With President-elect Joe Biden set to take office next month, right-wing media are already lining up behind a Republican push to hobble the next administration with investigations of his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings. But mainstream media outlets need to be careful about falling into the rhetorical traps of Trump allies — and be especially aware of the double standards at play here, when it comes to an outgoing presidential family that just profited heavily from its time in the White House.
Republicans keep calling for a Hunter Biden investigation — after they already did one
Fox News ran an online article on Thursday titled “Media continues to downplay, ignore Hunter Biden scandal as GOP lawmakers call for special counsel,” complaining that the subject had not received enough coverage on the mainstream network newscasts. The real problem, however, is the subject is still being given too much credibility by mainstream outlets — while the Trump family’s own glaring hypocrisy over family business dealings was allowed to go on these past four years.
Bloomberg, for example, reported Wednesday on Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) statement to reporters: “I am absolutely calling on a special counsel to look at all things Hunter Biden to see if he presents a conflict for the Biden administration regarding his business dealings in Ukraine, which is overrun with Russian agents, and any activity he had with the Chinese government.”
While the Bloomberg article noted, “The Bidens have repeatedly insisted no wrongdoing was committed,” a key piece of context was missing: Senate Republicans already conducted a much-hyped investigation of Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine, which co-author Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) openly declared “would certainly help Donald Trump win reelection.”
However, Politico noted on its release that the report “repackages old claims” and “largely relies on previously known information,” while The Washington Post said the report failed to demonstrate that Hunter Biden’s position influenced the Obama administration’s policy toward Ukraine.
Special counsels as a “both sides” issue
The Hill also tweeted a video clip of Graham on Wednesday, in which he said, in which he essentially turned the idea of investigating Biden’s son into a counterpart to the investigations of Trump that stemmed from the 2016 election — as if special counsel investigations were a matter of political equal time:
Conflicts of interest? Trump has got that.
On Wednesday, Newsweek posted a guest column by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) “calling for a special counsel to be assigned to the Hunter Biden case so investigations will be allowed to continue, impartially and without interference from the new administration.” The piece kicks off by quoting State Department official George Kent’s concerns that Hunter Biden’s business dealings had made it “very awkward” for U.S. officials.
“‘Awkward’ is one word for Biden's business dealings in Ukraine,” Cotton and Buck write. “‘Corrupt’ would be another.”
The problem with that characterization, however, is that while Kent was indeed concerned about the potential appearance of a conflict of interest, he told the House Intelligence Committee during Trump’s impeachment hearings in November 2019 that there was no evidence “whatsoever” that Joe Biden had done anything corrupt.
The Trump family’s business dealings, meanwhile, also present at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. Former national security adviser John Bolton has stated his belief that Trump’s foreign policy dealings are motivated by business, citing as one example his friendly relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan while the Trump name is used on a building in Istanbul. Eyebrows have also been raised at first daughter Ivanka Trump gaining approval for trademarks in China, as well as Trump’s lifting of sanctions against Chinese telecommunications company ZTE.
In addition, a report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington notes that Trump “has amassed more than 3,500 conflicts of interest through his businesses,” including at least 150 foreign government officials who have made visits to Trump properties, “most commonly visiting the Trump hotel in Washington.” The report explains that “the number is almost certainly higher, leaving out instances that didn’t show up on social media or went unreported.”
During the impeachment investigation last year, while Trump’s adult sons were publicly attacking Hunter Biden for his business dealings, GQ rounded up activities by Trump’s family to advance their own business interests both at home and abroad.
During their father’s tenure as president, Eric and Donald Trump Jr. have repeatedly managed to cash in on their newfound positions of political privilege in their business dealings. So, too, have their sister Ivanka and brother-in-law Jared Kushner, both of whom hold senior positions in the administration and whose companies and investment portfolios netted them anywhere between $29 million and $135 million last year, per their financial disclosure forms.
Forbes also reported in 2019 on Eric and Donald Trump Jr. building up cash by selling off Trump properties — with sales totaling more than $100 million — including to buyers who themselves clearly deal in international influence:
In the Dominican Republic, the younger Trumps sold a piece of land in January 2018 for $3.2 million. It was the clearest violation of their father’s pledge to do no new foreign deals while in office. (The Trump Organization would not comment for this story.) In other cases, they’ve done business with wannabe influencers who seemingly recognized an opportunity to line the president’s pockets. They sold Trump’s mansion in Beverly Hills for $13.5 million to a company tied to Indonesian billionaire (and Trump business partner) Hary Tanoesoedibjo. They off-loaded a Manhattan penthouse to a woman who runs a business selling access to Chinese officials.
The Washington Post also reported this year on the Trump family bringing federal money to Trump properties via their visits, totaling $1.2 million in government payments. Most of it came from visits by the president himself, but the figure also included $151,000 from visits by Eric Trump and his wife Lara, $42,000 via Ivanka Trump, and $29,000 via Donald Trump Jr.
After four years of gaslighting from the Trump White House, mainstream media outlets should recognize the double standards at play in Republicans’ latest line of attack against the incoming administration.