The fourth Democratic primary debate offered yet another opportunity for former vice president Joe Biden to dodge questions about his son Hunter’s shady business activities. While his father was running the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy, Hunter was serving on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company, earning up to $50,000 per month despite zero experience in the energy sector.
In Tuesday night’s debate, when Anderson Cooper questioned Biden about the impropriety of this dynamic, Biden just repeated some variation of the refrain, “My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong.”
Biden’s awkward sidestep coincides with the release of Hunter’s first interview since his Ukraine dealings became a topic of public discussion. This past weekend, Hunter Biden sat down with Amy Robach of ABC News to answer questions related to accusations that he leveraged his father’s political clout to close international business deals and assume lucrative board positions abroad.
This Didn’t Help Hunter’s Credibility At All
While the interview offered Hunter Biden a chance to put the corruption accusations to rest in a more intimate setting, the face-to-face interaction ended up exposing that Hunter Biden has a genuine likeability and credibility problem. In short, the interview was a trainwreck.
The exchange between Robach and Biden came across as an awkward nod to the barrage of criticisms Hunter and his father have received over the past month. Indeed, it’s quite obvious that the purpose of the interview, conducted with a forced casualness in Hunter’s dimly lit kitchen, was to somehow ingratiate Hunter Biden to those skeptical of his integrity or personal character. By this metric, the interview was an abysmal failure.
It’s not that Hunter Biden emerged from the interview an entirely amoral figure. He offered a welcomed candidness in his answers, and it’s abundantly clear he loves his father. But after watching the published portions of the interview, there is little question that Hunter is comfortable with (at minimum) the crony capitalism that catapulted him to financial success, and he’s pretty bitter, approaching insolent, if you ask him about it.
Thus Hunter’s defense isn’t likeable or credible, and this shortcoming could pose serious problems for Joe Biden if the corruption accusations ever catch traction in the mainstream press. If Hunter carries himself publicly as he did in this interview, people will neither like him nor trust him—and that may spell trouble for Joe.
How Dare You Question Me about Using My Dad’s Position
By all accounts, this interview was a “softball” interview. The questions were probing, but admittedly predictable—there were virtually no surprises in Robach’s interrogation, making Hunter’s snide retorts that much more uncomfortable. Every time Hunter snapped at Robach, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Did he really not see that question coming?”
While Hunter’s initial posture seemed relaxed, he became increasingly agitated as Robach asked him pointed questions relating to his foreign business dealings. Robach quizzed Hunter on his board position at Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company that was being investigated by Ukraine’s general prosecutor when his father, then vice president, pressured the Ukrainian government to have the general prosecutor fired.
When Robach pointed out that Hunter had no experience in the natural gas sector or in Ukraine more generally, Biden snapped, “No, but I think that I had as much knowledge as anybody else that was on the board — if not more.” At another point, Robach quipped, “You were paid $50K per month for your position?” and Biden shot back, “Look, I’m a private citizen. One thing that I don’t have to do is sit here and open my kimono as it relates to how much money I make or make or did or didn’t.”
Hunter’s inability to contain his frustration became strikingly obvious. When Robach asked why he chose not to renew his board position at Burisma this past April, his response masked a sort of sarcastic condescension. “I think it’s pretty obvious why.” Robach, to her credit, remained unfazed. “This is your opportunity to say why.”
I’m Sorry This Looks Bad to Stupid People
Hunter failed to rise to the occasion when given the opportunity to appear composed and diplomatic. Robach’s invitation to explain his decision wasn’t confrontational in the slightest, but Hunter responded with crude indignation. “Well this is what becomes a distraction. Because I have to sit here and answer these questions. And so that’s why I’ve committed that I won’t serve on any boards or I won’t work directly for any foreign entities when my dad becomes president.” He’s staying away from foreign board positions because he’s being questioned about it, not necessarily because he sees the practice as indecorous.
In fact, Hunter says he does not regret being on the board of Burisma; instead, he regrets not anticipating that Donald Trump or Rudy Guiliani would be chasing “conspiracy” theories about his employment that he claims have been “completely debunked by everyone.” Later in the interview, he emphatically expresses no regret for allowing his Chinese business partner (and alleged “friend”) to shake hands with then-vice president Joe Biden when Hunter joined his father on a diplomatic trip to China in 2013.
His framing is damning because it shows he doesn’t reject what is at best crony capitalism—he just rejects the fact that it might be noticed and inferred to be corruption. Had this interview been exculpating, it would have resulted in Biden condemning both.
Not Giving Straight Answers
Hunter isn’t exactly honest in the interview, either. In relation to the 2013 China deal, Hunter remained mute about how private equity investments operate after Robach quizzed him about any potential financial gain he might have experienced. “Have you received any money from that [private equity] business dealing?” He responded that he hasn’t received “one cent” from the investment, but that answer is a misleading one, given Hunter still retains a stake in the firm, meaning future profits are possible. As noted in Wall Street Journal:
Hunter Biden owns 10% of the private-equity firm and the statement said he committed to invest $420,000 to acquire the stake. The statement said the younger Mr. Biden hadn’t received compensation for serving on the board of the China venture and hasn’t received any return on his investment.
The statement didn’t address how Hunter Biden intends to treat his 10% stake in the Shanghai-registered firm, which has invested mostly in China and is primarily owned by some of the country’s largest financial firms.
The one genuine moment of connection in the interview was when Hunter discussed his history with addiction. It was a raw and rare moment that audiences don’t often see in politics. For his openness and courage in that moment, Hunter should be saluted. But it was probably the only portion of the interview where Hunter did not come across as disingenuous.
There were other glimmers of honesty that might have endeared audiences to Hunter, but the statements still revolved on the behavior of Trump and others, rather than on Hunter’s, showcasing his inability to assume any sort of professional responsibility.
I Respect Any Political Position that Helps Me Make Moolah
He concedes that his business activities indicated “poor judgement,” but on the basis that they “gave a hook to some very unethical people to act in illegal ways to try to do some harm to [his] father.” He asserts, “That’s where I made the mistake, so I take full responsibility for that. Did I do anything improper? No, not in any way. Not in any way whatsoever.”
Hunter is entirely unrepentant, and he wants audiences to know it. Instead of the interview serving as the basis of Hunter Biden’s redemption tour, it painted a portrait of a discourteous man. There were moments that you almost felt sorry for him because it was quite obvious this interview, in all its pedestrian questioning, was dramatically over his head.
At the end, Hunter Biden began to tear up when discussing the office of the presidency, one he claims he had been taught to respect. I found that sentiment frankly hard to believe, given all of the business dealings he managed to shore up while his father was nestled in the executive branch—and without one ounce of regret.
The vast majority of his responses were cheap attempts to dismiss people’s very real concerns about corruption in Washington. Instead of validating those concerns and attempting to address them, Hunter feigned incredulity and then accused Trump of ginning them up. Indeed, if this unlikeable figure is at the center of the Ukraine probe, it may very well be a problem for Joe.