Hunter Biden’s guilty verdict punctuates long and difficult saga for the president’s family

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When Hunter Biden was discharged from the Navy Reserve for using cocaine in 2014, his father — then-Vice President Joe Biden — wrote his family a concise message of summation.

“Time to move on,” he said in an email.

For the Bidens, moving on from Hunter’s issues of addiction has proved almost impossible. Even with their son now sober and living in California with his young family, the darkest days of the family’s lives continue to bear consequences in ways that weigh heavily on the president.

Hunter Biden’s guilty verdict on three federal gun charges Tuesday punctuated — but did not end — what has been a long and difficult saga. Joe Biden, who had planned to spend Tuesday night at the White House, returned late in the day to Delaware to surround himself with members of his family, many of whom spent the last week attending the trial.

Greeting him at the steps to Marine One was his son, who only five hours earlier had left the downtown courthouse newly convicted.

If the family felt anguished, they did not show it — at least not in view of the cameras. Instead, the president offered his family a warm smile, hugged Hunter Biden’s young son, Beau, and gave him a kiss on the forehead.

Joe Biden has little precedent to follow in navigating his son’s conviction. Never before has a president’s immediate family member been found guilty of a crime during their father’s term in office. While the emotional weight and concern are shared by his family, doing so as president is a unique burden.

Hunter Biden departs from federal court on Tuesday, June 11, in Wilmington, Delaware.
Aside from the last-minute trip to Delaware — first floated as a possibility late Monday night, a source familiar with the plans said, with a final decision reached Tuesday afternoon following the verdict — the president’s schedule wasn’t altered. He still spoke Tuesday afternoon at an event on gun violence prevention in Washington, despite the political awkwardness of the subject matter. And he is still planning to travel to Italy on Wednesday for the G7.

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The display of warmth on the tarmac Tuesday was in keeping with the president’s approach to his son’s legal predicament. Instead of pushing him away, as some wary Democrats might prefer, the president has held Hunter Biden close throughout his ordeal.

From the airport, where hugs were also exchanged between Biden family members and close aides, the group traveled in separate cars to the president’s home in a leafy Wilmington neighborhood to process the developments in private.

It has been behind closed doors that Joe Biden and his family have mostly kept their concerns over their son’s legal issues. The president has been wary of speaking about the matter publicly, and it’s not a topic aides raise easily.

Asked during an interview with ABC last week about the case, Biden offered only one-word answers.

“Yes,” he would accept the verdict. “Yes,” he had ruled out a pardon.

The private nature of the circumstances in the case made the very public airing of traumatic moments during last week’s trial all the more difficult.

Tearful moments from the president’s granddaughter Naomi deeply affected many family members. And the revelation that Hallie Biden — the widow of the president’s late son, Beau Biden, who later had a relationship with Hunter Biden — had herself tried crack cocaine reverberated throughout the wider Biden orbit.

In a statement following the verdict, Joe Biden framed the conviction through the lens of a father, not a president.

Hunter Biden arrives at the federal court on the opening day of his trial on criminal gun charges in Wilmington, Delaware, on June 3.
“Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today. So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery,” the president wrote.

He also sought to draw an implicit but clear distinction with former President Donald Trump, who has called the judicial system “rigged” in the wake of his own felony conviction on charges of falsifying business records.

“I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal,” the president wrote. “Jill and I will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support. Nothing will ever change that.”

What role the verdict will play in November’s election remains difficult to discern, although Biden’s aides and even many Republicans have downplayed the prospect of voters being swayed by the legal problems of the president’s son.

Biden aides – upon learning of the verdict – made clear to allies that despite the historic conviction of a sitting president’s son, everything would be business as usual for the campaign, two sources familiar with the campaign’s thinking said.

Even as Hunter Biden’s trial got underway, officials inside the president’s campaign headquarters in Wilmington maintained that voters understand what they see as a black-and-white difference between Trump, who is a former president and now a convicted felon, and Hunter Biden, who – despite being the president’s son – is a private citizen.

One of the two sources said officials in Wilmington unsurprisingly discussed the guilty verdict, but the source declined to describe the tenor of those conversations.

That reticence was a clear reflection of a reality that Biden allies know well: Few issues are more sensitive inside the White House and the president’s reelection campaign operation than those related to his family.

Perhaps more worrying than the political fallout, at least for some people close to Biden, is the personal toll the verdict could have on the president as he gears up for a bruising rematch against Trump. Biden, who speaks or texts with his son on a daily basis, has been concerned for his well-being throughout the legal saga.

The president is still expected to spend ample time in the coming weeks preparing for his June 27 debate with Trump. And a day after one of the most painful moments for his family, Biden is expected to leave for a three-day trip to Italy for the G7 summit.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on an executive order limiting asylum in the East Room of the White House on June 04, 2024 in Washington, DC.
The fluke of scheduling speaks to the balance Biden has been forced to strike throughout his son’s legal proceedings. As the trial was underway last week, Biden was in France commemorating D-Day. Aides said the president was keeping track of the trial from overseas, and remained in touch with his son and first lady Jill Biden, who was a regular presence in the courtroom, along with their daughter Ashley, the president’s brother James, and the first lady’s sister Bonny Jacobs.

Before and after that trip, the president spent a sizable amount of time with Hunter Biden in Delaware, including at the family beach home in Rehoboth the weekend before jury selection. He returned from France directly to the family home in Wilmington.

That city rests at the very center of the Biden family identity. The train station the president passed through thousands of times as a senator and vice president is now named in his honor. The courthouse where the trial unfolded is named for the Republican senator Biden defeated in 1972. The president’s reelection campaign is headquartered a few blocks away.

Farther out of town is the home on a lake the Biden family has returned to in moments of joy and times of pain. The driveway out front is where, in the depths of Hunter Biden’s addiction, his father once chased his son after an attempted intervention, grabbed him close in the dark and cried.