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Why Hunter Biden is the target of a federal investigation

On Wednesday President-elect Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, released a statement disclosing that the U.S. Attorney's office in Delaware is investigating his taxes. Yamiche Alcindor spoke with Katie Benner, who covers the Department of Justice for The New York Times, to learn more.

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  • Judy Wooruff:

    Yesterday president-elect Biden's son Hunter Biden released a statement disclosing that the U.S. attorney's office in Delaware is investigating his taxes.

    Our Yamiche Alcindor has more.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    To explore the federal investigations into president-elect Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden, I'm joined by Katie Benner. She covers the Department of Justice for The New York Times.

    Thanks so much for being here.

    What more do we know about what federal authorities are looking into? And how, if at all, could Hunter Biden have broken the law?

  • Katie Benner:

    Sure.

    We know that this case began in 2018, when investigators in the U.S. attorney's office in Delaware started looking into possible money laundering charges against Hunter Biden. And we know that, as that investigation progressed, the money laundering investigation began to dwindle. They weren't sure that they were really finding anything there.

    But it did seem Hunter Biden had taken in a great deal of income and not appropriately paid taxes on it. So, they felt that there was a strong tax fraud charge or two that could be brought.

    Now, we saw that kind of explode into public view this week, when investigators subpoenaed Mr. Biden and some of his associates, leading Hunter Biden and the Biden campaign to come out with public statements saying that they had received contact from the U.S. attorney's office.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    How, if at all, is president-elect Joe Biden implicated here? And how might these investigations impact his presidency, particularly the role between the White House and the Department of Justice?

  • Katie Benner:

    Yes, absolutely.

    Now, it doesn't seem that Joe Biden, president-elect Joe Biden, himself, is implicated at all. And earlier this year, Attorney General Bill Barr said that he had no indication that Joe Biden, the candidate, was under investigation either.

    But we do know that there are allegations that Hunter Biden has long used his father's name to try to advance his own business interests. And whether or not that skirted an ethical or legal line, it seems that investigators are going to try to figure out.

    But it does raise incredibly tough issues for the incoming White House and whoever is chosen to be the next attorney general, because that person will have to basically run an investigation into the president's son. It makes that choice of attorney general, a pick that was already going to be incredibly scrutinized, really, really, really under a microscope.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As you noted, Hunter Biden has long been someone that people have been looking at. What more do we know about why we're learning about this now? And what kind of legal problems has Hunter Biden had in the past?

  • Katie Benner:

    Sure.

    I think that one of the reasons we're learning about it now is the decision to serve subpoenas to a variety of people. We believe it was as many as 10 people received subpoenas this week. That is a tremendous number, and it's sort of step that is likely to leak into the press.

    It seems that Hunter Biden decided that, because it was likely to leak into the press, he was going to actually come out and publicly state it himself. So, we know about it because of him.

    Also, you can imagine there was a lull leading up to the election in that kind of move, because the Justice Department would be loathe, especially after 2016 and everything that happened with Hillary Clinton and the investigation into her e-mail server, to take any step that would have spilled out into the open and actually impacted the election.

    So, you can imagine that there was a real lull in this investigation that probably began in the late summer and lasted through the election and through the time when the presidency was called for Joe Biden. That would allow prosecutors to continue their work.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And in the few seconds we have left here, how much do we know about how politics played into this? President Trump and his allies have long made Hunter Biden a target. What more do we know about what's going on here?

  • Katie Benner:

    Absolutely.

    We know that Hunter Biden has a troubled past. He is a person who has had run-ins with the law before. He's been accused of drug use, DUIs. We know that he was involved in a very, very difficult divorce, in which lots of things spilled out, including tax issues. The liens on his house came out during that divorce in those documents.

    But in terms of politicization, he's such an easy target for Joe Biden's foes and his political foes because he has had so many problems. He's — it's kind of open season on Hunter Biden.

    But we also know that this case began under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And so you cannot say that this is something that Bill Barr, who is accused of being one of the president's closest allies personally, began, but it's certainly something that he oversees now.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Certainly an investigation we will keep our eye on.

    Thank you so much, Katie Benner of The New York Times.

  • Katie Benner:

    Thanks so much, Yamiche.

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