Hunter Biden arrives to federal court on Friday, June 7, in Wilmington, Delaware.
Former prosecutor weighs on why Hunter Biden's silence might be golden
01:21 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

It would be devastating for any parent to see a child convicted of a crime. To experience it as president before the eyes of the world, during one of the most contentious reelection campaigns in history, would be unfathomable.

But that is the ordeal now confronting President Joe Biden after his only surviving son Hunter was found guilty on all counts in a trial in Delaware over his possession of a gun while being addicted to drugs.

The jury delivered its verdict Tuesday less than two weeks after presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump learned he had been convicted of all 34 counts in a hush money trial in New York.

The double convictions represent a remarkable departure from traditional presidential campaigns. Never has a former president and presumptive major party nominee been convicted of a crime. Nor has the child of a sitting president. Both Hunter Biden and Trump pleaded not guilty.

Biden’s statement at the start of the trial — that “I am the president, but I am also a dad” — encapsulated the tension of his role as the titular head of the nation’s justice system and the pain he would naturally endure from seeing a cherished son, who has dealt with addiction and worked hard to recover, go on trial in the middle of a media storm.

Biden repeated that poignant line in a statement issued immediately after the verdict. And unlike former president Trump after his verdict, Biden accepted the jury’s judgment and the integrity of the legal system.

“Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today. So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery,” Biden said.

“As I also said last week, I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal. Jill and I will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support. Nothing will ever change that.”

The Hunter Biden conviction is the latest cruel twist in the story of a family that has endured more tragedies than most could bear. The story of how the future president lost his first wife and infant daughter as a newly elected senator in the early 1970s and brought up his sons with his second wife, the current first lady, has become part of Biden’s personal political mythology. Nearly a decade ago, Biden suffered the loss of his elder son Beau, who had brain cancer. The president’s grief remains raw and often comes to the surface during public events.

The trial of Hunter Biden is also occurring at a moment when the president is already under extreme pressure, amid an intensifying reelection campaign in which he is facing an opponent who he warns is bent on destroying American democracy. Biden’s personal burden is, meanwhile, being exacerbated by the fact that at 81, he’s the oldest president in history and opponents highlight every slip or senior moment to charge he’s unfit for office. He just returned from Europe on Sunday, but heads back Wednesday for the G7 summit. And his critical first debate with Trump, on CNN on June 27, will provide the kind of test of his mental faculties and emotional fortitude to match anything any modern president seeking reelection has faced.

Two vastly different cases thrust into the same political maelstrom

The Hunter Biden and Trump cases are vastly different, as is the way the former and current first families have responded to the trials. For instance, there have been no daily rants by the president’s son about a “corrupt” and “biased” judge. Trump’s conviction for falsifying financial records to cover up a payment to an adult film star, by contrast, prompted the ex-president to warn of retribution. He’s also absurdly claimed he’s a persecuted political dissident who compares to South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela. In the latest stage of his legal morass, Trump sat through an online pre-sentencing meeting Monday that came two days after he used his Truth Social network to launch a fresh assault on the probity of the verdict he has vowed to appeal. “These are not legitimate trials; they are merely part of an illegal POLITICAL WITCH HUNT the likes of which our Country has never seen before!” Trump wrote.

The former president’s sentencing has been set for July 11, just a few days before the opening of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. Hunter Biden’s sentencing is not expected to occur until October.

Joe Biden, who has said he is trying to restore faith in the justice system after the Trump presidency, said in a solemn ABC News interview that he won’t pardon his son. This is especially significant since Hunter Biden could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted, although a sentence for a first-time offender is unlikely to be that severe.

First families in the spotlight

While cameras were barred from the courtroom in both trials, each unfolded against a backdrop of taut political drama and the glare of publicity surrounding the former and current first families.

The ex-president’s adult sons Eric and Donald Jr. sometimes attended court in New York. And crowds of GOP lawmakers — including House Speaker Mike Johnson — were eager to embroider the presumptive GOP nominee’s claims that he was a victim of politicized justice in what amounts to an attack on the rule of law by a major American political party. Former first lady Melania Trump did not attend. Biden has stayed away from his son’s trial in Wilmington, but first lady Jill Biden has led a gathering of the clan at the courthouse for the last week. She crossed the Atlantic four times last week, balancing her official role alongside her husband at D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations and in a state visit to France with her desire to be with her son in his hour of greatest need.

In one striking moment in the trial’s closing arguments Monday, prosecutor Leo Wise told jurors drawn from a state where many families have a story about interacting with the Bidens that they should draw no inference from the first family’s rock-solid bond and presence at the trial. “People sitting in the gallery are not evidence. You may recognize them from the news … but respectfully, none of that matters.” Wise added: “Your decision can only be made on evidence.”

The infringements on the Biden family’s dignity and privacy cut deep during the trial, which saw discomforting testimony about Hunter Biden’s former cocaine addiction. Beau Biden’s widow, Hallie, who had a relationship with Hunter as they grieved, testified about their joint cocaine use that she said now embarrasses and shames her. In a heart-rending scene, the accused’s daughter, Naomi, was brought to the stand by the defense, then came under a rigorous cross-examination from prosecutors. The way addiction ravages loved ones as well as the user was laid bare when a text from Naomi to her father reading, “I’m really sorry dad, I can’t take this,” was introduced into evidence. Media organizations, meanwhile, played an excerpt from Hunter Biden’s audio book that chronicles his spiral into addiction that was used in the prosecution case.

Two politicized trials with critical differences

Given the identities of those involved and the fraught national moment in the middle of a bitterly contested general election, there’s no way the Trump and Hunter Biden trials could not have become politicized.

Trump has claimed that he’s the victim of a vendetta by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, though he was indicted by a grand jury, enjoyed the presumption of innocence like any other accused felon and was judged by a jury of his peers. When Biden’s plea deal collapsed in the court of a Trump-appointed judge and when Attorney General Merrick Garland made David Weiss, the prosecutor investigating Biden, a special counsel, some Democrats asked whether Republican pressure designed to damage the president had weighed on the renewed push for a trial.

But both trials have been conducted according to the rules of evidence and provided expansive protections for the accused. And the same bedrock American principle that was cited by prosecutors in the Trump hush money trial was used by Wise in his summation on Monday. “No one is above the law,” he said, urging jurors not to treat this case differently “because of who the defendant is.”

There is a critical difference between the two trials that debunks much of the political noise around them. Hunter Biden, unlike Trump, did not serve as president and has no chance of sitting in the Oval Office as commander in chief on January 20. While Biden is facing serious charges and will go on trial again in September in a separate tax case, his alleged offenses have nothing to do with the Constitution or threats to democracy. Trump’s charges, however, focus on alleged mishandling of national security documents that he hoarded at Mar-a-Lago after leaving office. He has also been charged in two separate cases — one federal and one in Georgia — with the ultimate crime in a democracy: seeking to overturn the will of voters. The former president is waiting for a US Supreme Court ruling on his sweeping claims of immunity arising from the federal election interference case that, if the court rules his way and he wins a second term, could augur a presidency of almost no constraints that could verge on autocracy.

The second distinction lies in the fact that Joe Biden’s behavior is not an issue in the criminal cases against his son. And House Republicans have so far failed to find that the president benefited from Hunter Biden’s business deals in nations like Ukraine and China while his father was vice president — even if the younger Biden’s activity raises serious ethical questions.

This story has been updated with additional information.