Hunter Biden’s friend and lawyer Kevin Morris was blunt in laying out his thoughts at a strategy session last September on an expected onslaught of investigations by House Republicans: It was crucial, he suggested, for Biden’s camp to be more aggressive.
Morris, at the meeting in his California home, described defamation lawsuits the team could pursue against the presidential son’s critics, including Fox News, Eric Trump and Rudy Giuliani. He outlined extensive research on two potential witnesses against Hunter Biden — a spurned business partner named Tony Bobulinski and a computer repairman named John Paul Mac Isaac.
At one point, Biden himself happened to call into the meeting, connecting briefly by video to add his own thoughts.
“They feel that there is a whole counternarrative missing because of the whole Hunter-hater narrative out there,” said liberal activist David Brock, who attended the meeting. “What we really got into was more the meat of it, the meat of what a response would look like.” Brock was planning for a new group, Facts First USA, focused on fighting the looming House GOP investigations.
The meeting was a glimpse into a sprawling infrastructure that is rapidly, almost frantically, assembling to combat Republicans’ plans to turn Hunter Biden into a major news story when the GOP takes over the House next year. The risk for Hunter Biden, and possibly for President Biden as well, is that this hodgepodge of efforts is not fully coordinating and does not share a unified approach, according to people involved in the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics.
Hunter Biden has been working with Morris, his friend and sometime financial benefactor, and a team of researchers. Biden has hired several other lawyers — Chris Clark, who is handling a federal criminal investigation into Hunter Biden’s business dealings and other matters, along with a separate attorney, Joshua A. Levy, to deal directly with the House investigators.
Meanwhile, the White House and the Democratic National Committee have developed their own strategies for dealing with what could be a political firestorm around the president’s son. Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel under President Barack Obama, is set to represent President Biden in a personal capacity should the need arise. And a trio of Democratic-aligned outside groups has stepped up to provide rapid response and other communications.
But these various efforts are not always coordinating, and several people involved expressed concern about the aggressive tack suggested by Morris, who wants to elevate Hunter Biden’s public role.
Morris, a Hollywood lawyer and novelist who has worked with celebrity clients and the creators of television’s “South Park,” befriended Hunter in 2019, when the president’s son was by his own account recovering from a serious drug addiction. Morris has already attracted the attention of House Republicans, who sent him a letter in June asking about reports that he gave Biden some $2 million to help pay off a tax bill that is a subject of the federal investigation.
Some involved in these efforts argue that Hunter Biden and Morris should stay out of the limelight so Democrats can focus on painting the Republican investigations as a partisan political exercise. “No one thinks this strategy of putting Hunter Biden front and center is smart,” said one Democrat involved in the broader effort, who requested anonymity to describe private conversations. “No one, including the White House, thinks this is a smart strategy.”
The division is in part between associates of Hunter Biden, who tend to favor a more aggressive strategy, and other strategists who want Biden to keep a lower profile. Sources close to Hunter Biden emphasized that they are operating separately from the White House. Brock said his organization also remains independent of Hunter Biden and his team and is following its own strategy.
For the White House, the overriding message is that Hunter Biden is clearly a private citizen and an inappropriate target for Congress to investigate, and that Republicans are more concerned with pursuing conspiracies than solving the country’s problems.
“The president loves his son and is proud that he has overcome his addiction and is moving forward with his life,” said Ian Sams, a White House spokesman handling the upcoming House investigations. “Congressional Republicans’ politically motivated partisan attacks on the president and his family are rooted in nonsensical conspiracy theories and do nothing to address the real issues Americans care about.”
White House officials have previously said they plan to minimize their cooperation with investigations like the Hunter Biden inquiry that they view as politically motivated, while honoring GOP-led probes on more substantive topics like the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.
In the meantime, Hunter Biden, who has not commented on the inquiries for months while under Justice Department investigation, has been taking on a more prominent public role in recent weeks. He has appeared at a number of White House events, at times with his 2-year-old son Beau.
Hunter Biden recently walked his daughter Naomi down the aisle for her White House wedding, appeared at the Kennedy Center Honors and attended a state dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron. At one point during that dinner, Hunter Biden walked up to a group including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and said hello to McCarthy’s mother, according to people familiar with the exchange who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private interaction.
To some, it seemed a classic Biden-style moment of trying to charm an adversary. A McCarthy spokesman did not respond to a request for comment, but pointed to a statement released this week that included “Hunter Biden” among roughly a dozen areas that Republicans will prioritize for investigations. McCarthy has been nominated by House Republicans to be the next House speaker, though he has not yet secured all the votes he needs.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), who is in line to chair the House Oversight Committee, has outlined a number of investigative steps he wants to take in probing Hunter Biden’s previous business dealings, including a lucrative business arrangement with a Chinese energy conglomerate.
