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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Convictions of Biden’s son and Trump put the justice system on trial



Attorney General Merrick Garland is sworn in to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 4, 2024. Convictions of President Joe Biden’s son and former President Donald Trump put the justice system on trial — but despite the partisan roar, two juries appeared to seriously weigh the evidence and deliver verdicts. (Tom Brenner/The New York Times)

By Charlie Savage


Former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have sought to delegitimize criminal investigations into his actions by declaring that Democrats have “weaponized” the justice system. That claim only intensified after a jury convicted Trump last month of 34 felonies in a hush-money case.


In pushing that narrative, they have tended to ignore an awkward fact: President Joe Biden has not stopped the Justice Department’s inquiry into his own son. On Tuesday, the contradiction sharpened when a jury convicted Hunter Biden of three felony counts for lying about his drug use when he bought a gun in 2018.


The verdict did not satisfy Republicans, who minimized the outcome and continued to insist that Democrats have turned the criminal justice system into their partisan tool. But under tremendous political pressure, 12 jurors in both cases appear to have taken their jobs seriously, weighing the evidence and delivering convictions. The system seemed to work more or less as it is supposed to.


To be sure, there is an argument to be made that both Trump’s hush-money case and Hunter Biden’s gun case were affected by politics. Both could be characterized as relatively marginal — despite the abundant evidence supporting the charges — cases that prosecutors might not have bothered to bring had the defendants been nobodies. But it was not in either side’s interest to make that point.


Democrats instead lined up after Hunter Biden’s conviction to show off how much they respect the criminal justice system, often explicitly pointing out that they were not criticizing the case as prosecutorial overreach. Despite Republican denunciations of Trump’s trial as a corrupt sham, they argued, politically prominent people of both parties who commit crimes get convicted.


“The divide here is stunning, and it’s a great reminder that one political party remains committed to the rule of law, and the other doesn’t — it’s that simple,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said during a hearing Tuesday.


McGovern added: “Republicans just can’t wrap their heads around the idea that their presidential candidate, your presumptive nominee, is a convicted felon. That is not the result of a sham process or some vast conspiracy by the Biden administration.”


Republicans, for their part, played down the significance of prosecutors’ persuasive effort on a jury that found the president’s son guilty of three felonies. The case was led by a Trump appointee, David C. Weiss, whom Attorney General Merrick Garland had kept on to handle the investigation and eventually made a special counsel.


Rep. James R. Comer, R-Ky., chair of the House Oversight Committee, offered brief and tepid praise for the verdict before reiterating his baseless claims that Joe Biden had been involved in a bribery scheme.


“Today’s verdict is a step toward accountability, but until the Department of Justice investigates everyone involved” in the purported scheme, Comer said in a statement, “it will be clear department officials continue to cover” for the president.


After the verdict, Biden expressed personal support for his son but said in a statement that he accepted the outcome of the case. He also referred to an interview with ABC News last week in which he said he would not use his official powers to pardon his son, were he to be convicted.


“As I also said last week, I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal,” Biden said.


But Karoline Leavitt, the national press secretary for the Trump campaign, said in a statement that the trial of the president’s son “has been nothing more than a distraction” from what she claimed without evidence were the Biden family’s “real crimes.”


In downplaying the result, some Republicans also stressed that Weiss had nearly struck what they characterized as a “sweetheart” plea deal last year with Hunter Biden. The agreement would have resolved both the gun matter and separate charges over his failure to pay taxes for several years during the depths of his drug addiction.


The deal collapsed after a federal judge’s questions brought to the surface that the two sides disagreed on whether the agreement foreclosed further charges against Biden on other topics. Weiss then obtained felony indictments on both matters; Hunter Biden is set to face trial on the tax offenses in September.


Other Republicans simply ignored the Hunter Biden verdict. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who leads a weaponization of the federal government subcommittee, declined through a spokesperson to comment on the verdict.


Moments after Hunter Biden was convicted, Republican staff members on the Judiciary Committee Jordan leads did, however, announce that they would hold hearings this summer on “the flaws” of the New York case against Trump. Last month, a jury unanimously found he had falsified business records to cover up a hush-money payoff to a porn actor during the endgame of the 2016 election.


The committee also stressed that it had secured agreements for “public testimony” by the Manhattan district attorney who brought the case against Trump, Alvin L. Bragg, and for Matthew Colangelo, a white-collar prosecutor who participated in the trial. Colangelo had been a Biden administration official in the Justice Department before taking a job in Bragg’s office in December 2022.


Democrats, though, used the occasion to point out that the Biden Justice Department has also brought criminal charges against members of the president’s party, including Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who is on trial on corruption-related charges, and Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, indicted last month on charges of bribery and money laundering.


Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on Comer’s Oversight Committee, emphasized the differences in approach.


At the same hearing as McGovern, he noted that he had “not heard a single Democrat anywhere in the country cry ‘fraud,’ cry ‘fixed,’ cry ‘rigged,’ cry ‘kangaroo court’” in response to Hunter Biden’s federal conviction, as Republicans had after Trump’s conviction — even as they pushed a conspiracy theory that the president somehow controlled the state case.


“Compare and contrast the difference in reaction between the Republicans and the Democrats,” Raskin said. “The Republicans are attacking our entire system of justice and the rule of law because they don’t like the way that one case came out, whereas the son of the president of the United States is prosecuted and I don’t hear a single Democrat crying foul.”

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