Commentary by Charlie Tidmarsh originally published by RealClearPolitics and RealClearWire
Donald Trump has been indicted for a third time. Special counsel Jack Smith has charged the former president with four counts of conspiracy and obstruction for his actions leading up to the events of January 6, 2021. This indictment follows Alvin Bragg’s in New York—pertaining to Trump’s alleged campaign-finance violations in 2015 and 2016, as he arranged to settle a dispute with Stormy Daniels—and Smith’s first indictment in June, a collection of federal charges relating to Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents and his subsequent obstruction of the inquiry thereof.
In other legal news, Delaware district judge Maryellen Noreika declined to ratify Hunter Biden’s plea deal with the Justice Department, observing that the deal favored “form over substance” and was, in other words, too sweet. The first son had previously pled guilty to two misdemeanor tax-fraud charges and entered a pretrial diversion agreement on one felony firearms charge after failing to disclose his ongoing substance abuse when purchasing a handgun. The younger Biden recently made his first court appearance since the DOJ began investigating him in 2018, under Trump-appointed prosecutor David Weiss’s supervision.
At a moment when nearly half of the country is cheering on a steady procession of judicial action against the leading Republican presidential candidate, it’s important to remember that the alleged crimes of one president do not absolve those of another. In a different political climate, it would be uncontroversial to question why, exactly, the son of a sitting American president has been paid millions of dollars by foreign actors in exchange for obscure consulting services. In our political climate, however, and particularly in the wake of two Trump impeachments and three Trump indictments, asking such a question is widely seen by supporters of President Biden as beyond the pale.
What this critique ignores is the work done by journalists and writers, such as Miranda Devine at the New York Post, who have been covering the Hunter Biden story for years, long before it could have been construed as mere “whataboutism.”
Devine is perhaps the most consistent voice—apart from Donald Trump himself—on the shady relationships that President Biden and his son have cultivated with Ukraine. She has chronicled the saga prolifically since 2019, when Hunter’s fraught connection to the Ukrainian natural gas firm Burisma first attracted public attention.
The story runs something like this: Hunter Biden, second-eldest son of Joe Biden, left his career as a lobbyist once his father was elected vice president in 2008. Soon thereafter, pivoting from U.S. lobbying to foreign consulting, he was appointed to the board of Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings, earning roughly $80,000 monthly. At the same time, Vice President Biden was playing a central role in U.S.–Ukraine relations. Hunter’s Burisma invoices and emails were discovered on the infamous laptop that he delivered to a repair shop in 2019 – an incident that would later become the target of censorship efforts by Facebook and Twitter in the run-up to Election Day in 2020.
Devine was the first to report on Twitter’s decision (the deliberations over which have been well documented in the Twitter Files) to block the New York Post’s account and to affix a note to any Tweet containing the Hunter Biden laptop story, warning readers that “The link you are trying to access has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially spammy or unsafe.” In concert, Facebook announced that it would “reduce [the] distribution” of the story on its platform.
In hindsight, two of Devine’s questions are remarkably prescient. “Did [Facebook and Twitter] ever fact-check the Times’ and the Washington Post’s debunked ‘Russia collusion’ tall tales?”, she asks, and, further, “Did they interfere with BuzzFeed spreading the infamous Steele Dossier tissue of lies?” While some journalists involved, including BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith, stand by the publication of the dossier—the veracity of which was as questionable as Hunter’s laptop, if not more so—the double standard is striking. In 2020, only conservatives were calling Russiagate a “fraud”; today, bipartisan consensus is growing that the Steele dossier was erroneous and misguided and that the Russiagate narrative was hyperinflated by a mainstream press eager to invalidate 2016 Trump’s election.
One of the difficulties in covering these highly politicized stories is distinguishing scoops from genuine falsehoods, which abound on both sides. Earlier this year Devine, essentially on the Hunter beat for the last three years, served as the source of a story involving a rental application in Hunter Biden’s name that showed a history of monthly rent payments of $50,000. Critics of the Bidens, including Tucker Carlson, primed to be suspicious of Hunter’s finances, soon began claiming without evidence that the property in question was Joe Biden’s Wilmington, Delaware, home, and that the absurdly high rent was a method of laundering money from foreign actors to the president through his son. If true, this would have been the crucial clue connecting Hunter’s suspect business dealings directly to his father and his political influence. When this supposition was demonstrated to be false—it was confirmed that the rental payments were for an office space in Washington, D.C.—Devine warned her followers on Twitter against “wild speculation” and acknowledged that the story was not at all what conservatives hoped it would be.
It’s rare these days to see public corrections issued by journalists covering controversial and politicized topics. The incentives are not to do so, precisely because such admissions are leveraged by the other side to discredit the reporter involved. Just as we are owed corrections from mainstream outlets like the Times and the Washington Post for hasty and erroneous reporting on Russiagate, we should expect mainstream conservative media figures to retract false and defamatory content about Joe Biden. Devine, in sticking to the evidence, is fostering a space for genuine conservative skepticism of the sitting president.
For more articles in this series, visit this link. Charlie Tidmarsh is a writer at RealClear Politics and RealClear Books & Culture. He lives and works in New York City.
This article was originally published by RealClearBooks and made available via RealClearWire.