Most of the media is ignoring the emails found in Hunter Biden’s laptop, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t news. Joe Biden has an obligation to answer questions about his son’s influence-peddling and his own financial dealings—notably regarding China.
The New York Post last week obtainedthe contents of a laptop purported to belong to Hunter. The Post has been transparent that it obtained its copy of the hard drive from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who says he received it from the owner of a Delaware computer-repair shop, where it was abandoned in 2019. Mr. Biden derides this as a “smear campaign,” while House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff calls it without evidence “Russian disinformation.”
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Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe says the government has no intelligence to support the disinformation claim. A repair-shop order from April 2019 contains Hunter’s name and what appears to be his signature. The shop owner supplied a subpoena showing the computer and hard drive were seized by the FBI in December 2019. And the Biden campaign hasn’t said the emails are phony.
The emails regarding Hunter’s business in Ukraine have been widely reported. But as intriguing is a May 2017 email thread that includes a discussion about “remuneration packages” for six people as part of a business deal with a now-defunct Chinese energy titan, CEFC China Energy. The Chinese company was international news a few years ago, after the U.S. government charged a CEFC-funded organization with money laundering, and its CEO was detained by Chinese authorities. CNN reported in 2018 that “at its height” CEFC was “hard to distinguish” from the Chinese government.
According to the emails, both Bidens were in line in 2017 to benefit from a deal with CEFC. One email appears to identify Hunter Biden as “Chair/Vice Chair depending on agreement with CEFC.” It also refers to financial payments in terms of “20” for “H” and “10 held by H for the big guy?”
Fox News says it has confirmed the veracity of the email with one of its recipients and that sources say the “big guy” is Joe Biden. An August 2017 email from “Robert Biden” (Hunter’s legal first name) crows that the original deal was for $10 million a year in fees, but that it had since become “much more interesting to me and my family” because it included a share of “the equity and profits.” The Biden campaign says the Veep’s tax returns don’t show any involvement with Chinese investments.
The Democratic-media refrain is that even if these latest emails are real—again, the Bidens don’t deny their authenticity—they fail to prove Mr. Biden broke any law. But felonies aren’t the minimum standard for political behavior. Mr. Biden was a private citizen in 2017 but was considering a presidential run. A transaction that would have made him—or his son—partners with an entity tied to the Chinese government raises questions about judgment and how he would handle China as President.
Joe Biden ought to clear the air on this China business in his own political interest. Is he the “big guy” in the email? What happened with the deal? China will be one of Mr. Biden’s toughest foreign-policy challenges, and the unexplained documents won’t go away once he’s elected. If Republicans hold the Senate, you can bet there will be more digging.
President Trump, as usual, is muddying the story with inappropriate demands that the Department of Justice investigate a potential crime. But the real burden here should be on Mr. Biden and the press. Perhaps Joe Biden wasn’t involved, and Hunter was using his father’s name to advance his own business interests. But it’s also possible that Joe Biden was aware of the CEFC business and was unwilling to tell his son that he couldn’t trade on his father’s name and position.
Whatever the truth, the public deserves better than Mr. Biden’s Trump-like dismissal of the CBS reporter who so far is the only one brave enough to ask about the emails.
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Appeared in the October 21, 2020, print edition.