WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden’s historically challenging transition to power is suddenly becoming even more complicated.
A federal investigation into the finances of Biden’s son Hunter threatens to embolden congressional Republicans, who have already shown little willingness to work with the incoming president or even acknowledge his victory in last month’s election. For sure, it will complicate Senate confirmation hearings for Biden’s yet-to-be-named attorney general, who could ultimately have oversight of the investigation into the new president’s son.
It all raises the prospect of even deeper dysfunction in a capital that is already struggling to address the nation’s most pressing crises, including a surging pandemic whose daily death tolls are beginning to surpass the devastation of the Sept. 11 attacks. Republicans, particularly those eyeing presidential runs in 2024, are making clear they will press Biden on the issue.
“Joe Biden needs to pledge today that he will cooperate with the federal investigation and answer any questions under oath,” Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican widely viewed as harboring White House ambitions, said Thursday, “and that if he is sworn in as president, no federal investigator or attorney working on the Hunter Biden criminal case will be removed.”
Hunter Biden has long been a source of worry for his father’s campaign and was the subject of repeated unsupported accusations by President Donald Trump and his allies. But news of the probe, which was revealed on Wednesday and scrutinizes some of Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China and other transactions, caught most of his father’s staffers by surprise.
The president-elect had no public appearance Thursday as he moved forward with filling out his administration. But the investigation threatens to destabilize a transition that has prioritized a methodical rollout of Cabinet selections, White House hires and policy goals — all meant to guarantee momentum when Biden takes office and immediately has to grapple with a surging pandemic and shaky economy.
Most notably, the probe casts a spotlight on one of Biden’s most important choices: his attorney general.
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland have emerged as the leading contenders, three people familiar with the matter told the Associated Press this week. But dynamics could shift, as any Biden choice now will be scrutinized for any perceived loyalty to the president-elect and bias in any probe of his son.
Both Garland and especially Jones have longtime ties to Biden.
The president-elect himself is not a subject of the Hunter Biden investigation. And Biden aides believe that because other Hunter Biden stories have blown over, this will, too. They note that a tax-fraud investigation pales in comparison to Trump’s refusal to concede the election or to the pandemic that has killed more than 290,000 Americans.
Biden is expected to announce more Cabinet picks, but not his nominee for attorney general, on Friday.
Trump’s initial public response was muted: just a pair of tweets about a Fox News segment on the story Wednesday night. But privately, he demanded to know why the investigation was not revealed ahead of Election Day, accusing officials of deliberately stalling in order to help Biden’s chances, according to two Republicans familiar with the conversations but not authorized to discuss them publicly.
Other Republicans, including possible presidential contenders, were anything but shy in piling on.
“If there were ever circumstances that created a conflict of interest and called for a special counsel, I think those circumstances are present here,” Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said Thursday. “The Biden family has been trading on Joe Biden’s public office for 50 years. Do we really think that that will change if Joe Biden becomes president, the highest office in the land?”
Cotton has long been viewed as a likely future Republican presidential contender.
Several of Trump’s children have also faced legal questions.
Donald Trump Jr. was scrutinized in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe for the 2016 meeting he had with a Kremlin-connected lawyer. And Ivanka Trump was recently deposed by investigators from the District of Columbia attorney general’s office as part of its lawsuit alleging the misuse of inaugural funds.