As former Vice President Joe Biden fights through a rocky period in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, his son, Hunter Biden, is opening up about his foreign business dealings and tumultuous personal life.
In an interview with The New Yorker published Monday, Hunter Biden spoke candidly about his struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, his complicated relationships with women, his lucrative overseas work – and the implications those controversies could have on his father’s political fortunes, even as the former vice president remains atop the gaggle of Democratic presidential candidates.
“I’m saying sorry to him,” Hunter Biden told the New Yorker, “and he says, ‘I’m the one who’s sorry,’ and we have an ongoing debate about who should be more sorry. And we both realize that the only true antidote to any of this is winning. He says, ‘Look, it’s going to go away.’ There is truly a higher purpose here, and this will go away. So can you survive the assault?”
Hunter Biden described several drug relapses over the past decade – including after his dismissal from the Navy Reserve in 2014 after testing positive for cocaine. In one incident he described from 2016, he says he had a gun pointed to his head while attempting to purchase crack in Los Angeles. During another incident, in 2017, police in Arizona found a crack pipe in his rental car after it was damaged in an accident.
“Everybody has trauma. There’s addiction in every family,” Hunter Biden told the magazine. “I was in that darkness. I was in that tunnel—it’s a never-ending tunnel. You don’t get rid of it. You figure out how to deal with it.”
After the death of his brother, Beau – the former vice president’s eldest son – Hunter Biden struggled with his relationships, too, as his drug and alcohol abuse led him back to rehab. After separating from his first wife, Kathleen Biden, Hunter began a relationship with Beau’s ex-wife, Hallie Biden.
“We were sharing a very specific grief,” Hunter Biden told the New Yorker. “I started to think of Hallie as the only person in my life who understood my loss.”
By early 2018, his relationship with Hallie had fallen apart and he moved to Los Angeles. In early 2019, Biden met and shortly thereafter married a South African woman, Melissa Cohen. After their impromptu wedding, Hunter Biden called his father.
“He was on speaker, and he said to her, ‘Thank you for giving my son the courage to love again’ … And he said to me, ‘Honey, I knew that when you found love again that I’d get you back.’”
Global dealings and new questions
While the personal issues have captured tabloid headlines, the issues that could prove most challenging for Joe Biden’s presidential bid involve Hunter’s global business dealings – many of which coincide with his father’s tenure as vice president.
Robert Weissman, the president of progressive watchdog group Public Citizen, told ABC News last month that Hunter Biden’s business in Ukraine and China “at the absolute minimum” presented “a huge appearance of conflict.”
In Ukraine, Hunter Biden accepted a paid position on the board of directors of Burisma, the country’s largest energy producer. The financially lucrative move, signed into effect in April 2014, coincided with the then-vice president fronting U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine in the wake of a revolution that ousted the country's previous leader. The Biden campaign told ABC News that the candidate has never talked with his son about his Ukraine work.
In his new interview, Hunter Biden says he and his father have an understanding that Hunter can pursue his own interests. He described the one exchange he said he and his father had about his decision to accept a paid board directorship at Burisma: “Dad said, ‘I hope you know what you are doing,’ and I said, ‘I do.’”
After learning that President Trump had invoked his foreign business dealings on Twitter, according to the New Yorker, Hunter Biden recalled telling Cohen, “I don’t care. [Expletive] you, Mr. President. Here I am, living my life.”
In a statement to ABC News last month, Hunter Biden denied "the narratives that have been suggested and developed by the right-wing political apparatus,” calling them “demonstrably false.”
Joe Biden has refused to answer ABC News’ questions about his son’s foreign business dealings, but defended his son in May, saying “all the reports indicated that not a single, solitary thing was inappropriate about what my son did. He never talked to me. He never talked to anybody in the administration.”
Concern about “optics”
Hunter Biden’s interview with The New Yorker also casts a new spin on a December 2013 trip to China he took with his father on Air Force Two. The vice president traveled to Beijing as part of an Obama administration effort to tamp down tensions in the Far East. Within weeks of that visit, Hunter Biden was involved in business there as a participant in a firm called Bohai Harvest RST – even though discussions about the project dated back to the summer of that year.
The corporation formed a novel Chinese-American investment partnership that involved such Chinese state-owned firms as the Bank of China. Reports at the time said they sought to raise $1.5 billion. A source familiar with Hunter Biden's involvement told ABC News he served as an unpaid director and has not yet received any returns on his investments from the fund, adding that he only became a minority stake-holder in the company in October 2017, with his current investment estimated at approximately $430,000.
An attorney for Hunter Biden and Biden campaign officials told ABC News last month that Hunter Biden joined the trip to accompany his daughter – the vice president’s granddaughter – essentially as tourists, and that Hunter Biden conducted no business on the trip.
But in The New Yorker report, Hunter Biden acknowledges he introduced his father to one of his new business partners -- Jonathan Li, who ran a Chinese private-equity fund, Bohai Capital. And during the trip Hunter Biden met privately with Li – though the report quotes both men as saying the meeting was only a social visit.
The report notes that the vice president’s aides were concerned by the optics of Hunter Biden’s interactions while accompanying his father on an official government trip.
The New Yorker quotes an unnamed former senior White House aide as saying that the actions raised questions about whether he “was leveraging access for his benefit, which just wasn’t done in that White House. Optics really mattered, and that seemed to be cutting it pretty close, even if nothing nefarious was going on.”
ABC News reached out to the Biden campaign and to Hunter Biden’s attorney for comment about the 2013 China trip, but neither has responded.
In his interview with the New Yorker, Hunter Biden also describes accepting a diamond worth thousands from a Chinese energy tycoon after he offered to help the businessman make contacts in the liquefied-natural-gas industry in the United States. The gift arrived after Hunter Biden’s father had left office in 2016.
“When I asked him if he thought the diamond was intended as a bribe, he said no: ‘What would they be bribing me for? My dad wasn’t in office.’” Hunter said that he gave the diamond to his associates, and doesn’t know what they did with it. “I knew it wasn’t a good idea to take it. I just felt like it was weird,” he said.”
“Wasn’t worth the grief”
In his interview, Hunter Biden expressed regret for the negative impact his foreign business dealings had on his father, but defended his decision-making process at the time.
“I feel the decisions that I made were the right decisions for my family and for me,” Hunter Biden told the magazine. “Was it worth it? Was it worth the pain? No. It certainly wasn’t worth the grief … I would never have been able to predict that Donald Trump would have picked me out as the tip of the spear against the one person they believe can beat them.”
Last month, the Biden campaign told ABC News in a statement that if the former vice president wins the White House, he will issue an executive order to "address conflicts of interest of any kind … on his first day in office.”
With more than 30 years in the Senate and eight years as vice president to Barack Obama, Biden’s name recognition and experience have made him an early front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Since launching his campaign, Biden has maintained a commanding lead in the polls over nearly two dozen other contenders.
But as a front-runner, Biden has faced a deluge of questions about his lengthy record as a legislator and at times has struggled to impress upon voters his vision for America’s future without answering to controversies from his past – and those involving his son.