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August 11, 2023

Whataboutism Doesn’t Excuse Anyone

Giving Hunter Biden a get-out-of-jail-free card will taint the convictions(s) which may rid us of Donald Trump.

Hard as it is to say, both Biden and Trump are entitled to presumptions of innocence even though neither deserve them. If one or the other of them should be exonerated, it doesn’t make the other one any less guilty. Trump’s alleged crimes as president are much more serious than Hunter Biden’s clear venality. It’s one thing for Hunter to profit from being the Vice President’s son; it is unacceptable for him to escape prosecution because his father is now President.

The majority of Republicans who believe that the 2020 election was stolen are no more idiots than the Democrats who believed that the Russians bought the 2016 election for Trump on Facebook. Neither group can accept that a result they regard as abhorrent was legitimate. If Trump is convicted of a serious crime or sentenced to prison and Hunter Biden gets a walk in the park and/or if Joe Biden’s unconvincing claims that he didn’t know what his son was doing escape scrutiny, Trump loyalists will be confirmed in their view that the deck is stacked against them and the man who is their Trumpenfinger raised to the establishment. It will be very hard for the partisan wounds to heal.

Justice Department Credibility

Jack Goldsmith writes in The New York Times:

“Mr. Smith’s indictment outlines a factually compelling but far from legally airtight case against Mr. Trump. The case involves novel applications of three criminal laws and raises tricky issues of Mr. Trump’s intent, his freedom of speech and the contours of presidential power. If the prosecution fails (especially if the trial concludes after a general election that Mr. Trump loses), it will be a historic disaster…

“There is no getting around the fact that the indictment comes from the Biden administration when Mr. Trump holds a formidable lead in the polls to secure the Republican Party nomination and is running neck and neck with Mr. Biden, the Democratic Party’s probable nominee.

“This deeply unfortunate timing looks political and has potent political implications even if it is not driven by partisan motivations….

“And then there is the perceived unfairness in the department’s treatment of Mr. Biden’s son Hunter, in which the department has once again violated the cardinal principle of avoiding any appearance of untoward behavior in a politically sensitive investigation. Credible whistle-blowers have alleged wrongdoing and bias in the investigation, though the Trump-appointed prosecutor denies it. And the department’s plea arrangement with Hunter Biden came apart, in ways that fanned suspicions of a sweetheart deal, in response to a few simple questions by a federal judge.”

None of the above makes Trump innocent or excuses him. All of the above will give Trump supporters a reason to discount a guilty verdict, especially if the Justice Department does not do a credible job of prosecuting Hunter Biden now that a judge has saved the department from its initial ill-advised plea deal.

Special prosecutors notwithstanding, it is the responsibility of Attorney General Merrick Garland both to make sure that the charges against Trump are substantive and the Hunter Biden is vigorously prosecuted. If he feels he can’t do this job, he should resign rather than evade responsibility. [Update: Apparently Garland has come to feel the same way; since this post was written, he announced that he was updating the status of the US Attorney investigating Hunter Biden to Special Counsel and that negotiations for a plea deal have ended.]

Press Credibility

Reporters talk about their duty to “save democracy”, which is often code for making sure that we don’t get Trump 2.0. Donald Redux would be a disaster, but a press which sacrifices credibility to partisanship is a clear and present danger. The media suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story was a disgrace as was Fox parroting false election narratives. We deserve to know what evidence was hidden by whom on whose orders at Mar-a-Lago. We also need to know what people in the Obama administration said when they learned that Biden’s son was working for a company being prosecuted in Ukraine by a prosecutor whom Joe Biden – the Obama point man on corruption in Ukraine – was trying to get fired.

It won’t matter to diehard Trump supporters what the NYT or WaPo says and it won’t matter to diehard antiTrumpers what Fox says. The rest of us will be able to live somewhat easier with whatever verdicts are reached if our favorite outlets deliver something better than confirmation bias for their most extreme viewers. [Update: The NYT has published another oped, this one by David Leonhardt, explaining why the Hunter Biden case is significant.]

Supreme Court Credibility

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, the Supreme Court including its three Trump appointees gave no aid or comfort to Trump’s claims that the election was stolen or his attempts to overturn it. There is no reason to suspect that any of the justices will abandon their concepts of the law and constitution to protect Trump or Biden. However, as the NYT column above says, at least some of the charges against Trump are “far from legally airtight”. Probably every President with the possible exception of honest George Washington lied to the public from time to time and did so for political reasons. Trump hasn’t been charged directly with exciting a riot or insurrection (even though that is what I think I saw him do on January 6). Presumably the prosecutor has reasons to think he can’t make these charges stick. Obstruction of justice is a crime beyond a doubt; misuse of classified information can be. Trump may yet be indicted for attempted election tampering in Georgia and that may be a solid crime.

Just to complicate the whataboutism further, even though it is illegal under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for a US company to hire a relative of a foreign official into a job they are not qualified for, it is not illegal for a relative of a US official to solicit or accept such a job from a foreign company. If Hunter Biden, on the other hand, actually did what his employers hoped for and influenced US policy, he is guilty of being an unregistered foreign agent. If he did nothing, he may be legally innocent.

It will be easier for the American Public to accept a lack of conviction by a jury than exoneration by the Supreme Court after conviction. There is not much the Court can do to protect itself from the suspicion of prejudice. Again it falls on the Justice Department (and/or the Georgia prosecutor) to bring cases which are legally unimpeachable.

Other Politicians

Shame on them. Nancy Pelosi delayed impeaching Trump after January 6th, I suspect for partisan reasons. The House should’ve returned articles of impeachment as soon as it came out of hiding in the capitol basement. Republicans should have voted for impeachment based on the President’s clear failure to attempt to stop the attack on the capitol if nothing else. Impeachment, particularly bipartisan impeachment, would’ve spared us our current agony. If there were no Trump candidacy, Democrats might even be convinced to nominate someone better than a senile Joe Biden.

Republicans including those who want to be president themselves should be condemning Trump’s actions and inactions. Democrats should be encouraging a thorough investigation of Hunter Biden rather than hiding behind the excuse that this might help Trump. Neither is happening. Neither party’s cowardice excuses the cowardice of the other (although, in this case, I think the Republican cowardice is more consequential and worse).

You and me

Let’s be open-minded as the cases progress. Let’s remember that neither man’s action is excused by the other. And let’s hope that justice is blind to privilege without being blind to evil. A huge number of our fellow citizens will be disappointed no matter which way both cases turn out. If we are among the disappointed, we still have a voice at the ballot box. Even if we are happy with the verdict(s), we must remember that our disappointed fellow citizens are still entitled to both a voice and a vote. I’ll feel best if both men are solidly convicted.

See Also:

The Hunter Biden Case (NYT)

The Prosecution of Trump May Have Terrible Consequences (NYT)

Trump Was the Middle Finger of the Proletariat

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