On Donald Trump (and Hunter Biden)
Houston, we have a problem
I’ve been wary of writing about Donald Trump’s indictments.
You know I don’t like the guy. My anger at him has already wrongfooted me once. The Stormy Daniels “hush money” case from Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg turned out to be a steaming pile of dung, a half-baked legal theory based on testimony of a convicted felon.
But what happened yesterday demands comment.
As you may have heard, federal prosecutors indicted Trump on seven charges related to his mishandling of classified documents. Or, as Trump likes to call it, the “Boxes Hoax.”
Normally, the legal process exists in a box of its own. The system goes to great lengths to divorce criminal cases from their broader context and determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant on specific charges. A trial is not an exercise in weighing character, much less a job interview.
(AND SPEAKING OF JOB INTERVIEWS… PLEASE HIRE ME!)
But this time the broader context cannot be ignored.
We are still 17 months from the 2024 election, but Trump has - at a minimum - a near-even chance of returning to the Oval Office.
The prediction markets give him only about a 30 percent chance, mainly because they give Ron DeSantis a solid chance of winning the Republican nomination. But ff Unreported Truths readers are any indication, the betting markets are overstating DeSantis’s chances. I feel no joy in writing that, but the facts are what they are.
(Weirdly, Trump’s louche personal life may actually help him against other Republicans in the post-Roe era. He named the Supreme Court justices who overturned abortion, but no one thinks he cares personally, and he didn’t sign any state bans.)
Assuming Trump takes DeSantis down, the markets think his chances of beating Biden are better now than they were in the 2020 race. Last month, a stunning poll showed Trump with a considerable lead over Biden.
(Hypothetical? It already happened once!)
Other polls have shown a closer race or have Biden ahead. But Trump obviously has far more than a puncher’s chance.
On the surface, his position seems astonishing, given the revulsion the January 6th mess provoked in almost everyone who wasn’t a hardcore Trump supporter.
Then again, Joe Biden hasn’t exactly had the best couple of years.
Inflation, trillion-dollar deficits, the hype and failure of the mRNAs, the hysterics around climate change, the collapse of the southern border, the low-grade anarchy in blue cities like San Francisco, the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan - those are just the specifics.
The bigger problem for Uncle Joe is the broad perception that he’s just a puppet on fraying strings, held up by the elite media and captive to the everything should be free, especially if someone else is paying for it wing of the Democratic Party.
(He’s fallen… and he can’t get up!)
The new federal indictment against Trump remains sealed for now.
But it is surely much stronger than Alvin Bragg’s embarrassment in New York. (It can’t be weaker, unless it’s just “BAD TRUMP BAD GO JAIL” scrawled in crayon on construction paper.)
Nonetheless, we already know the new charges overlap with the Manhattan indictment in the most crucial way: Trump is accused of committing crimes of process, not substance.
No one is claiming Trump handed war plans to Russia or Iran, or had any intention of doing so. He appears to be accused, essentially, of refusing to respect the fact that the government owned some documents he wanted to keep, then coming up with a dumb excuse to refuse to give them back.
Viewed another way: Trump appears to be accused of pretending he was still president.
Which makes the fact that he has a good chance of being president again a big problem. Maybe not for the case - because, again, the case is supposed to exist in a vacuum - but for the country.
Then there’s Hunter.
As much as the media would like to pretend otherwise, Hunter Biden is not a minor figure. He is the son of the President of the United States. The two men are very close.
And the questions about Hunter’s conduct cannot be waved away. Strong evidence has emerged that when Joe Biden was vice president, Hunter tried to sell access to him to foreign companies - including one essentially controlled by the Chinese government.
Maybe those deals were (barely) legal, maybe they weren’t.
But the issues around Hunter hardly end there.
Hunter has lived on the fringes of the law for much of his adult life. For years, he had two very expensive habits, cocaine and prostitutes.
Thus he needed money and didn’t worry too much where it came from. Lately he’s been selling “art” - art that looks like it came from a Pinot’s Palette paint-and-sip class - to anonymous “collectors” for five- and six-figure prices.
Is it money laundering if the money doesn’t even get clean?
(Now this should be an indictable offense. Against taste.)
Along the way, Hunter cheated on his taxes. I feel confident using the word cheated, because when he was caught he didn’t fight but instead paid what he owed.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service have been investigating Hunter for almost a half-decade now, long before Donald Trump even took anything classified to Mar-a-Lago.
The details of what the investigation have revealed are well known, and the case appears strong - at least as strong as the case against Trump. None other than the Washington Post - not exactly Newsmax - reported that the agents on the case believe Biden should be prosecuted:
Federal agents see chargeable tax, gun-purchase case against Hunter Biden
That story ran in October 2022. Eight months ago. So what’s the holdup? And these are not process crimes. They’re substantive. Failing to pay your taxes is stealing from the government - and everyone who does pay. Lying about your drug history to buy a firearm is illegal because as a society we’ve decided we don’t want cokeheads to be able to walk into gun stores and walk out strapped.
To me, anyway, both those crimes look far more serious than what Trump is accused of doing (though, again, we cannot be sure until the federal indictment is unsealed next week).
So when Donald Trump and Republicans complain about the weaponization of the justice system against him… it’s hard not to feel like they have a point.
Like it or not, Trump’s conduct cannot be judged in a vacuum this time, no matter how much Jack Smith, the special counsel leading the federal investigation into him, wishes it were.
In the absence of a crime of substance - that is, actual espionage - Smith might have been better off standing down. He could have presented the facts he’s found and reported he believed he had a viable criminal case but that given Trump’s position as the top challenger to his ultimate boss, he would let voters decide what to do.
Because they will in any case.
Some questions can’t be answered at trial.