The revelation about the probe includes no details, but it promises to rekindle Republican rage about the Biden family, including Hunter Biden's business dealings and the elder Biden's anti-corruption push in Ukraine when he was US vice president.
The Justice Department is investigating the finances of President-elect Joe Biden’s son, including scrutinising some of his Chinese business dealings and other transactions.
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 isn’t clear which entities or business dealings might be tied up in the probe, though the person with knowledge of the matter said at least some of focus was on his past work in China. 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 also 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 on Wednesday, Trump tweeted a quote from New York Post columnist Miranda Devine claiming, “10 percent of voters would have changed their vote if they knew about Hunter Biden.”
Joe Biden is actively assembling his Cabinet, but is 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 January 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 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 characterisation 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 has been caught up in controversies before. While his father was vice president, Hunter joined the Naval Reserve and was discharged after testing positive for cocaine in his system, later revealing a years-long struggle with addiction.
He 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 US 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 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. 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.
A third person familiar with the matter said the tax investigation does not have anything to do with the laptop.
In a CNN interview last week, President-elect Biden addressed the business dealings of his son Hunter and his brothers, 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.