The Tangled Life Of Hunter Biden

Being the child of the president of the United States has its perks but also its problems. Being the kid of the most scrutinized and downright powerful job in the entire world means being scrutinized yourself. When presidents fall short of the expected high standards, the results can be disastrous — but, whether it's fair or not, similar standards are often applied to the family members of presidents, who are often very fallible individuals who never took any oath of office.

Perhaps no relative of any chief executive has endured more scrutiny than Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden. Hunter has never aspired to a career in politics — that was his older brother Beau Biden, whose life was tragically cut short before he could fulfill that promise. But whatever aspirations Hunter has harbored have been complicated by his own personal demons and his often tangled life.

Hunter Biden's life began with a tragedy

People respond in many different ways to childhood tragedies, and in Hunter Biden's case, it's probably not out of line to suggest that his troubled life sprang rather directly from its troubled beginning. In December 1972, just a month after 30-year-old Joe Biden was elected to the U.S. Senate, his first wife Neilia took their three children — toddlers Beau and Hunter, and Naomi, 13 months — to go shopping for a Christmas tree as Joe interviewed potential staffers. As they passed through an intersection, a truck collided with their vehicle — severely injuring Beau and Hunter, and killing Neilia and Naomi. 

After publishing his memoir, "Beautiful Things," Hunter Biden opened up about how the incident was a formative one, and one which contributed to his well-publicized substance abuse issues later in life. In a conversation with CBS News Sunday, he examined the reasons behind his lifelong struggles with addiction. "I am more convinced now that trauma is at the center of it," he explained. Asked if he was referring to the loss of his mother, he said, "Yeah, absolutely. And I don't know why I had such a hard time ever admitting that." Biden has often said that his first memory is of Beau telling him he loved him as they lay together in a hospital bed, in a room in which Joe Biden would be sworn in as a U.S. senator.

His first job out of law school was controversial

Hunter Biden earned a law degree from Yale in 1996, after he which he worked as a deputy campaign manager for his father's Senate re-election campaign. While there's nothing too unusual about that, it was Hunter's day job that raised eyebrows: He took a position as an attorney with MBNA America, a banking holding company that had just a couple of ties to dear old Dad. That is to say, MBNA was a major contributor to Joe Biden's campaign — and if there was a troubling appearance of Hunter trading on his father's ties to the company to secure his position, well, that apparent impropriety would soon be dwarfed by another, much more potentially serious one.

In 2008, while Joe Biden was in the middle of campaigning to become vice president alongside Barack Obama, it was reported that MBNA had from 2001-2005 ponied up a large amount of money to Hunter Biden, who at that time was acting in the capacity of a consultant after having left the firm in 2001. This just happened to be at about the same time that the elder Biden, then still a senator, had thrown his support behind controversial legislation that made it tougher for consumers to declare bankruptcy — legislation that directly benefited large banking institutions like MBNA. While there were never any official allegations of wrongdoing, it's safe to say that the optics of the situation were not fantastic.

Hunter Biden's first marriage was troubled

In 1994, Hunter Biden wed Kathleen Buhle after a year-long courtship during which she became pregnant with their first child. Everything seemed fine for the young couple until early in the next decade, as Hunter's new status as partner in a private lobbying firm began to prove problematic. His enviable salary, combined with long, boozy nights out with clients, were helping Hunter to develop a formidable drinking problem — one that only got harder to shake as the years went on.

In her memoir "If We Break" (via Vanity Fair), Buhle shared that Hunter's relatively brief stretches of sobriety would give way to increasingly long, hard stretches of drinking, during which her husband would doggedly attempt to hide the extent of his problem. "Each time he drank, the process of getting him to admit he wasn't sober took longer and was more exhausting," she wrote — and as his brother Beau Biden tangled with the brain cancer that would eventually kill him in 2015, Hunter's struggle went from bad to much, much worse. "The denials grew angrier and more bitter ... Hunter's drinking was obvious in the darkest, angriest way," she wrote. After Beau's death, Hunter went so far as to turn to crack — at which point, Buhle wrote, she had "lost the ability to be surprised by him."

