The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has escalated its investigation into President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, naming a special counsel amid allegations that he engaged in illicit business deals overseas.
Attorney-General Merrick Garland appointed Delaware federal prosecutor David Weiss, who recently investigated Hunter Biden on tax and gun charges in a case that remains open.
Weiss, who opened his probe in 2019, recently revealed that he was investigating Biden along other lines, and Garland said Weiss had requested special counsel status to be able to pursue his probe more widely.
“Upon considering his request, as well as the extraordinary circumstances relating to this matter, I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint him as special counsel,” Garland said.
Weiss was originally appointed to his position as US Attorney for Delaware by then-president Donald Trump. He was allowed to stay on during the Biden administration.
Hunter Biden has come under investigation in Congress over business deals he did in China, Ukraine and elsewhere during and after his father’s 2009-2017 term as vice-president.
A former business associate told Congress recently that Hunter had gotten his father involved in telephone calls with his foreign partners several times.
Republicans allege Joe Biden used his political position to help his son – a claim the president denies – and have threatened an impeachment inquiry into unproven claims that Biden benefited from his son’s business ventures.
The move comes as Joe Biden is running for re-election, possibly in a rematch with Trump, himself accused of felony crimes in the investigation by another Justice Department special counsel, Jack Smith.
Garland gave no hint on the subject matter of Weiss’s expanded probe, saying that his elevation to special counsel “reaffirms” the independence and authority of his investigation.
Weiss will produce a report when his work is done, Garland said, and the Justice Department will make as much of it public as is possible.
“The appointment of Mr. Weiss reinforces for the American people the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters,” Garland said.
He did not take questions at the press conference.
Last month, the 53-year-old Hunter aborted a plea deal with Weiss over gun and tax charges after a judge pointed out inconsistencies in the agreement.
The deal would have seen Biden avoid prison: he would have been sentenced to probation on two tax avoidance counts, and be forced into a counselling and rehabilitation programme for the firearms charge.
However, the deal fell apart after Judge Maryellen Noreika queried why the gun charge was included in a tax case, and whether the agreement protected Biden from charges that might arise from a wider investigation of his business dealings.
Biden then entered a not guilty plea, and the two sides were expected to work out a new agreement.
However, in a filing in Delaware court yesterday, Weiss said those talks had reached an impasse and withdrew the offer of a plea deal.
Instead, he indicated that the tax charges could be expanded to other venues.
There was no comment from the White House on Weiss’s elevation to special counsel.
In a social media post, a Trump spokesperson alleged that the Biden family had been “protected by the Justice Department for decades”.
“There is overwhelming evidence and credible testimony detailing their wrongdoing of lying to the American people and selling out the country to foreign enemies for the Biden Cartel’s own financial gain,” the spokesperson said, without offering evidence.
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy indicated that the Congressional probe of Hunter Biden will continue.
“This action by Biden’s DOJ cannot be used to obstruct congressional investigations or whitewash the Biden family corruption,” he said on social media.
A June Reuters/Ipsos poll found half of Americans – 75% of Republicans and 33% of Democrats – believed the younger Biden received preferential treatment from Weiss.
However, most said that would not affect their vote next year.