United Kingdom

Hunter Biden is fighting back against his accusers. Could it be a risky legal strategy?

WASHINGTON – Hunter Biden’s lawyers are carrying out an aggressive counterattack as Republicans make the president’s son the focus of an impeachment inquiry and a special counsel investigation threatens to hang over the 2024 election.

In a two-week span in September, President ‘s son Hunter Biden sued Rudy Giuliani over the release of personal material on Biden’s laptop, the Internal Revenue Service for allegedly revealing confidential information about his taxes and former Trump White House aide Garrett Ziegler for allegedly accessing and tampering with computer data that he does not own.

Hunter Biden’s legal team also issued third-party subpoenas to Trump allies Roger Stone, Steve Bannon and Giuliani, along with six others, in recent weeks seeking information and documents related to Hunter Biden’s external hard drive and laptop – contents of which each have boasted about possessing.

The moves taking aim at Hunter Biden’s accusers reflect a more aggressive legal strategy adopted by his attorney, Abbe Lowell, who was hired last December, and long pushed by Kevin Morris, a Hollywood attorney, novelist and close friend of Hunter Biden. Morris advised going on offense after Republicans gained control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections.

“The Republicans have had the microphone to themselves for many, many months,” said David Brock, a Democratic operative and president of Facts First USA, which he launched to counter Republicans’ claims about the president’s son.

“The thinking is to put some facts out there in the public domain so that the public can have a more accurate picture of Hunter and what went on here rather than the distorted Republican lens that is refracted through most of the media coverage,” Brock said.

Blames ‘Trump and his MAGA allies’ for new guns case

A counterpunch was also delivered as Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty this month to three gun-related charges in a Delaware federal court after a previous deal with prosecutors to plead guilty collapsed.

Lowell, in a statement, slammed the charges as “the result of political pressure from President Trump and his MAGA allies to force the Justice Department to ignore the law and deviate from its policies in cases like this one.”

President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden arrives for a court appearance, in Wilmington, Del, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023.

Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty to three gun-related charges for his purchase of a Colt Cobra 38SPL revolver on Oct. 12, 2018 when he has said he was on drugs.

Hunter Biden’s lawyers have argued the charges are unconstitutional under the Second Amendment and barred under the prior plea agreement that fell apart. Lowell has said there’s evidence that will exonerate Hunter Biden “when and if there is a trial.”

Hunter Biden could also face tax-evasion charges under an ongoing investigation by U.S. Attorney David Weiss, a Trump-appointed prosecutor who was given special counsel status in August. Like the gun charges, Biden had previously reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to two misdemeanors for not paying taxes in 2017 and 2018 before the agreement collapsed.

In addition, the Justice Department is considering a possible third set of charges over Hunter Biden’s decision not to register as a “foreign agent” while working with companies in Ukraine and China.

‘Total annihilation’ of digital privacy, Hunter Biden’s lawyers say

The recent subpoena letters are part of counter lawsuit Hunter Biden filed in March against John Paul Mac Isaac – the owner of a Delaware computer shop – that fights the dissemination of material from an external hard drive and personal laptop that’s long been at the heart of the Hunter Biden controversy.

For years, Republicans have exploited material found on a hard drive on Hunter Biden’s personal laptop that he left at Mac Isaac’s Delaware store in 2019 but never returned to pick back up. Mac Isaac, an outspoken supporter of former President Donald Trump, claimed ownership of the equipment and passed it along to the FBI and to Giuliani ahead of the 2020 election.

Hunter Biden’s lawyers accuse Mac Isaac of invasion of privacy, arguing that Hunter Biden never gave him permission to access, copy and share electronically stored data on the computer. The subpoena letters to others like Stone and Bannon could preview future litigation against others who disseminated the material.

“What you will see as this progresses is simply a vise closing on a group of conspirators set on destroying the first family,” said a source close to Hunter Biden.

The lawsuit filed last month against Giuliani, which includes Castello as a co-defendant, says both men engaged in a “total annihilation” Hunter’s “digital privacy.” Garrett Ziegler, who has also claimed to possess a copy of Hunter Biden’s hard drive, is accused of similar violations in a separate lawsuit for his role in publishing a trove of emails and images of Hunter Biden on the Internet.

Hunter Biden, son of US President Joe Biden, leaves the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 3, 2023.

Legal experts skeptical of a ‘pity’ argument

Emails and other material discovered on the laptop provide a bulk of the evidence that House Republicans cite to allege “influence-peddling” by Hunter Biden in his foreign business deals as a board member of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. House Republicans have been unable to prove their most serious claim: that Joe Biden, as vice president, received bribe payments through his son to steer U.S. policy.

