By Jarrett Renshaw and Nandita Bose
(Reuters) – The appointment on Friday of a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden helped ensure that the criminal probe of the president’s son will cast a long shadow over his father’s reelection campaign.
Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss’ new role as special counsel, announced on Friday, may force President Joe Biden to deal with unpleasant headlines and distract him and his campaign when he would prefer to talk about the economy or signature legislation as he campaigns for the 2024 presidential election, according to senior Democrats.
“This will have a sizable impact on the re-elect. They run the risk of constantly getting knocked off message. Every time someone goes before a grand jury or is subpoenaed, the press will keep asking about it. Biden wants to talk economy, guns, national security and he’ll be less able to,” said a senior Democrat.
Democrats also fear that special counsel investigations could grow in scope.
“Special counsels always find things they don’t expect to find. (The probe of former President Bill) Clinton started as an investigation into a real estate deal he and Hillary did when he was governor and ended with Monica Lewinsky,” the senior Democrat said.
The Biden campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Hunter Biden in July pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to pay more than $100,000 in taxes owed on over $1.5 million in income in 2017 and 2018. He did not enter a plea in a separate case in which he is charged with unlawfully owning a firearm while using illegal drugs, which is a felony.
Top Democrats were hopeful a plea agreement between Hunter Biden and Weiss would have allowed the president to move past his son’s legal troubles and relegate the issue to Republican-led congressional investigations.
But a federal judge refused to accept a proposed plea deal and Weiss said in a court filing on Friday that talks between the two sides have since broken down.
A potential trial raises the possibility of an unprecedented spectacle in U.S. history: The son of a sitting president facing criminal charges while his father campaigns for re-election, likely against Republican Donald Trump, who faces at least three upcoming criminal trials of his own.
Republicans have accused the elder Biden of profiting from his son’s business ventures in Ukraine and China, though they have yet to produce any evidence of wrongdoing. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy said in July that the chamber might launch an impeachment inquiry in the autumn.
Half of Americans believe Hunter Biden received preferential treatment from prosecutors who tried to reach a plea deal, a Reuters/Ipsos poll in June found before the plea deal fell apart. But most Americans said the Hunter Biden plea deal did not affect their likelihood of voting for Biden next year, the poll found.
(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw and Nandita Bose; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)