The son would probably not be facing criminal charges if not for who his father is.
The father would probably not be facing impeachment if not for what his son has done.
President Joe Biden and Hunter Biden have traveled different paths to this moment and face disparate consequences. But now, a president whose political identity has been forged through the tragedies and triumphs of family finds his future tied to the fate his one surviving son -- who might end up being sent to prison by his father's own Justice Department.
That reality was crystallized this week by a mind-spinning series of events. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday announced the start of an "impeachment inquiry" targeting the president over "his family's foreign business dealings" and money that he said has flowed to "his son's and his son's business partners" -- even as he acknowledged no hard evidence of impeachable conduct.
Just 48 hours later, Hunter Biden was indicted by a newly elevated Justice Department special counsel on federal gun charges. Those charges are unusual on their own and have nothing to do with either his father or his business practices, but the special counsel is also investigating tax-related discrepancies that could leave him facing additional charges that could extend into those realms.
That puts Hunter and his relationship with his father at the center of both congressional and Justice Department probes that have few ascribed limits into how deeply they try to delve. Neither will be satisfied by variations on the president's stock public response about his love for and faith in his son and his insistence, as recently as June, that "my son has done nothing wrong."
Hunter Biden maintains his innocence, notwithstanding a plea deal that a federal judge tossed aside that would have had him plead guilty to tax-related misdemeanors and admit to the facts of a gun violation to him avoid jail time.
The White House has come out strongly in saying the impeachment proceedings are inappropriate and "based on lies." And the president, who has sought to establish a firewall between himself and operations at his Justice Department, has so far avoided public commentary about the charges against his son.
With the presidential election barely a year away, few involved are denying the proximity of all of these events to politics. Former President Donald Trump -- himself impeached twice, and who has urged along both charges against Hunter Biden and the impeachment of the current president -- suggested in an interview this week that going down the impeachment road with Biden is happening in part because of his own impeachments.
"They did it to me," Trump, who is again the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, told Sirius XM's Megyn Kelly. "And had they not done it to me, I think, and nobody officially said this, but I think had they not done it to me … perhaps you wouldn't have it being done to them."
Hunter Biden's attorney, Abbe Lowell, predicted Friday that the case against his client will be dismissed before going to trial, pointing out that the information cited in the indictment has been known for years – dating back to the Trump administration.
"What changed? Not the facts, not the law, but all the politics that have now come into play," Lowell said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "The only thing that's changed has been the political pressure put on by the Republicans in Congress and the media that supports them."
That same political pressure seems to have been lessened not at all by the indictment. House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer called the news a "very small start" that would not influence his panel's or other congressional efforts – now armed with potentially more legal standing, given McCarthy's announcement -- to investigate the Bidens.
"Unless U.S. Attorney [David] Weiss investigates everyone involved in the fraud schemes and influence peddling, it will be clear President Biden's DOJ is protecting Hunter Biden and the 'Big Guy,'" Comer said.
The "big guy" is a reference to a purported nickname for Joe Biden applied by former Hunter Biden business associates, according to a whistleblower who has already come before GOP-led congressional panels. The fact that Comer would casually reference an obscure detail like that in his response speaks to the power that the narrative has already drawn across conservative media outlets.
A recent analysis of public-opinion polls by FiveThirtyEight revealed some intriguing splits. Polls have consistently shown disapproval for Hunter Biden and a sense that he engaged in wrongdoing, but only a distinct minority – 35% in a recent Quinnipiac University poll – believing the president was involved and did something illegal.
Allegations by Comer and other major Republicans have been exaggerated to date. No evidence has emerged publicly tying the president to any of the money his son made, or of the president – dating back to his time as vice president – taking official actions that were connected to his son's business interests.
But Hunter Biden did make millions from years' worth of deals that appear to have leveraged his family name and relationships. The president was at best mistaken or misleading, if not flat-out lying, when he said before the 2020 election that his son never made money through business dealings in China.
While the White House maintains the president's loyalty to his son, some Democrats have begun to make a key distinction. Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, told Politico that Hunter Biden "may have very well done some improper things."
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a leader in the Trump impeachments, said, "You can't impeach Hunter Biden, but he will be prosecuted." Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn. -- one of the few prominent Democrats to say publicly that Biden should not run for a second term -- defended the president but pointedly not his son in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
"The evidence suggests Hunter Biden is guilty of unethical and/or illegal behavior. The evidence suggests Joe Biden is guilty of absolutely nothing more than being a father," Phillips posted.
Any rallying behind the president but not his son figures to make for awkward moments going forward. The president has kept his son close -- Hunter Biden attended a state dinner just days after announcing a plea deal that would later fall apart – and has reinforced his pride for a man who has overcome tragedy and addiction.
It's a relationship forged by unspeakable loss -- a car crash that killed the future president's wife and daughter and injured his young sons, and much later the death of Hunter's brother, Beau, of cancer at the age of 46.
As is fitting for a man and a family so used to the public eye, key details around the legal case have been put in the public realm by people named "Biden." Hunter Biden has spoken and written extensively about his battles with addiction -- critical evidence in the gun-related charges -- and even about how his paychecks from the Ukrainian energy company Burisma "turned into a major enabler" of his "steepest skid into addiction."
Writing of his role on Burisma's board -- which became central to the first impeachment case against Trump -- he said he did nothing unethical. He wrote that he would not do it all over again, but added that none of that matters because "I'd be attacked anyway."
"What I do believe, in this current climate, is that it wouldn't matter what I did or didn't do," the younger Biden wrote. "The attacks weren't intended for me. They were meant to wound my dad."
Such attacks might be almost indistinguishable from here. That might make them all that much harder to stomach -- for father, son, and perhaps the nation and the party that the president leads.