Of all the figures within Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s camp, few are as polarizing as his younger son, Robert “Hunter” Biden. He has been a lightning rod for scandal and criticism, and there was some worry in the past that he would jeopardize his father’s bid for the presidency. But does Hunter Biden deserve all the controversy that seems to follow him around? The answer to that seems to be yes and no.
The New Yorker paints what many of us might feel is an untold portrait of Hunter, born a year and a day after his older brother Beau, and a year and nine months before his younger sister Naomi. In 1972, just as his father was elected to the senate, Hunter’s mother and sister were killed in a car crash that left Beau with numerous broken bones and Hunter with a serious head injury. Hunter says his first memory upon waking up, involves his brother turning to him, and saying “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
Beau and Hunter Biden were always there for each other
Beau and Hunter went to the same Catholic high school, Archmere Academy, that their father attended. There, one of Hunter’s friends, Brian McGlinchley, told The New Yorker that “Beau tended to lead with his head. Hunter often led with his heart.” It was with Hunter’s help that Beau was elected student-body president. When Beau went to the University of Pennsylvania and Hunter to Georgetown University, both took student loans to cover their costs. Hunter also worked odd jobs — parking cars and unloading boxes of frozen food to make some extra money. “Hunter was always out there, doing something to gain a little bit of money,” Ted Dziak, Hunter’s freshman dorm chaplain, said.
Interestingly, The New Yorker reports that Hunter has always seen himself as the family’s provider — he even paid off Beau’s law school debts. Hunter also wanted to follow in his brother and father’s footsteps and contribute to society in some way.
Hunter Biden has struggled with substance abuse
In 2008, Joe Biden, then a senator, told The New York Times that he did not drink. At all. And he was candid about his decision to avoid alcohol. “There are enough alcoholics in my family,” he said. And while his own father didn’t drink, one of the presidential candidates’ friends, Tom Bell, had said that alcoholism would take its toll on the Biden family. “Every family had it … But the Finnegans [Biden’s maternal family] had more than their share.”
Hunter took up drinking, drugs, and smoking while he was at Georgetown (via The New Yorker), and when he joined the Navy Reserves in 2013, he was discharged in 2014 after failing a drug test. Hunter released a statement after the incident, saying that it was “the honor of my life to serve in the U.S. Navy, and I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions led to my administrative discharge. I respect the Navy’s decision. With the love and support of my family, I’m moving forward” (via The Wall Street Journal). The New Yorker reports that Hunter tried to get his drinking under control first by checking into a facility in Mexico and then to a yoga retreat to try and get healthy.
Hunter Biden has had a tumultuous personal life
After Hunter left Georgetown, he served a year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a religious non-profit group which sends young people to help communities in need. It was there that he met Kathleen Buhle, and three months after they started seeing each other, Kathleen became pregnant. They got married and had three daughters — Naomi, Finnegan, and Maisy. The New Yorker says that his own admission, his inability to curb his drinking and drug use, partly triggered by his brother Beau’s death, finally brought an end to his marriage.
He also said “We [Hallie, Beau’s widow and I] were sharing a very specific grief,” Hunter recalled. “I started to think of Hallie as the only person in my life who understood my loss.” The former vice president knew nothing about the relationship until the New York Post called to ask for a comment, and an aide said Joe and Jill Biden issued a statement, because they were worried about Hunter’s well-being. But the relationship didn’t last, Hallie and Hunter split up a few months later.
Hunter has since been named in a paternity lawsuit, which he has settled (via Courthouse News), and has married South African filmmaker Melissa Cohen.
Hunter Biden has been accused of influence-peddling
Of all the ups and downs in Hunter Biden’s life, none has triggered as much controversy as his decision to join the board of Ukraine’s largest gas production company, Burisma Holdings. Business Insider said that the appointment came at a bad time for relations between the White House and Russia over Ukraine, and there was talk that Hunter Biden’s position represented a conflict of interest. Hunter’s position on Burisma indirectly triggered impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, because Trump was accused of cornering Ukraine officials to find out what the Bidens involvement was with the country.
The Senate Homeland Security Committee then launched an inquiry into Hunter Biden’s involvement in Burisma as “awkward” and “problematic,” but the committee found no evidence to support that U.S. policy was influenced by it. Utah Senator Mitt Romney even criticized the probe as “a political exercise.” And while the committee did suggest that Hunter had benefitted from his family connections through dealings with external interests in Ukraine and China — the BBC points out, the situation is not unusual in Washington.
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