Investigation into Hunter Biden complicates already rocky road to 2024 election

Analysis: The legal woes of Donald Trump and Joe Biden's son loom large over the race for the White House

Democrats were already concerned about President Joe Biden's age and his leadership on the economy. AP
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President Joe Biden, who is gearing up for his 2024 re-election campaign, has already been contending with low approval ratings and doubts over whether he can handle a second term in office.

Now the 80-year-old President is facing another challenge: last week, a special counsel was appointed to investigate his son, Hunter Biden, over accusations that he participated in improper business dealings.

The President himself has not been implicated in the case, and this legal trouble, observers say, pales in comparison to the legal woes confronting his predecessor and likely rival, Donald Trump.

Mr Trump, 77, has been hit with four indictments and dozens of criminal charges involving allegations that he attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, mishandled classified documents and was involved in making hush-money payments to an adult film actress.

Still, the investigation into his son is an additional hurdle in an increasingly partisan and uncertain political climate for Mr Biden.

“We have these two tremendously flawed candidates that the bulk of the voters would rather not have, with the nominations in a stronger position than ever, running against each other,” John Freehery, a Republican strategist, told The National.

“This is historically unique.”

Only 24 per cent of Americans want Mr Biden to run again in the coming election, according to an Associated Press-Norc Centre for Public Affairs Research poll published on Thursday, and 53 per cent said they would definitely not support Mr Trump if he were the nominee.

But amid a deep partisan divide in American society, Mr Freehery said, the indictments against Mr Trump have boosted his popularity among Republican voters, while many Democrats believe that Mr Biden is the best candidate to take on his predecessor in a rematch.

“What we have with both candidates is a perception that these are partisan investigations and they don't seem to have an impact on either candidate because they're viewed in this partisan prism,” Mr Freehery said.

Fifty-three per cent of Americans said they approve of the Justice Department's decision to indict Mr Trump, according to the AP poll, while a Reuters poll in June found that half of Americans believe Mr Biden's son has received preferential treatment from prosecutors.

The appointment of a special counsel to investigate Mr Biden’s son has helped to shifted attention away from Mr Trump’s legal problems.

A plea deal under which Hunter Biden pleaded guilty to tax charges but avoided another charge related to possession of a weapon collapsed last month after a federal judge rejected it, leading to the appointment of special counsel David Weiss, a Trump-appointed US prosecutor in Delaware.

As a special counsel, Mr Weiss will be able to conduct a wider investigation than typical federal prosecutors.

Mr Weiss had previously charged Hunter Biden for failing to pay taxes in 2017 and 2018, as well as unlawful possession of a firearm.

In addition to the investigation into his son, Mr Biden is facing an uphill battle convincing voters that he has done a good job handling the economy, despite falling inflation rates and steady job growth.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll published earlier this month found that 42 per cent of those who voted for Mr Biden in 2020 said the economy was “worse” than it was when he took office.

There is also mounting scepticism over his age – he is the nation’s oldest ever president – as well as questions over his mental acuity.

An ABC poll conducted in May found that 68 per cent of Americans believe Mr Biden is too old for another term, while 44 per cent said the same about Mr Trump.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump – who has been charged in a plot to undermine democracy for his actions leading up the January 6 riots on the Capitol in 2021 – was indicted on Monday, along with 18 other allies, over alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 elections in Georgia, a state Mr Biden narrowly won.

It was his fourth indictment in five months. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Mr Trump, who remains the front-runner in a crowded field of Republican contenders in the 2024 race, has seized on the Hunter Biden case, referring frequently to the “Biden crime family”.

Republican members of Congress have been discussing the launch of an impeachment inquiry into Mr Biden over allegations of financial misconduct.

Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist, acknowledges that the economy and concerns over Mr Biden's age, are likely to cast a shadow over his campaign.

“We can't deny that his poll numbers are pretty low but none of it has to do with Hunter Biden,” he told The National.

“But the reality for Democrats is, this issue regarding Hunter Biden isn't going away anytime soon. Republicans have made that very clear.”

Updated: August 19, 2023, 10:00 AM