If you care about clean government and honest candidates, Hunter Biden probably bothers you. Joe Biden’s son obviously is or was a troubled person who cashed in on the family name to rake in millions of dollars from Ukrainian, Chinese and other interests. Nobody would have paid Hunter Biden that money if his father wasn’t vice president at the time.
By the same standard, you should be outraged beyond words at the rampant corruption in Donald Trump’s orbit. The House of Representatives impeached Trump for abusing his power for political gain. The Mueller investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaigns activities highlighted two likely campaign-finance felonies and numerous instances of Trump trying to obstruct justice as president. Watchdog groups have identified 3,400 conflicts of interest in which Trump, family members, and cronies may be profiting from Trump’s role as president.
Some disgusted voters shrug it all off, saying, “they’re all corrupt.” This is intellectually lazy, and wrong. Scale matters, and comparing Biden’s corruption to Trump’s is like comparing a piece of litter to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. If Biden is an itch, Trump is gangrene. A puddle can only splash you, but a flood can drown you.
A blot on Biden’s record
Let’s make the worst possible ethical case against Biden. He withdrew from the 1988 presidential race after plagiarizing other politicians in speeches and overstating his accomplishments. Several women have complained that Biden is too handsy and made them feel deeply uncomfortable. Then there’s the disturbing but strange allegation of Tara Reade, a former Senate aide who says Biden sexually assaulted her in a Senate hallway in 1993. Biden denies it and dozens of aides say the charge rings false. There are also questions regarding Reade’s credibility.
Hunter Biden’s role as a director at the Ukrainian energy company Burisma is undoubtedly a blot on Joe Biden’s record. Burisma paid Hunter Biden millions of dollars from 2014 to 2019 to do little except be a “Biden” on the executive roster. This was a conflict of interest, since Biden as vice president oversaw Ukraine policy. But it wasn’t a crime, and there’s no evidence Hunter Biden had any influence over his father’s activities regarding Ukraine, or U.S. policy.
That Ukrainian prosecutor Biden got fired? The rabid right claims Biden did that to protect his son’s company from prosecution. The opposite is closer to the truth. The entire western world viewed the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, as a corrupt kleptocrat who wouldn’t investigate anybody. The International Monetary Fund was reluctant to lend Ukraine money with Shokin in a job equivalent to the U.S. attorney general, fearing the money would end up in politicians’ pockets. Under unified western pressure, the Ukrainian government did fire Shokin in 2016—widely regarded as a step forward for the struggling former Soviet republic.
Senate Republicans investigated Burisma and the Bidens, with an eye toward tripping up Joe Biden in the final weeks of the 2020 election. Their report, released Sept. 23, turned out to be a gigantic nothingburger that—all together now—found no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden.
Hunter Biden also helped run a consulting firm that got paid for work in China and other countries. It’s not clear how much Hunter Biden earned from any of this, but again, there’s no evidence this influenced Joe Biden in any way, and it’s not much different from hundreds of other influence-peddling firms connected with top officials in both the Republican and Democratic parties.
There could be lesser Biden infractions, but the sum total of his questionable behavior in a 47-year political career can be summed up in a few paragraphs. And this is under the continual scrutiny of national media and good-government watchdogs, without the ability to hide behind an LLC or a dark-money super PAC.
Trump? There are already volumes enumerating his ethical violations and probable criminality. Among the 3,403 potential Trump conflicts of interest tracked by the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, at least 600 include Trump and other politicians traveling to Trump properties at taxpayer expense. There are hundreds of other instances of foreign officials and special-interest groups spending money at Trump properties. Trump tried to get the UK to hold the British Open at his Turnberry resort in Scotland, and the G-7 to hold one of its annual meetings at his Doral resort in Florida.
Investigators from New York City and New York state, where Trump lived before moving his official residence to Florida, are probing Trump’s company for tax fraud. Two hush-money payments to porn stars in 2016—for which Trump signed the checks—were probably campaign-finance felonies. Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, went to prison in 2018 for tax and bank fraud. While running the Trump campaign, he communicated with a Russian agent named Konstantin Kilimnik, constituting a “grave counterintelligence threat,” according to a Senate investigation. In August, prosecutors charged Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, with fraud and money laundering for an alleged scheme seeking private contributions to help build Trump’s border wall.
National security officials believe Russia has targeted Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as a tool they can feed bogus information to, and influence Trump’s thinking or behavior. Giuliani is known to consort with a Ukrainian lawmaker named Andriy Derkach, who’s most likely a Russian agent. Giuliani was the middleman who gave computer files that supposedly came from a Hunter Biden laptop to the New York Post, for a recent “expose” on Hunter Biden. That story begins with the fable of Joe Biden getting Viktor Shokin fired so the prosecutor wouldn’t investigate Burisma. It’s hard to prove the Post story is a Russian plant, but it reads like one.
Trump has been oddly solicitous of Russia, repeatedly praising its strongman president, Vladimir Putin, and refusing to criticize Russia for placing bounties on the heads of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan. It’s unprecedented for a U.S. president to refuse to stick up for American service members targeted by a 60-year superpower rival. There’s more. Much more. And of course Trump refuses to release tax or financial records, as Biden has, suggesting he’s got a lot to hide.
There’s no equivalence between Biden’s mistakes and Trump’s mendacity. Any voter who says they’re both equally depraved is completely copping out to rationalize a vote for Trump. It would be more honest to say you can tolerate Trump’s corruption because you support his position on abortion or taxes or some other issue. Or maybe just say you approve of Trump’s corruption, if you do. But don’t say both 2020 candidates are corrupt to justify your support for the one who is king of corruption.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: email@example.com. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.