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Hunter Biden conviction shatters Trump’s persecution narrative


Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

(CNN) — An unprecedented two weeks of legal drama that yielded historic convictions of a former president and a sitting president’s son have also produced a clear political takeaway.

The survival of the rule of law in America and untainted justice may depend on the choice voters make in November.

The country’s divergent possible paths under President Joe Biden or presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump were highlighted in the way both men, their families and their political operations reacted to the twin trials and verdicts.

Biden made no effort to interfere in the prosecution of his son Hunter with either his executive authority or with the media megaphone of his office. He allowed his own Justice Department to secure a guilty verdict Tuesday that could result in jail time for the recovering addict and hurt his own 2024 campaign. “I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal,” the president said after the jury found his son guilty of lying on a federal background check form and possessing a gun while addicted to, or using, illegal drugs. He has already said he won’t pardon his son. In his first reaction to the verdict, Hunter Biden didn’t attack the judge or prosecutors, simply saying he was grateful for the love and support of his family and blessed to be clean again.

The Bidens’ comportment contrasted with Trump’s reaction to his own trial and conviction nearly two weeks ago in his hush money case. The ex-president lashed out at witnesses, prosecutors, jurors and the judge. He claimed that “this was done by (the) Biden administration in order to wound or hurt a political opponent.” He blasted “a rigged decision,” despite the fact the Justice Department was not involved in the case brought by the Manhattan district attorney. Since then, Trump has been warning he’d use presidential powers to punish his political opponents and bend the legal system to his will.

“Sometimes revenge can be justified,” Trump told TV psychologist Phil McGraw last week. “I have to be honest. You know, sometimes it can.” The former president told Fox News last week, “I would have every right to go after them,” referring to the Bidens.

Two Trump claims discredited by Hunter Biden verdict

Throughout his trial in Manhattan, his former hometown, Trump, insisted he couldn’t get a fair verdict in a city that votes mostly Democratic. But Delaware is a blue state — and a jury there just convicted the president’s son. One juror told CNN Tuesday that politics never came up in the deliberations. Jurors in Trump’s trial have yet to speak, perhaps because of fears they could be identified following the ex-president’s intimidation tactics.

Had Biden been acquitted, Republicans would surely have argued that a biased jury in a state where everyone seems to know the first family had proven their point. But the guilty verdict blew another of their political arguments out of the water.

Joe Biden came to office pledging to restore the independence of the Justice Department following Trump’s repeated efforts to employ its legal and investigative powers almost as a personal law firm during his term. But the former president has left no doubt that he’d do the same and more if he wins back the White House in November and would ignore the DOJ’s core mission statement of enforcing the law with “independence and Impartiality.” Trump has already vowed to prosecute Biden and his family and to “obliterate” what he calls the “Deep State.” Several outside groups have drawn up plans to help him.

The Hunter Biden verdict also contradicted the central rationale of Trump’s multiple legal defenses in his four criminal cases, several civil matters and his entire presidential campaign. This is the false notion that he is a victim of a weaponized legal system by a Justice Department that exclusively targets Republicans.

“So much for the weaponization of the Justice Department to go after just the enemies of the other side,” Michael Zeldin, a former senior Justice Department official and federal prosecutor, said on CNN Max on Tuesday. “This is testament to the fact the Justice Department under (Attorney General Merrick) Garland is trying its very best to steer straight down the middle as it should and bring people to trial that it thinks are worthy of prosecution.”

The notion of Justice Department neutrality was bolstered by post-trial comments from David Weiss, the Trump-appointed US attorney in Delaware whom Garland elevated to special counsel to avoid the impression of political bias. Weiss thanked the attorney general for allowing him to act independently. And, he added, in a coda to two fraught weeks that have dragged the justice system into toxic political waters, that “no one in this country is above the law. Everyone must be accountable for their actions, even this defendant.” However, Weiss added: “Hunter Biden should be no more accountable than any other citizen convicted of this same conduct.”

Ken Buck, a former Republican member of Congress, told CNN’s Erin Burnett that Joe Biden had handled the painful matter of his son’s trial and conviction appropriately. “(He did) a great job in trying to stay above the fray and recognizing that his Justice Department was in a very difficult position. People look at this case and realize it was done in an independent and fair way.”

Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University history professor and CNN political analyst, said the criminal convictions of Trump and Hunter Biden reflected the huge stakes in November’s election. “Not only is (Joe Biden) saying, the decision is also one that comes from the courts, he’s not saying he’s going to use presidential power to somehow issue a pardon. And you contrast that with the former president who’s attacked the legal system. He’s questioned its legitimacy.” Zelizer added: “Voters will have to make a choice. What kind of response do they want? And what kind of person do they want in the Oval Office come January of 2025?”

The idea that the Justice Department is only going after Republicans is not just belied by the Hunter Biden conviction in the gun case and a looming tax trial that awaits him in September. Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey is on trial in New York for bribery and corruption. The Justice Department in May indicted another well-known Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, and his wife for allegedly accepting around $600,000 from Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil firm and a Mexican bank in exchange for official acts as a member of Congress. Both Democrats have maintained their innocence.

Nevertheless, House Republicans are scheduled to hold a vote on Wednesday on holding Garland in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the audio recordings of President Biden’s interviews with former special counsel Robert Hur. Biden has asserted executive privilege over the files.

The truth is unlikely to change the GOP Biden narrative

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin highlighted the contrast between Trump and Biden. “The Republicans are attacking our entire system of justice and the rule of law because they don’t like the way one case came out. Whereas the son of the president of the United States is prosecuted and I don’t hear a single Democrat crying foul,” the Maryland Democrat said.

Yet one lesson of the Trump-era is that the truth rarely matters. The revealing of inconvenient facts never penetrates the echo chamber that dominates Republican politics and conservative media. So rather than being chastened by the collapse of the Trump persecution narrative and the successful application of the rule of law in a criminal trial, Trump supporters in Congress merely used the Biden verdict to conjure a new round of falsehoods and conspiracy theories.

House Oversight Chairman James Comer said the Delaware trial was “a step toward accountability.” But the Kentucky Republican warned that Justice Department officials were continuing to “cover for the Big Guy, Joe Biden.” Comer repeated accusations that the president had profited from his son’s ethically questionable business operations in Ukraine and China while his father was vice president despite the failure of his committee and the House GOP impeachment probe to find any such evidence.

House Speaker Mike Johnson took a similar approach. “We will continue to demand accountability for the corrupt business dealings of the Biden family,” said the Louisiana Republican, a firm supporter of Trump despite the ex-president’s loss in a recent civil case that found that he, his adult sons and his organization had committed massive insurance and banking fraud. Stephen Miller, Trump’s former White House domestic policy adviser, argued that the Justice Department had actually shown favoritism toward Hunter Biden by not charging him with 50 felonies over foreign influence peddling. The department should “tell him his only way out of life in prison is to testify against the BIG GUY,” Miller said on X.

Some of the GOP reaction to Biden becoming a convicted felon was bizarre. One of Trump’s most fervent supporters, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, baselessly suggested on X that a verdict produced by a jury of his peers was some kind of elaborate plot. “Hunter Biden just became the Deep State’s sacrificial lamb to show that Justice is ‘balanced’ while the other Biden crimes remain ignored,” she wrote on X.

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