A shocking affair led to divorce

If Hunter Biden's concealment of the extent of his substance abuse issues from his wife was bad, the actions that ultimately led Kathleen Buhle to divorce her husband were far worse. As Hunter's increasing drinking after the death of his brother began to put a serious strain on his marriage, he began to confide in the one person whom he felt could understand his pain: his brother's widow, Hallie Biden. In a 2019 New Yorker profile, Hunter recalled, "We were sharing a very specific grief ... I started to think of Hallie as the only person in my life who understood my loss." It wasn't long, though, before the pair's friendship turned into something quite a bit more intimate — a situation that, as Buhle shared in her memoir, was revealed to her by way of text messages that had been discovered by her daughter, Finnegan Biden.

This was the final straw, and Buhle filed for divorce in 2016. Hunter and Hallie subsequently tried to make a go of an actual relationship, with Hunter even asking for — and receiving — his father's public blessing. The public scrutiny, however, proved to be too much. "All we got was s*** from everybody, all the time," Hunter told the New Yorker. "It was really hard. And I realized that I'm not helping anybody." The couple split in 2019.

Hunter Biden's military career was also cut short due to drugs

In 2011, in the midst of his substance struggles, Hunter Biden became friends with Greg Keeley, an Australian-American who was chock full of exciting stories about his time as an intelligence officer in the Royal Australian Navy. Upon relocating to the U.S., Keeley had applied for and received an age waiver to join the U.S. Navy as a reserve officer at the age of 40 — and he was keen to convince a rather unmoored Biden that it was never too late for him to do the same. "My message to him was: If you feel the call to serve, which I encouraged, it doesn't really matter what your rank is," Keeley told the New Yorker. "It is that you're serving your country. Hunter took that message to heart and acted upon it." At the age of 43, with a letter of recommendation from Keeley, Biden was granted not one, but two waivers: one due to his age, and the other due to the fact that he disclosed his prior drug use to the Navy, which has a strict zero-tolerance policy.

Unfortunately, that very policy meant that Biden's naval career was over before it started. In 2013, Biden failed a drug test administered by the Navy, testing positive for cocaine. In 2014, he was administratively discharged, leaving Biden once more in search of a direction.

The controversy surrounding his fourth child

In 2019, Hunter Biden faced yet another round of bad publicity related to his personal life, one related to an issue that was arguably even thornier than that which he had dealt with in the past. That year, Lunden Alexis Roberts came forward to claim that her infant daughter, who was born in 2018, was in fact the product of a union between her and Biden. Biden issued a statement denying these allegations and promptly took a DNA test — which confirmed he was indeed the tot's father.

A paternity hearing took place in Arkansas in 2020, during which a judge summarily denied motions by Biden's attorneys to delay the matter until after that year's presidential election. This decision resulted in a quick settlement, which came just in time for Biden to avoid a hearing where he might have been held in contempt of court for failure to provide financial information to Roberts' lawyers. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed until 2023, when the case was reopened as a result of a request by Biden's attorneys to adjust the amount of child support being paid. At that time, it was revealed that Biden had been paying Roberts $20,000 per month, forking over a grand total of about $750,000 since the case had been settled. 

Hunter Biden is an artist

Hunter Biden's private life has gotten a lot of attention in the last several years, particularly during the brutal run-up to the 2020 presidential election. But among all of the details that have become public, one might have escaped the attention of many. Biden's go-to outlet for dealing with his demons happens to be one that human beings have leaned on since time immemorial: He's an artist. A painter, to be exact, specializing in mixed-media works — and in 2021, his work was showcased in a show titled "The Journey Home," at the SoHo gallery of Georges Bergès.

It was initially reported that the prices of the 25 pieces on display would range up to $500,000, and this (of course) drew scrutiny from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Bergès, though, shot that figure down, acknowledging to The New York Times that some pieces might sell in the lower six-figure range while asserting that only he and Biden would know who the buyers were and how much they paid — and also that "Hunter will go down as a great artist for this century." Famed Washington Post art critic Sebastian Smee disagreed, telling CNN, "To me, Biden seems a bit of a dabbler. His work has the feeling of an afterthought ... If I were a museum curator, I would struggle to find compelling reasons to share it with the public." Asked by Vanity Fair art columnist Nate Freeman if he had anything to say about those questioning his artistic bona fides, Biden succinctly answered with a question of his own: "Other than f*** 'em?" (via Page Six).

