Hunter Biden to Leave Chinese Company Board, Addressing Appearance of Conflict
ALTOONA, Iowa — Hunter Biden, whose overseas business dealings have drawn relentless attacks from President Trump and posed a threat to the candidacy of his father, Joseph R. Biden Jr., intends to step down from the board of a Chinese company, BHR, by the end of the month, his lawyer said in a statement on Sunday.
The statement also said that if Mr. Biden were to be elected president, his son would “agree not to serve on boards of, or work on behalf of, foreign-owned companies.”
The decision is the first action the pro-Biden camp has taken that appears to acknowledge the extent to which Hunter Biden’s business practices have created an untenable problem for his father’s 2020 campaign. With the fourth Democratic primary debate only two days away, political strategists said Hunter Biden’s decision to leave the Chinese company could help defuse the issue at a time when some of Mr. Biden’s lower-polling Democratic rivals have suggested his son’s work overseas raises questions about conflict of interest.
“Hunter’s decision won’t stop Trump from spreading debunked conspiracy theories about the past,” said David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s former chief strategist. “But it does give Joe Biden an answer he didn’t have about potential conflicts of interest moving forward.”
There is no evidence Mr. Biden acted improperly to aid his son’s overseas financial dealings in China and Ukraine. Still, many on the Biden team have been gravely concerned about Mr. Trump’s ability to inflict damage with a barrage of baseless claims of corruption against the Biden family, some of which were included in an expansive pro-Trump advertising campaign.
Mr. Biden has consistently ranked as one of the Democratic Party’s leading presidential candidates. But his advantage has slipped in some recent polls, and his fund-raising has lagged his top rivals. Over the last two weeks he has begun to vigorously fight back against Mr. Trump’s criticisms and last week, in a fiery address in New Hampshire, he called for the first time for Mr. Trump to be impeached.
“You go to three foreign governments, not just all about me — three foreign governments, and ask them to come in and interfere in the sovereignty, the sacredness of the American electoral process?” Mr. Biden said Sunday at a union gathering in Altoona, apparently alluding to Mr. Trump’s dealings with Russia, as well as with Ukraine and China. “Come on. Come on. This is outrageous. If in fact the House doesn’t move, let the facts fall where they may, then what does the next unethical president, if we elect one, what does that say they can do?”
The statement on Sunday from Hunter Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires, said his client had served only as a member of the board of directors of BHR, an equity investment fund manager, “which he joined based on his interest in seeking ways to bring Chinese capital to international markets.” It was an unpaid position. Mr. Mesires has previously said Hunter Biden became an investor in 2017, taking a 10 percent stake in BHR.
Mr. Trump has said with no evidence that Mr. Biden’s son used political ties to induce China to invest $1.5 billion in a fund he was involved in, an assertion Mr. Biden has denied.
The statement had been in the works for weeks, one Biden adviser said. Separately, a person familiar with the decision said it came at Hunter Biden’s initiative, not his father’s.
Mr. Trump has directed his broadsides against Hunter Biden as he faces an impeachment inquiry in the House, which was spurred by the president’s phone call to the president of Ukraine urging the government to investigate Hunter Biden’s financial dealings there. Subsequently, Mr. Trump publicly called for China to look into Hunter Biden’s financial dealings in that country.
Aides say Mr. Biden has been bracing for weeks for questions about his son at Tuesday’s CNN/New York Times debate. His allies and advisers say that any Democrat who broaches the subject is playing into Mr. Trump’s hands and hurting the party’s cause, and some have suggested Mr. Biden is prepared to make that case if he faces personal attacks, though several of his more prominent opponents have so far been careful to avoid criticizing Mr. Biden’s family.
Still, the national focus on Mr. Biden’s family has become a political vulnerability, some Democrats say, moving him off his campaign message and forcing him to play defense as he faces questions about conflicts of interest.
“It becomes a distraction, and that’s what hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016,” said Bret Nilles, the Democratic Party chairman in Linn County, Iowa, alluding to the scrutiny of Mrs. Clinton’s email practices while she was secretary of state.
The Biden campaign’s strategy has been to push back firmly on Mr. Trump’s claims, and to argue that the president is attacking Mr. Biden because he is concerned about running against him in a general election.
“They can also say, for Democrats who are nervous about it, ‘Hunter’s taken a step to say he won’t be on these boards if the vice president is elected president,’ and they could say, ‘We’ve addressed it and it’s time to move on,’” said Jennifer Palmieri, who was Mrs. Clinton’s communications director in the 2016 presidential campaign. “There are these campaign rituals you have to go through when your campaign does hit a perilous patch like this in order to signal to the press you’re handling it right, and to reassure supporters.”
At the union gathering here on Sunday, Mr. Biden began his remarks by praising Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., for a morning television appearance where he defended “me and my family against these outrageous, lying ads” from Mr. Trump.
“That’s a good man,” he said of Mr. Buttigieg, to applause.
His campaign didn’t respond to several follow-up questions about the younger Mr. Biden’s decision, including about why Hunter Biden didn’t recuse himself earlier.
The last few weeks have been a challenging time for Mr. Biden, aides and allies have said. The Biden family, which is close-knit, has endured painful losses over the years, including the death in 2015 of Mr. Biden’s elder son Beau Biden; Hunter Biden is the former vice president’s only surviving son.
“Before he decided to run, we sat down and had a conversation about how hard it was going to be because we know Donald Trump, we saw what he did in 2016,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware and a close Biden ally. “It’s different when it starts and it’s different when it picks up steam and it’s different when it’s, you know, a direct attack on you and your family.”
But, he said, Mr. Biden is “not going to be surprised” by any attacks on the debate stage on Tuesday, even highly personal ones.
Many Democrats think the Trump children, for their part, warrant tough scrutiny, given their own business dealings overseas.
In the weeks since news broke that Mr. Trump urged the Ukrainians to look into the Bidens, Mr. Biden has held only a handful of public events, spending significant time at fund-raisers as the third quarter of the year drew to a close. He finished the quarter having raised about $10 million less than his two top rivals, Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Mr. Biden has also toggled between responding sharply to Mr. Trump and working to pivot back to policy, though he has ramped up his criticisms of Mr. Trump forcefully in recent weeks, and is expected to make the president a major focus of his debate appearance on Tuesday, a Biden adviser said.
Jonathan Martin contributed reporting.
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