At a initial impeachment inquiry House hearing last month, Republicans’ own witnesses said their lacked evidence of bribery or other impeachable offenses by Joe Bide.

The laptop also contained nude photos of Hunter Biden that Republicans have seized on to embarrass the president and his son.

Ankush Khardori, a former federal prosecutor, said Hunter Biden’s legal team is trying to “humanize” and show more complexities of a client who has been effectively “disembodied” through relentless attacks by Republicans. But he is skeptical the argument will prove effective with a privileged son of a president.

“This isn’t someone I think most people are predisposed to feel any real pity for,” he said. “I’m pretty dubious it will work.”

Khardori also questioned the soundness of Hunter Biden’s legal argument that Mac Isaac took unlawful possession of the laptop. Mac Isaac claims Hunter Biden signed a form stating that any equipment left at the repair shop for more than 90 days would be considered abandoned.

Hunter Biden's lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani alleges he and Costello spent months reviewing and manipulating the data from Hunter's laptop before releasing it - accusing them of violating the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, California’s Computer Data Access and Fraud Act and California’s Unfair Competition Law. Hunter Biden currently resides in California.

The lawsuit against Giuliani alleges he and Costello spent months reviewing and manipulating the data before releasing it – accusing them of violating the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, California’s Computer Data Access and Fraud Act and California’s Unfair Competition Law. Hunter Biden currently resides in California.

Hunter Biden’s attorneys also pointed to comments Giuliani made this year on his podcasts bragging about loading data from Hunter Biden’s equipment onto his own computer and accessing it during the program.

Meanwhile, Costello stated publicly he “scrolled through” thousands of emails, bank statements and pictures, which made him “feel like a voyeur,” according to the lawsuit. Costello said publicly he manipulated the data to be “cleaned up,” the lawsuit argues, and created new digital folders with titles such as “Salacious Pics” and “The Big Guy.”

The case against the IRS

The lawsuit against the IRS targets two IRS agents, Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, who testified before Congress as federal whistleblowers and claimed they were hindered by the Justice Department during a five year investigation of Hunter Biden’s business dealings.

Lowell, in the lawsuit, argues Shapley and Joseph Ziegler revealed confidential information about Hunter Biden’s taxes – including during more than 20 nationally televised interview – in an “assault” on his client’s privacy that sought to embarrass him.

“Mr. Biden has no fewer or lesser rights than any other American citizen, and no government agency or government agent has free reign to violate his rights simply because of who he is,” Lowell wrote. “Yet the IRS and its agents have conducted themselves under a presumption that the rights that apply to every other American citizen do not apply to Mr. Biden.”

The lawsuit contends Biden is eligible for $1,000 in statutory damages for each unauthorized disclosure and also unspecified punitive damages.

IRS Supervisory Special Agent Gary Shapley, left, and IRS Criminal Investigator Joseph Ziegler, are sworn in at a House Oversight Committee meeting on July 19, 2023 in Washington. Shapley alleges that the Justice Department interfered in the IRS investigation of Hunter Biden.

Legal strategy could complicate Biden’s reelection run

“Whenever someone is attacked publicly and they feel like they’ve been treated unfairly, they’re going to want to fight back. And so I do think part of what happened here,” Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor now practicing at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP, said of Hunter Biden’s aggressive legal strategy.

But he said the goal is more than just changing the public narrative about Hunter Biden.

“I don’t think that a strategy like this is meant primarily for PR purposes,” he said, arguing the larger purpose is to gather additional evidence and “put adversaries on the defensive.”

That strategy, of course, could have major political ramifications for President Joe Biden.

Rather than dealing with his legal troubles quietly, Hunter Biden’s lawsuits and his legal team’s public jabs against his Republican foes and the IRS could ensure the controversy remains in the spotlight during Joe Biden’s 2024 reelection bid.

“I think it’s apparent that Hunter Biden is focused on his own rights and his own interests, and not on his father’s political career,” Mariotti said, “given that he’s now engaging in a very aggressive attack on the prosecution and its witnesses.”

President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden and Hunter Biden with his son Beau watch the Independence Day fireworks display from the Truman Balcony of the White House in Washington, DC, on July 4, 2023.

Contributing: Bart Jansen. Reach Joey Garrison on X, formerly known as Twitter, @joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hunter Biden hits back with aggressive (possibly risky) legal strategy