Biden’s conviction on gun-ownership charges may have handed his father, Joe, a boost in the forthcoming presidential election, analysts say, because it undermines the image of a president weaponising the US justice system to pursue Donald Trump.

Trump, the former president and presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has pushed that line relentlessly to explain his conviction last month on charges related to the concealment of hush-money payments to a porn star to help him win the 2016 election.

He has made the claim even though his prosecution was brought in a New York state court that is independent of the Department of Justice, which is overseeing 54 other criminal charges against him that have so far not come to trial.

Hunter Biden, by contrast, was prosecuted and convicted under the authority of the justice department, which is part of his father’s administration – an inconvenient fact that weakens Republican claims that it has been turned into a political weapon in the president’s hands.

The result, some observers say, is that Hunter’s conviction may help the president in a close race, even though the personal cost of his son’s troubles is heavy.

That suspicion was further fuelled by a low-key reaction from Republicans that attempted to switch the focus to other supposed crimes they say, but have never proved, that father and son have committed.

“It’s a marginal political gain, that’s what I’m feeling,” said John Zogby, a veteran pollster. “I don’t see it hurting him in any way, and especially when he neutralised the issue when he said he was not going to extend the pardon, which is very painful for him.

“It pulls the rug out from under that Republican argument that the justice system is rigged against Republicans to get Trump … a Biden did not get a pass.”

Zogby said the verdict – and Biden’s acceptance of it – could revive an image that was electorally helpful in 2020 of “Uncle Joe”, a man of empathy who had known suffering and personal tragedy, through the deaths of his eldest son, Beau, from cancer in 2015, and his first wife and baby daughter in a car accident in 1972.

“It could put some folks who have been wavering … on the track towards seeing that more sympathetic fellow, a father who is experiencing pain again,” he said. “You know, enough to give them another point or two. I don’t think it moves mountains, but it may not have to [in a close race].”

Larry Jacobs, a professor of politics at the University of Minnesota, said the verdict, while a “personal disaster” for Biden, could boomerang on the Republicans and translate into Democratic gain.

“The tragic case of Hunter Biden is painful for Joe and Jill Biden [the first lady], but it is a win for the Democratic party and the Biden campaign,” he said. “It puts a lie to the Republican claims that the justice system is being manipulated by [and for] the benefit of Democrats.

“It’s harder for the Republicans to say with a straight face and to audiences not already in their capture that the legal system is captured by the Democratic party.”

Biden is known to be deeply concerned by the troubles of Hunter, who was found guilty by a jury in Delaware on Tuesday of lying about his drug use and addiction when buying a gun in 2018. Close aides have voiced worries about the emotional strain the matter is putting on the 81-year-old president in the midst of a close election race.

“I don’t think voters are going to hold Biden accountable for his son’s addiction or his son’s misbehaviour. But I think the real question is the toll it takes on him and his family,” David Axelrod, a senior Democratic operative and former adviser to President Barack Obama told the Washington Post.

“To a guy who’s already experienced great loss and tragedy, this is another heavy brick on the load. And it’s going to take enormous strength to carry that load, given all the other bricks that are on there of the presidency and being a candidate.”

Despite the fact that his son now faces a possible jail sentence – and will stand trial again on unrelated tax-evasion charges in September – Biden has said he will not use his presidential powers to pardon him. That message was somewhat clouded on Wednesday when the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, on board Air Force One en route to the G7 summit in Italy, was reported as refusing to rule out a commutation of whatever sentence Hunter receives.

Hunter’s conviction followed legal manoeuvring in which some observers said he had received harsher treatment because he is the president’s son. A plea bargain worked out last year that would have seen him plead guilty to the tax charges while avoiding prosecution on the gun charge was dropped following criticism from the judge in the latter case, Maryellen Noreika, who was appointed to the bench by Trump.

Republicans, who have pursued Hunter Biden for years in an unsuccessful effort to prove his father profited financially from his business dealings in Ukraine, had denounced it as a sweetheart deal.

The president, who travelled on Wednesday to Italy for the G7 summit, said that he would respect whatever outcome the legal process reached – a jarring contrast to Trump’s repeated assaults on the judicial system as “rigged”.

“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 said.

“I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal. Jill and I will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support. Nothing will ever change that.”

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