While no final decision has been made on whether to bring charges against President Joe Biden’s son, sources say the probe has intensified in recent months along with discussions among Delaware-based prosecutors, investigators running the probe and officials at Justice Department headquarters.
The investigation of the President’s son has loomed large among the politically fraught issues Merrick Garland faces as attorney general. Weiss is one of a handful of appointees of former President Donald Trump who were kept on by the Biden administration because they were overseeing politically sensitive investigations.
Also potentially in play are Justice Department guidelines governing politically sensitive investigations during an election year. Current and former Justice Department officials say there is an unwritten rule that prosecutors avoid bringing politically sensitive cases within 60 days of an election.
Some current and former Justice officials have debated whether the rules necessarily apply in this instance since Joe Biden isn’t on the ballot in the midterms.
A lawyer for Hunter Biden declined to comment. The US Attorney’s Office in Delaware declined to comment.
Hunter Biden has not been charged with any crimes and has previously denied any wrongdoing. His father is not being investigated as part of the probe of his son’s business activities, according to sources who have been briefed.
Narrowing the focus
The Justice Department investigation initially focused on Hunter Biden’s financial and business activities in foreign countries dating to when Joe Biden was vice president. But investigators have examined a swath of broader conduct, including whether Hunter Biden and associates violated money laundering, campaign finance, tax and foreign lobbying laws, as well as whether Hunter Biden broke federal firearm and other regulations, multiple sources said.
As the investigation has entered its final stages, prosecutors have narrowed their focus to tax and gun-related charges, the people say.
Hunter Biden has publicly discussed his own substance abuse struggles, and some Justice officials questioned whether his open discussions of his past drug use could potentially weaken their case should they bring one.
Some officials have noted that Biden could argue he wasn’t aware of wrongdoing because he was on drugs, one source said. CNN has previously reported that some officials were concerned it could be a defense, but more recently, Justice officials have coalesced around the view that Biden’s own public accounts of his recovery show he was fully responsible for actions now under scrutiny, according to the person familiar with the discussions.
In the meetings, officials also discussed the timing of any possible indictment given the sensitivity of bringing a politically connected case close to an election, another person said.
Justice Department memoranda advise prosecutors against bringing any cases or taking any overt investigative steps with the purpose of impacting an election or providing an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate.
Garland issued a memo in May to prosecutors reiterating the department’s stance on election year sensitivities. The memo is one attorneys general send every election year, and generally advises prosecutors about avoiding making major investigative or charging decisions near an election to avoid the perception of partisan motives.
In both cases, prosecutors made their charging decisions with the elections in mind, people familiar with the cases said.
Trump Justice officials pushed back on a request by New York prosecutors to execute a search warrant on Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, during the months around the 2020 election. The Biden Justice Department later greenlit the search, which was approved by a federal judge.