July 27, 2023 - 7:15am

Democrats hoped that a quiet plea agreement would put an end to media coverage of Hunter Biden’s misbehaviour. Instead, court proceedings confirmed Republicans’ claims that the underlying crimes were more extensive — and the deal more favourable — than anyone in the White House and the mainstream press was willing to admit.

The proceedings earlier today were supposed to reinforce the Biden argument that this was all a witch hunt, with Hunter scheduled to plead guilty to two tax misdemeanours and a felony gun charge. The routine plea agreement broke down in open court when District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika refused to approve the DOJ’s generous terms (which involved no jail time for the President’s son). The sticking point, previously unreported, was that Hunter and his lawyers wanted not only these pending charges to disappear, but also the prosecutors’ promise that he would be immune from prosecution for all other potential charges, including those related to being an unregistered agent of foreign governments.

It would amount to a pardon in all but name.

It’s unclear whether this was a last-minute change or part of the deal all along but, whatever the case, it was too much for Judge Noreika. She asked prosecutor Leo Wise whether a deal of this scope had any precedent in federal practice. He admitted that it did not. A few hours later, a new deal came together, still favourable to Hunter but without the promise to ignore all other crimes he may have committed. 

Wise’s admission alone is concerning and should force Democrats to rethink their framing of the issue. If the case was as minor as they claimed, why would Hunter have required such lavish guarantees that he would not be prosecuted? If the DOJ’s treatment of Hunter was evenhanded and free of influence, why would the deal he struck be better than any in the annals of federal law? 

Clearly, the investigation into Hunter Biden is ongoing. Equally clear is that the DOJ hoped to make it go away. Their attempt to keep Hunter’s problems quiet and contained will now have the reverse effect, as the broken deal will surely show the need for greater scrutiny of the accused and prosecutors alike. 

It gives lie to the claims that House Republicans’ investigation into the Biden family was purely politically motivated and casts further doubt over the supposedly non-political Justice Department. If Hunter was just a ne’er-do-well with a drug problem, it might be fair to say that Republicans were “weaponising” his misdeeds to sully his father’s reputation. It’s a theory that the leading lights of mainstream media bought into wholeheartedly, at least until now.

Democrats and their friends in the press glided effortlessly from insisting that Hunter’s misplaced laptop was “Russian disinformation” to admitting (after the election) that yes, it was real, but it had nothing to do with his father. Biden senior himself has said often that he “never discussed” business with his son, but this week press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre shifted that to say that Biden “was never in business with his son”.

There was a time when the press would call out Biden on his fabrications, as when media exposure of his frequent and blatant plagiarism brought down his 1988 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. But once he became the standard-bearer against Donald Trump in 2020, all pretence of objectivity ceased. Many Americans, used to hearing about Biden’s travails through the filter of a subservient press, will be shocked to hear the truth when it comes out — as it seems about to do.

Cracks were already developing in the façade. More in sorrow than in anger, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times savaged Joe and Hunter Biden’s mistreatment of the daughter Hunter conceived out of wedlock but refuses to acknowledge. Now this latest saga will force them once again to reframe the tattered Biden family portrait. When Hunter’s former friend and business partner Devon Archer testifies about just how closely the President was involved in their deals, will they spin that too? Will anyone still listen?

Whatever their opinions of Biden, Trump, and the 2024 race, eventually the people covering this story will have to decide whether they are journalists or hagiographers.

Kyle Sammin is the senior editor of the Philadelphia Weekly and the co-host of the Conservative Minds podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @KyleSammin.