As Hunter Biden Stands Trial, a Republican Noise Machine Goes Silent

As Hunter Biden Stands Trial, a Republican Noise Machine Goes Silent

For nearly four years, Republicans have delved into the darkest corners of Hunter Biden’s life, seeking to tie his troubles to his father, President Biden. But as the younger Biden stands trial in Delaware on gun charges, the case’s glaring political contradictions have rendered the G.O.P. largely mute, from former President Donald J. Trump on down.

It stands to reason: The baseless claim that the Biden Justice Department is running a political persecution of Mr. Trump is somewhat undermined by the department’s prosecution of the president’s son. It is also hard to make much of allegations that Hunter Biden lied about his drug use to purchase a handgun when your party is sponsoring legislation to ease gun-purchasing restrictions for veterans struggling with mental illness, not to mention the case before the Supreme Court that could allow domestic abusers to buy firearms.

So beyond the professional provocateurs in Washington and the right-wing media, Republicans have decided to say as little as possible.

“I wouldn’t read too much into a lot of people not talking about it right now,” cautioned Representative Kelly Armstrong, Republican of North Dakota, and a leader of the House investigation of Hunter Biden. “There’s been a lot of other things that have come up in the last three days. We’ll see what it looks like by the end of the week.”

Among those “other things” that Mr. Armstrong was referring to were the 34 felony counts that the party’s presumptive presidential nominee was found guilty of last week.

And while the Manhattan jury that convicted Mr. Trump of approving fraudulent business records to cover up hush-money payments to a porn star was empaneled by a state court and the prosecutors in the case worked for the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, Republicans have insisted — wrongly — that the Biden Justice Department coordinated the entire case, which makes the department’s prosecution of Hunter Biden politically inconvenient.

On Tuesday, when the House Judiciary Committee’s Republican majority convened a hearing on how the “D.O.J. has become politicized and weaponized under the leadership of Attorney General Merrick Garland,” practically the only mentions of Hunter Biden came from Democrats, such as Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee, who asked Mr. Garland if his department had indicted Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas. The answer was yes.

“So you’ve prosecuted Democrats, and as we speak, Hunter Biden, the son of the president, is under trial in Delaware,” Mr. Cohen said, adding for good measure that the department had declined to indict a Republican member of the committee, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, after investigating him for sex trafficking.

“Mr. Gaetz is living evidence that you have not weaponized the Justice Department,” Mr. Cohen said. (Mr. Gaetz was not in the room at the time.)

Perhaps the only mention of the president’s son by a Republican at the lengthy hearing came from Representative Ben Cline of Virginia, who asked whether Mr. Garland had spoken to Hunter Biden at a state dinner for Kenya’s president last month.

“I have never spoken to Hunter Biden in my life,” Mr. Garland responded.

Then there is the charge that Hunter Biden faces — lying about drug use on a federal background check to purchase a gun — and its clash with the gun rights absolutism in the G.O.P. On Tuesday night, the House narrowly passed a measure that would remove military veterans who had been reported to the F.B.I. for mental health concerns from the national gun background check system.

“I’m encouraged to see Congress refusing to turn a blind eye to the 260,000 veterans who have been wrongfully submitted to the F.B.I.’s corrupt system,” declared Representative Eli Crane, Republican of Arizona and the amendment’s sponsor.

But that “corrupt system” is the same one that Hunter Biden is accused of subverting on federal forms as he sought to purchase a gun.

Gun rights organizations have tied themselves in knots over the case, trying to reconcile their political efforts to defeat President Biden with their attacks on the instant check system.

“Gun Owners of America believes that the gun control Hunter Biden violated is unconstitutional and Forms 4473 shouldn’t even exist,” said Erich Pratt, the group’s senior vice president. “However, so long as these infringements remain on the books, Hunter Biden deserves no special treatment from the D.O.J.”

Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said, “The N.R.A. is a determined advocate for Second Amendment rights for every law-abiding American, but we draw the line with criminal behavior.”

Democrats have had no problem pointing out the contradictions.

Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, which has spent nearly two years investigating Hunter Biden, was almost sympathetic. The prosecutor in the case is an appointee of the Trump Justice Department, he noted. The judge was also nominated by Mr. Trump.

“The very existence of the Hunter Biden prosecution and trial debunk pretty much everything they’ve been saying about the Trump prosecution and trial,” he said.

And, Mr. Raskin added, “if anybody else in America was charged with lying on a federal form to get a handgun, the entire Republican apparatus would be mobilized to charge that his Second Amendment rights were being violated.”

Mr. Armstrong said the circle actually could be squared. A year ago, he noted, Hunter Biden agreed with the Justice Department to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and accept terms that would allow him to avoid prosecution on a separate gun charge, a deal that could have made the case go away without jail time. But the Trump-appointed judge in the case, Maryellen Noreika, objected, and the plea deal collapsed.

“I firmly believe they would have been happier if that plea deal would have been accepted — it just wasn’t,” Mr. Armstrong said. “But the D.O.J. wasn’t part of that. A federal judge said no.”

Still, campaign strategists from both parties said this week that their candidates should leave the Hunter Biden case alone. Republicans said they were watching the courtroom in Delaware to see if the defendant’s father came up. Otherwise, they said, candidates should stick to the issues the party is winning on: the economy and the border.

The Trump campaign held a call with the news media on Tuesday to castigate President Biden’s executive order shutting the border to amnesty seekers. The former president released a slew of videos on subjects including a promise that a Wall Street Journal reporter imprisoned in Russia would be released if he were elected and an embrace of mail-in ballots. Neither Hunter Biden nor any other member of the “Biden crime family” came up.

Democrats have also been eager to focus on the issues that voters care about — and Hunter Biden is not one of them.

House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana on Tuesday at a CNBC forum was pressed on his assertion that the Manhattan court where Mr. Trump was convicted had been a “banana republic trial.” If so, he was asked, was the unfurling Hunter Biden case also a banana republic trial?

“Haven’t been able to watch any of that yet,” Mr. Johnson shrugged. “We’ll see. I hope not.”

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