Joe Biden

Is Hunter Biden a Scapegoat or a Favored Son?

Author: Editors Desk, Katy Waldman Source: The New Yorker
June 12, 2024 at 09:04
Waldman Biden Trial
Waldman Biden Trial

The portrait that has cohered at his Wilmington trial is of a precious commodity, a man whom others conspire lovingly to shield.

Coming in by train to Wilmington, Delaware, one of the first things you see is a sign by the glass station doors welcoming you to Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Railroad Station. When I arrived, on Wednesday night, to attend part of Hunter Biden’s trial—he faces three criminal charges, for unlawfully buying and possessing a firearm while using crack cocaine, lying on a federal form, and lying to a federally licensed gun dealer—a tornado warning was in effect, and apocalyptic rain lashed the sides of the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building. In the morning, the sky had cleared; the air was wet yet full of warmth, and the streets of downtown Wilmington exuded a palpable, homey Bidenosity, a rough-around-the-edges charm. At the courthouse, President Biden’s beaming visage greets you in the foyer. The courtroom, on the fourth floor, is an unpretentious wood-panelled affair, with oil paintings and an unobtrusive seal behind the judge’s bench, and a yellowy glow filtering gently from the domed ceiling. The city, with its warts-and-all friendliness, has a small-town feel. The Bidens are its appealingly run-down royalty, who mingle with the commoners: a number of prospective jurors in the case were dismissed after they said that they couldn’t be impartial about Hunter, and one spoke of running into Joe and Jill Biden over the years.

The same coziness—now curdled—hung about several of the Delawareans called to testify. The prosecution’s marquee witness, Hallie Biden, the widow of Hunter’s brother Beau, met Beau in middle school. As Hunter writes in his memoir, “Beautiful Things,” Beau’s death, from brain cancer, in 2015 upended the family’s lives. Hunter, who’d already grappled with alcohol issues, became addicted to crack and sought out his sister-in-law for comfort. The two fell into a grief-stricken romance. Hallie was dear friends with Kathleen Buhle, Hunter’s first wife, to whom he was still married at the time; Buhle’s daughters—Hallie’s nieces—found evidence of the affair in 2017. The characters in the tragedy are uncomfortably close together, as in an awkward family photo, and the dynastic incestuousness of the situation lends it a gothic quality.


Hallie was brought in by the prosecutors to testify that Hunter had been in the throes of a crack-cocaine addiction in October, 2018, the month he bought the gun. She may have been the person closest to the defendant at that time; a flurry of contemporaneous texts she’d sent him was introduced as evidence of his battle with drugs. Dressed conservatively in black pants and a white blouse, Hallie watched as her private anguish was projected onto a giant screen. She had remarried the weekend before the trial, and she fidgeted nervously with the conspicuous sparkle on her ring finger. “You ok? Where r u,” she’d written Hunter, on October 13, 2018. On October 15th, she wrote, “I just want to help you get sober, nothing I do or you do is working. I’m sorry.” On October 23rd, she pleaded, “I just want you safe.” On November 8th, she urged him to return to the house and begin treatment: “Come home and talk with the kids,” she implored. “Let’s tell your family and your kids the plan and let’s stick to it.”

Speaking softly, Hallie described discovering Hunter’s gun in his truck, on the morning of October 23rd. She’d been trying to get in touch with him for weeks, she claimed, when he staggered into the house early in the morning and went to bed. After dropping her kids off at school, she returned home to perform a familiar ritual, one also recounted by Buhle when she took the stand: that of searching her partner’s car for drugs. Ms. Biden found the Colt .38, in a box with a broken lock, amid crack remnants and other paraphernalia strewn around the car. Horrified, she grabbed a purple gift bag from the house, placed the gun inside, drove two minutes to an upscale supermarket called Janssen’s, and tossed the package into a garbage receptacle outside.

“I realize it was a stupid idea now, but I was just so panicked,” she told the lawyer Leo Wise, who was examining her. “I didn’t want him to hurt himself, or the kids to find it and hurt themselves.” When Hunter discovered that his gun was missing, text messages show, he insisted that Hallie go back to retrieve the parcel from the trash can. But, by that time, the gun had been lifted by an eighty-year-old man looking for recyclables. Hunter pressed Hallie to file a police report and she agreed. “I’ll take full blame,” she wrote, “I don’t want to live like this anymore.”

Between the lines of Hallie’s testimony, a picture of Hunter’s community emerged—a privileged, insular world, full of supporting figures primed to protect him from himself. This impression was echoed by the testimony of police officers assigned to investigate the stolen-weapons complaint. As they discussed working assiduously with local Delawareans to recover Hunter’s property, it was easy to forget that the Biden son was in court not as the victim of a crime but as the alleged perpetrator of one.

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