Will Hunter Biden’s laptop lead to Joe Biden’s impeachment?

Why was the Hunter Biden laptop story blocked?

Twitter and Facebook blocked the story on the hunch that the tale of the “found” laptop, as senior US intelligence people believed, “had all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation”. Instead, the laptop find proved to be true. Rather than seeing Big Tech and the US intelligence community acting in good faith but making a mistake, many on the Trumpist right saw collusion and a campaign to undermine the Trump-dominated Republican Party. In other words, a conspiracy by elites to deprive the Trumpist right of an important story.

Does it relate to the Joe Biden impeachment probe?

The laptop story is tenuously related to another drama consuming Biden White House energy: the mounting legal woes dogging Hunter Biden. Tenuously, because it’s unproven that Hunter Biden was involved in corruption. However, with charges laid and legitimate questions being asked about the president’s son, one doesn’t know what will be found.

And the special counsel probing Hunter Biden’s case?

In August 2023, the Department of Justice named a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden, after a plea bargain on the weapons charges case was rejected. He has since been charged on three counts related to the gun, which stem from answers he put on a background check when purchasing it. (Although the charges are about lying, the scrutiny of the forms is remarkable in a country where 18-year-olds can buy assault rifles at gun shows.) On Tuesday, his lawyers said he would plead not guilty in a case that could end up going to trial ahead of the November 2024 election his father is hoping to contest as the Democrat candidate.

The Bidens and the Ukrainians

Republicans have pointed to Hunter Biden’s dealings with foreign figures and asked to what degree, if any, he traded on his father’s name. These questions overlap with the conspiracy theory that Joe Biden, as vice president to Barack Obama, pressured Kyiv to fire a prosecutor who was probing corruption at the Ukrainian energy company Burisma (on whose board Hunter sat). This is a claim about the future president that has been debunked. Hunter’s former business partner, Devon Archer, testified that Joe Biden was on the phone when his son spoke to foreign figures, although when asked: “Are you aware of any wrongdoing by vice president Biden?” Archer said, “No, I’m not aware of any”. Hunter Biden is now fighting back, suing one of the people publicising his private emails.

Why then do we keep hearing about it?

So then, if the case for a corruption charge around Hunter (and Joe) Biden is so weak, why do we keep hearing about it? There is something else weak: the grip the Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has over his fellow Republicans in Congress. And the Trumpist wing of the Republican Party – the biggest wing – is pursuing the kind of slash-and-burn politics of their namesake idol. In a bid to mollify them, McCarthy allowed the impeachment inquiry to go forward, weak case or not.

Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy.Credit: AP

What does the laptop story say about the US election?

If not grounded in facts, why are Republicans making these allegations? History has shown that if a party can establish a narrative of doubt, it can help shape events. The Republicans have, historically, excelled at this. In fact, they’ve built a communication ecosystem around this sort of messaging. In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal in 1974, conservatives set about creating networks of publications, think tanks and experts to reframe the political debate away from the left-centrist tone of the media at the time. The most powerful became Fox News, directed by former Nixon communications specialist Roger Ailes. The communication campaign skills of American conservatives deepened, even as, arguably, their politics drifted from the vision they set for themselves during Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s, to the Trump-era disorder we see today.

Why the impeachment probe?

Trump-minded Republicans, establishing the momentum, have wasted no time demanding an impeachment probe. Even though there isn’t a compelling case over the idea that Joe Biden committed an impeachable crime. Yet, the bet is that it doesn’t matter if the case is weak. Republican representative Matt Gaetz, one of the proponents of the impeachment, said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, in August: “The purpose of that impeachment … is to put on a trial in the Senate, and by the way, not for the sake of conviction”. Rather, for the sake of optics. “The jury is the American people,” he said.

What are real-world risks for the US?

Even if the impeachment inquiry doesn’t make legal sense, in the never-ending news cycle, it can generate headlines and anti-Biden feelings. However, the Republican Party itself is fractured, without the kind of discipline that had served it so well for the decades before Trump’s rise. So it’s not clear that a somewhat manufactured scandal about Biden “corruption” won’t blow up in the party’s face. Its division is on display: the Biden 2024 campaign has already made use of the party’s most extreme voices in Biden ads.

Whether the Republicans or Bidens have the most to lose from the Biden impeachment attempt will be a revealing area to watch as the presidential campaign heats up in the year ahead.

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