WASHINGTON - Hunter Biden has gone on the offensive against his Republican critics, arguing in a new lawsuit that although he is the son of the president of the United States, he shouldn't be treated differently than any other American.
The lawsuit against the IRS is only the latest in a series of counterpunches by the president's son. But while Hunter Biden's lawyers might think that an aggressive approach is the best legal strategy for Biden the son, that might not be what’s best for Biden the father as he seeks reelection and tries to keep the public focused on his policy achievements.
The president has had little to say about his son's legal woes — which now include a felony indictment — beyond that Hunter did nothing wrong and he loves his son. The White House strategy has been to keep the elder Biden head-down and focused on governing, reasoning that that’s what voters will prioritize, while working to keep Hunter's troubles at arm's distance.
There's one hopeful school of thought among the president's allies that even if all the headlines about Hunter Biden aren't a plus for the president's reelection campaign, the legal process could ultimately clear the air in a positive way.
"Obviously, the White House and Hunter’s teams are looking at it from different perspectives," said Democratic political strategist David Brock. "It’s important for the facts to reach the public, and when that happens, I think ultimately that’s beneficial to the president."
But privately, some Democrats are concerned that Hunter Biden’s legal problems could harm Biden heading into 2024 and pose difficulties for Democrats in tight House races, according to people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The lawsuit that Hunter Biden filed Monday against the IRS maintains that two agents who testified as whistleblowers violated his privacy by publicly disclosing his tax data as part of a probe by House Republicans into his business dealings.
Hunter Biden’s team last week sued a former Donald Trump aide over his alleged role in publishing emails and embarrassing images of the younger Biden. And his team also has asked state and federal agencies to open a criminal probe into Trump allies for accessing and spreading his personal data.
Hunter Biden agreed in June to plead guilty to two tax misdemeanors and avert prosecution on a gun charge by enrolling in a diversion program. But the agreement unraveled following a July 26 court hearing that was meant to end the case, and the younger Biden was then indicted for a felony weapons charge.
His legal woes have increasingly complicated matters for the president, who also faces an impeachment inquiry by House Republicans seeking to link the president to the business dealings of his son. While Hunter Biden did broker on his family name in business dealings, Republicans have so far unearthed no significant evidence of wrongdoing by the elder Biden, who spoke often to his son as vice president and did stop by a business dinner with his son’s associates.
Biden hasn't had much to say about the impeachment drive. And he also has kept his distance from the Justice Department prosecutions of both his son and Donald Trump.
Now, Hunter Biden could be heading to trial in the midst of his father’s reelection effort. That suits Republicans, who are eager to distract from the multiple criminal indictments of Trump, the early GOP primary front-runner, whose trials could be unfolding at the same time.
Hunter Biden's allies have argued the plea deal fell through in part because Justice Department officials bowed to pressure from Republicans who claimed he was getting a "sweetheart deal" to end a five-year investigation into his tax and business dealings.
"This is just the beginning and far from the end of Hunter and his team going on offense and fighting back," said Michael LaRosa, a former special assistant to the president.
Their previous strategy of "being unresponsive has only led to Republicans filling a void with disinformation, smears, lies, and conspiracy theories that have severely damaged the president’s image and reputation, as you can see in poll after poll. Somebody has to be out there correcting the record and fighting back," LaRosa said.
Polling reflects the impact on the president of the drumbeat of negative headlines.
Roughly 1 in 3 Americans are highly concerned about whether Joe Biden may have committed wrongdoing related to his son’s business dealings, according to a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. About half of Americans say they have little or no confidence that the Justice Department is handling its investigation into Hunter Biden in a fair and nonpartisan way.
The political divide on these points is stark: 66% of Republicans — and just 7% of Democrats — are very or extremely concerned about whether Joe Biden committed wrongdoing when it comes to his son’s business dealings.
The headlines are likely to continue given the impeachment inquiry that's just ramping up and the special counsel's decision to file federal gun charges against Hunter Biden.
He is accused of lying on the forms he completed to buy a gun when he stated that he wasn’t a drug user at the time of the purchase. Hunter Biden, according to his memoir, tumbled into drug addiction after the death of his older brother, Beau, in 2015.
His attorneys said Tuesday that he will plead not guilty to the firearms charges.
Earlier this year Hunter Biden hired high-profile attorney Abbe Lowell, a legal heavyweight known for also representing Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
Shortly after, the criminal referral was requested. In March, Hunter Biden sued a Delaware-based computer repairman who was said to have a laptop that belonged to the president’s son and who disseminated data from it. Five days ago, he sued the Trump aide over the publishing of the data. And on Monday, he sued the IRS.
"Mr. Biden has no fewer or lesser rights than any other American citizen, and no government agency or government agent has free rein to violate his rights simply because of who he is," the lawsuit against the IRS states.
Prosecutions for lying on a federal gun application are uncommon, particularly when there's no allegation that the gun was bought to carry out a crime, experts said. There are also questions about the constitutionality of the federal ban on gun possession by people who use drugs in light of a Supreme Court ruling that expanded gun rights.
Hunter Biden’s lawyers have signaled they will try to argue that an agreement sparing him prosecution on a felony gun charge should remain in place even though the plea deal on misdemeanor tax offenses largely unraveled.
If the case goes to trial, it could be a tough sell to a jury.
"Addiction is something that touches a lot of Americans and the notion that this person who was in trouble with drug use and for 11 days owned a firearm that was never used for anything whatsoever, that's not going to sit well at a federal felony criminal trial with a lot of jurors," said Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor.
"And it is not even touching on the issue of whether people think that he is being prosecuted because he’s Hunter Biden," she said.
Durkin reported from Boston. Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.