The Justice Department is investigating the finances of President-elect Joe Biden’s son, including scrutinizing some of his Chinese business dealings and other transactions, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.
The revelations put a renewed spotlight on questions about Hunter Biden’s financial history, which dogged his father’s successful White House campaign and were a frequent target of President Donald Trump and his allies. They also come at a politically delicate time for the president-elect, who is weighing his choice to lead an agency that is actively investigating his son.
The tax investigation was launched in 2018, the year before the elder Biden announced his candidacy for president. Hunter Biden confirmed the existence of the investigation on Wednesday, saying he learned about it for the first time the previous day.
“I take this matter very seriously but I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisors,” he said in a statement.
It is unclear which entities or business dealings might be tied up in the probe, though the person with knowledge of the matter told The Associated Press at least some of the focus was on his past work in China. NBC News has not independently confirmed that information.
Hunter Biden and his ex-wife Kathleen Buhle had an Internal Revenue Service lien against them for unpaid taxes, possibly including interest and penalties, totaling $112,805.09, until this past March, according to publicly available documents, NBC News reports. The IRS documents show that the tax lien was placed on Hunter Biden and Buhle in November 2019. It is not immediately clear if the investigation is tied to the lien.
Federal investigators served a round of subpoenas on Tuesday, including one for Hunter Biden, according to another person familiar with the investigation.
Investigators did not reach out until recently because of Justice Department practice against taking overt investigative actions in the run-up to an election, one of the people said. The people familiar with the investigation insisted on anonymity to discuss an ongoing probe.
Hunter Biden has a history of international affairs and business dealings in a number of countries. Trump and his allies have accused him of profiting off his political connections and have raised unsubstantiated charges of corruption related to his work in Ukraine at the time his father was vice president and leading the Obama administration’s dealings with the Eastern European nation.
Late Wednesday, Trump tweeted a quote from New York Post columnist Miranda Devine claiming, “10% of voters would have changed their vote if they knew about Hunter Biden.”
Biden is actively assembling his Cabinet but has yet to name a nominee to lead the Justice Department. That person could ultimately have oversight of the investigation into the new president’s son if it is still ongoing when Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20.
The transition team said in a statement, “President-elect Biden is deeply proud of his son, who has fought through difficult challenges, including the vicious personal attacks of recent months, only to emerge stronger.”
The revelations could also add weight to Trump’s broad accusations that Joe Biden was weak on China. Trump took a tough line on China during the campaign as he tried to deflect blame for the coronavirus. Biden has rejected the characterization that he was weak and said that, unlike Trump, he would rebuild global coalitions to check China’s power.
A New Yorker profile on Hunter Biden last year detailed some of his business work in China, including how he accompanied his father on a 2013 trip to Beijing, where he met with a business associate. He also acknowledged having received a diamond from a Chinese energy tycoon interested in liquified natural gas projects.
He downplayed the idea that the gift could have been intended to affect his father’s policy. He told the magazine he gave the diamond to an associate.
“What would they be bribing me for? My dad wasn’t in office,” he said.
Hunter Biden also joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma in 2014, sparking concerns about the perceptions of a conflict of interest given the elder Biden was deeply involved in U.S. policy toward Ukraine. An investigation by the Republican-led Senate did not identify any policies that were directly affected by Hunter Biden’s work.
In the weeks before the election, Trump and his supporters used the existence of a laptop they said was connected to Hunter Biden — and the emergence of someone who maintains he had business discussions with him — to raise questions about Joe Biden’s knowledge of his son’s activities in Ukraine and China. Trump provided no evidence for the claims, while he and his family remain under ethical scrutiny. The president-elect has said he did not discuss his son’s international business dealings with him and has denied having ever taken money from a foreign country.
The laptop surfaced publicly in October when The New York Post reported on emails that it said had come from Hunter Biden’s laptop and that it said it received from Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer.
The Wall Street Journal and Fox News — among the only news organizations that were given access to key documents allegedly found in the laptop — concluded that the emails and other records offered no evidence that Joe Biden played any role in his son’s dealings in China, let alone profited from them. NBC News was repeatedly denied access to the documents.
The tax investigation does not have anything to do with the laptop, sources told the AP and NBC News.
In a CNN interview last week, President-elect Biden addressed the business dealings of his brothers and his son Hunter, pledging that they would avoid any perceived conflicts of interest during his time in office.
“My son, my family will not be involved in any business, any enterprise that is in conflict with or appears to be in conflict, where there’s appropriate distance from the presidency and government,” Biden said.
Lemire reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.