Could President Biden’s Visit to the Home of Hunter’s Ex-Girlfriend Hallie Amount to Witness Tampering?

Another question is whether the president will use one of the least fettered powers of his office to remove the threats of conviction that loom over his son.

AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File
President Biden leaves St. Joseph on the Brandywine Catholic Church in Wilmington, Del., with his daughter-in-law, Hallie Biden after attending a Mass, October 3, 2021. AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File

President Biden’s nighttime visit to his former daughter-in-law Hallie’s home eight days before his son will stand trial on gun charges could raise the possibility of accusations of witness tampering. 

Ms. Biden, who engaged in a romantic relationship with Hunter Biden after being married to his brother Beau, is expected to be an important witness in the federal case, which will be held in Delaware. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Biden fils lied about his drug use on gun purchase forms and possessed a Colt Cobra 388PL revolver, illegally. Mr. Biden also faces tax charges in California.

The indictment’s unnamed “Witness 3” appears to be Ms. Biden. She is described as having been “previously in a romantic relationship” with the first son and having “observed the defendant using crack cocaine frequently — every 20 minutes except when he slept.” Testimony with respect to his drug use could bolster prosecutors’ argument. Hunter Biden alleges that the case is politically motivated. 

Ms. Biden, according to a report in Politico, was the one who in 2018 found the gun in Hunter’s truck and threw it out in a garbage receptacle outside an upscale Wilmington supermarket. It was this fateful act that brought the firearm to the attention of law enforcement in the first place. Ms. Biden is likely the most important witness for the prosecution, both as an observer of Hunter Biden’s drug use and as a witness to the existence of, and threat of, the firearm itself.

The presidential visit, which according to the New York Post lasted 15 minutes, occurred over Memorial Day weekend and comes four days before the anniversary of Beau Biden’s death. A White House spokesman tells the Post that the president did not discuss the case and that the visit was keyed to the “approaching 9th anniversary of Beau’s passing.” His two children with Hallie, ages 19 and 18, are still believed to live with their mother, and the president has often described himself as an engaged grandfather.

The Sun asked a veteran litigator, Harvey Silverglate, if the visit would worry him if he was working on the case, on either side. He writes back that he would be “[n]ot so much worried as disappointed. But, given the goings-on on both sides of the political divide, hardly surprised.”

Still, the arrangement whereby the most powerful man in the world is the father of a criminal defendant, and that defendant’s former lover is set to testify against him, suggests the possibility of external influence shaping a case that will transpire under a white-hot spotlight. Judges take any effort to influence testimony seriously  — President Trump faces gag orders with respect to witnesses in both his hush money and January 6 trials.

The Department of Justice’s Criminal Resource Manual explains that there is a “broad prohibition against tampering with a witness, victim or informant,” and that “conduct intended to illegitimately affect the presentation of evidence in Federal proceedings” is banned. The statute that bans tampering carries with it the possibility of a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

Tampering is a species of obstruction, and a person can be successfully prosecuted even for an unsuccessful effort to tamper. A conviction for tampering is also not dependent on the evidence at issue being admissible at trial. A case currently before the Supreme Court, Fischer v. United States, could decide the reach of the prohibition on tampering with evidence with respect to January 6. It could result in the dismissal of two of the charges against Mr. Trump.

Even if Mr. Biden père is — hypothetically — found to have engaged in witness tampering, the Department of Justice would forebear the bringing of charges while he occupies the presidency. Those protections might not avail should he lose in November. Meeting with his erstwhile daughter-in-law is likely a private act, and thus probably not entitled to the immunities of the presidency, even under Mr. Trump’s expansive vision of that prerogative.

The president, though, has not been shy about mixing familiar affairs with official duties. A state dinner last week for the president and first lady of Kenya included on its guest list both Hunter Biden and Attorney General Garland, the man ultimately responsible for supervising Special Counsel David Weiss, who is  prosecuting the younger Mr. Biden. Hunter was also invited to, and attended, the state dinner honoring India’s prime minister last June, just a few days after the announcement of his doomed plea agreement with Mr. Weiss.  

An open question, though, is whether the president will use one of the most unfettered powers of his office to remove the threat of conviction that looms over his son. The Constitution ordains that the president “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States.” Alexander Hamilton writes in 74 Federalist that the “benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed.” Will the presidential patriarch be embarrassed to use it to save his son?   

Mr. Biden’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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This article has been updated from the bulldog


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