He has given marriage another shot

After years of raising eyebrows with his romantic difficulties, Hunter Biden finally appears to have settled down — and, somewhat ironically, he pulled the trigger on his latest relationship with lightning speed. In late 2019, he got married again, to South African activist and filmmaker Melissa Cohen — just six days after the pair met. He had, he said, been completely up front with her about all of the troubles in his past, from the death of his mother to his infidelities to his struggle with addiction, and Cohen had repaid his honesty with acceptance. "I instantly fell in love with her," Hunter told ABC News, "and then I've fallen in love with her more every day."

In the face of the renewed publicity around Hunter during that time, Cohen was defiant in a manner befitting a member of the Biden family. "How many investigations can be done?" she asked ABC News. "But if it would bring peace of mind to whoever needs peace of mind brought to this, I know we have peace of mind, we're okay ... we live in truth, so sure."

In 2020 — less than a year after tying the knot — it was reported that they had similarly wasted no time in expanding their family. In March of that year, Cohen gave birth to a baby boy, whom they named Joseph Robinette "Beau" Biden III, in honor of Hunter's father and his late, beloved brother. 

The infamous laptop

As to that renewed publicity, you may be aware that there has been a great deal of speculation around a certain laptop that Hunter Biden supposedly took in for service at a Delaware repair shop, then abandoned. The contents of the laptop's hard drive range from the extremely personal (such as, allegedly, homemade pornography) to the potentially politically explosive (such as, allegedly, a gigantic trove of emails that may or may not indicate that Joe Biden profited from his son's business dealings with foreign entities). A number of news organizations, such as The Washington Post, have conducted forensic examinations of the laptop's hard drive in an attempt to authenticate its contents, with only partial success. 

The Post was able to authenticate a goodly number of emails from Hunter's days sitting on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, and also from his time participating in a business partnership with a cadre of Chinese associates. Hunter was paid handsomely from these endeavors, and he freely admitted in his memoir that his hefty income was a major factor enabling his addictions during that period. As to whether the laptop contained any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, that is more difficult to say — because the Post's forensic analysis also indicated that an unknown number of individuals other than Hunter had accessed the laptop's hard drive and written files to it. "The drive," said Johns Hopkins University security researcher Matt Green, "is a mess."

The investigation by the federal government

While the investigations into the contents of Hunter Biden's laptop have, as of June 2023, failed to produce anything prosecutable, an investigation that commenced just after Joe Biden's election win in 2020 is shaping up to potentially spell a heap of trouble for Hunter. In a statement in December of that year, Hunter Biden said, "I learned yesterday for the first time that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Delaware ... [is] investigating my tax affairs. 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." In 2022, The New York Times spoke with people in the know, who reported to the outlet that Biden had paid off a stiff tax liability the previous year — but the investigation into what, if any, liabilities remain outstanding is ongoing.

Another possible source of trouble for Hunter: a 2018 handgun purchase, which required him to fill out paperwork that asked if he was "an unlawful user of ... [a] controlled substance" (via The Washington Post). He answered "no" on the form — and yet, by his own admission in his memoir, he was literally addicted to crack cocaine at the time. In late 2022 federal agents believed they had enough evidence in both matters to charge Hunter Biden with a crime — but it is up to the Department of Justice to make the determination as to whether that actually happens, and thus far, it has not.

Joe Biden has resolutely stood by his son

Throughout his often turbulent life, Hunter Biden has always been able to count on one thing: the love and support of his father. The younger Biden expressed as much when, in 2019, it was widely speculated that his personal troubles might throw a monkey wrench into Joe Biden's potential run at the presidency. In a statement to Vanity Fair, Hunter Biden did not mince words. "I believe that my father has become an ongoing symbol of what it means to keep on fighting for what is good in oneself, in others and in our country," he said. "I can tell you that I wouldn't be alive today, if my dad hadn't kept fighting for me, too ... My father has always been proud of me ... and he remains proud of me today. He loves me. And he loves the American people."

Even facing the possibility that his son might be in deep legal trouble over his tax issues and that handgun form, that support has not wavered. In 2022, President Biden addressed that possibility in a conversation with CNN's Jake Tapper. "He's overcome [his drug problems]. He's established a new life," Joe Biden said. "I have great confidence in my son. I love him and he's on the straight and narrow, and he has been for a couple years now. And I'm just so proud of him."