The Washington Post reported in March that the conglomerate, CEFC China Energy, and its executives paid $4.8 million over 14 months to entities controlled by Hunter and his uncle, James Biden. The Post did not find evidence that Joe Biden personally benefited from or knew details of the transactions.
Bobulinski has alleged that he was part of a previous deal related to CEFC that had involved Joe Biden, although it never came to fruition. The president has denied those claims and maintained his long-standing assertion that he never discussed foreign business dealings with his son.
In an interview, Comer said his investigation will be focused on the president, not his son. “The reason we’re investigating Joe Biden is to determine if this president and this White House are compromised, because of the millions of dollars that his family has received from our adversaries in China, Russia and Ukraine,” Comer said.
The congressman added that he hopes the White House will change its mind about cooperating with his probe. “At the end of the day, if the White House works with us, this shouldn’t be a very lengthy investigation and we can move on,” Comer said.
Much of the Democratic pushback against the GOP investigators, especially from the party establishment, is expected to focus on their motivation. One Democratic-leaning group, the Congressional Integrity Project, has circulated a memo based on six online focus groups, arguing that swing voters already see the planned Republican investigations as “political stunts” intended to damage the president.
CIP, according to the memo, is also prepared to criticize Republicans for turning a blind eye to the foreign business dealings of former president Donald Trump’s family, including his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Unlike Hunter Biden, Trump’s family members held formal government positions during his presidency.
A second document from CIP lists a set of phrases it says Democrats and their allies should use against the House investigations, including “power-hungry,” “Trump playbook,” “partisan warfare” and “MAGA Republicans.” Neither document mentions Hunter Biden by name.
CIP is working with another group called Courage for America that has set up an “accountability war room” to bring together Democratic allies to drive a consistent critique of House Republicans on a range of issues. “Our goal is to go on offense against the new House majority,” said Zac Petkanas, the Democratic strategist running that effort. “We are going to be pointing out the things that those investigations are distracting from.”
While the CIP is not formally tied to the White House, its leaders have spoken with Biden aides and it recently hired Jeff Peck, a former chief-of-staff to Biden from his time in the Senate.
Brock’s group, Facts First, is engaging with Hunter Biden and those in his immediate circle. In an October memo, Brock, founder of Media Matters and American Bridge, two influential liberal organizations, described Facts First USA as a “SWAT team” designed to “ensure that the media and public do not accept the false narrative that flows from congressional investigations.”
Brock has released a memo calling on Democrats to cast McCarthy’s embrace of the Hunter Biden investigations as a corrupt bid to court favor with far-right lawmakers whose support McCarthy needs to become House speaker. “He is so desperate to run the House he is willing to burn it down,” the memo says.
Brock is also reviewing research that Morris has conducted on Biden’s adversaries, including Bobulinski and Mac Isaac. Mac Isaac’s attorney declined to comment. Bobulinski did not respond to a request for comment.
Even as these activities swirl around Hunter Biden, those close to him are hoping he can play a more public role in his father’s presidency and potential 2024 reelection campaign. Doing so could present a political complication for the president but would also reestablish a role Hunter long played in his father’s political career, before his struggles with addiction and his controversial business dealings turned him into a political lightening rod.
Before taking a more public posture, however, those around Hunter Biden acknowledge that he needs closure from the years-long federal investigation into his taxes and a 2018 gun purchase. They are hopeful for a resolution, but the case has remained open and The Post reported in October that federal agents believed they had gathered enough evidence to charge him with tax crimes and a false statement related to the gun purchase.
Hunter Biden has paid the IRS more than $1 million in back taxes, using a loan that came from Morris, which his camp hopes could insulate him from criminal charges.
Part of the recent scrutiny surrounding the president’s son is based on a laptop that he purportedly dropped off at a repair shop owned by Mac Isaac in April 2019 and never retrieved. Morris and others have focused on whether the data was improperly obtained and distributed.
Hunter Biden has said he is unsure if the laptop is his, that he does not remember dropping it off but that his memory at the height of his drug addiction was not reliable. His allies also suggest that materials later made public by Rudolph Giuliani and other Trump allies may be a mix of materials obtained in various ways.
During the same period, Hunter Biden also left a laptop with Keith Ablow, a Massachusetts-based psychiatrist who has been close to Republican activist Roger Stone. The laptop was seized by agents who raided Ablow’s office in February 2020, and it was eventually returned to Biden.
Morris has been overseeing a forensic analysis of that laptop to determine if it was the basis of the hard drives that were later distributed by Trump allies.
Tyler Pager and Theodoric Meyer contributed to this report.