The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Hunter Biden’s allies weigh legal-defense fund for president’s son

With Hunter Biden facing GOP investigations and financial challenges, his circle contemplates an option that carries risks and sensitivities

Hunter Biden, son of President Biden, at the White House last December. (Al Drago for The Washington Post)
10 min

Hunter Biden’s allies have held initial discussions about creating a legal-defense fund to pay for a growing team of attorneys that is helping him confront both a years-long federal tax investigation and a host of new congressional inquiries, according to people familiar with the matter.

The effort has been triggered by Hunter Biden’s struggles to pay his mounting legal bills amid increasingly stretched resources and his pursuit of a new, aggressive legal strategy, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive subject.

A constellation of lawyers have worked for Biden over the years, and he continues to add new ones as he prepares to confront the investigations that House Republicans are starting to pursue.

It’s unclear exactly how much the president’s son owes in legal fees, in part because some of the bills were expected to be discounted or treated as pro bono work. But three people familiar with his situation estimate his current legal debt at well into the millions of dollars, and the figure is likely to grow as he faces additional congressional investigations.

On Oct. 6, federal agents investigating Hunter Biden said they had gathered sufficient evidence to charge him with crimes related to taxes and a gun purchase. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Hunter Biden, who once had a lucrative career running an investment management firm, has faced financial problems for years. He has no steady source of income as he has become a public lightning rod, and his past efforts to become a Washington power player have faded amid ethical concerns.

Although he has been pursuing a career as an artist, he has sold about a dozen paintings and for a fraction of the $500,000 price tag once estimated by a gallerist, according to a person familiar with his account. Some potential buyers have backed out of purchases because of the potential blowback and congressional investigations, the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

White House grapples with ethics of Hunter Biden’s pricey paintings

Forming a defense fund is a common way for prominent figures to raise money when they need to mount a legal defense, given the high fees of attorneys skilled at navigating the perilous intersection of politics, law and public opinion. But the disclosures around such funds are often opaque, which could raise questions about who is donating and whether, in this case, they are doing so to curry favor with the White House.

There are few federal rules that explicitly regulate legal defense funds for people who do not work in Congress. The Office of Government Ethics, which oversees conflict-of-interest rules for the executive branch, has begun crafting legal defense rules for government employees, including White House officials, but that process is ongoing.

There are no rules under consideration for the children of elected officials, said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, despite concerns that donors could contribute to them as a favor to those occupying or seeking high office. “The Federal Election Commission does not consider legal defense funds to be a part of the campaign finance system,” Holman said.

During President Bill Clinton’s second term, a legal-defense fund raised millions of dollars for his representation in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, the Whitewater investigation and the impeachment inquiry.

Organizers of the Clinton fund, which the president did not directly control, voluntarily capped donations at $10,000 a year and disclosed the names of donors, including author Stephen King, actor Robert De Niro and major Democratic figures. They also voluntarily barred donations from lobbyists, government employees and noncitizens.

More recently, funds have been established to raise money for the legal defense of figures on the right. The American Conservative Union created the First Amendment Fund, a tax-deductible nonprofit organization, to support the legal defense of conservatives, including former Trump administration officials targeted by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Former Trump adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted of obstructing a congressional investigation during Donald Trump’s presidency and was later interviewed by the Jan. 6 committee, also created a “legal defense fund,” though donations were not tax deductible and were “considered gifts to Roger Stone,” according to a disclaimer by the group.

The discussions of a defense fund — or potentially another fundraising mechanism — to alleviate Hunter Biden’s legal debts are in the preliminary phase, according to three people familiar with them, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

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Central questions remain undecided, including who would run the fund and what sorts of parameters or confidentiality rules would be adopted.

What is clear is that Hunter Biden’s finances have become a focal point not only for his allies, as they try to figure out how he can pay his bills, but also for congressional Republicans, who are beginning to issue requests for information, which absent responses could turn into subpoenas.

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, on Wednesday sent a letter to Georges Bergès, the owner of the SoHo gallery that has marketed paintings by Hunter Biden. In the letter, Comer demanded that Bergès supply by Feb. 8 information on the identity of those who purchased the artwork, the prices of the paintings and who attended the gallery openings featuring the younger Biden’s work.

“Your arrangement with Hunter Biden raises serious ethics concerns and calls into question whether the Biden family is again selling access and influence,” the letter reads.

White House officials in 2021 helped craft an agreement under which purchases of Hunter Biden’s artwork would be kept confidential even from the artist himself — one way they sought to avoid ethical conflicts — although Comer’s efforts could end up identifying the buyers.

Bergès did not respond to requests for comment.

Republicans have also tried to focus on Kevin Morris, one of Biden’s lawyers who is also a close friend and has loaned him money.

Comer’s committee also plans to reissue a request to Morris, first made in June, for details of his financial support for Hunter Biden, including a loan to pay off tax liabilities, according to a committee aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe plans that have not been publicly announced.

The committee has argued that such financial support “may constitute” an in-kind contribution to President Biden’s political efforts, which means they should be formally reported and subject to legal limitations — a contention rejected by Hunter Biden’s supporters.

Morris declined to comment.

House Republicans, who recently took control of the chamber, have signaled they will investigative an array of issues related to Hunter Biden.

Comer said Monday that he would start hearings next week, for example, on why Twitter, before the 2020 election, imposed limits on posts about material from a laptop apparently belonging to Hunter Biden. Comer said he also wants to speak with people who paid money to Hunter Biden and James Biden, the president’s brother who has been close to Hunter.

Hunter Biden’s defenders argue that he is a private citizen, saying Congress has no business investigating him and the GOP probes are solely political. But in an appearance Monday at the National Press Club, Comer said lawmakers are scrutinizing whether Hunter Biden improperly profited from his father’s position, which could fall under Congress’s oversight responsibilities.

“There needs to be more disclosure laws. If a family member gets a loan, we need to determine if that is legal or not, and at the very least the media should know what the terms of that loan are,” Comer said. “What business is Hunter Biden in? I would argue it is influence-peddling. And I have a problem with that.”

Over the past several years, Hunter Biden has assembled a team of lawyers on a variety of matters, many of them well known in legal circles.

Amid a federal investigation into his taxes, he turned to Christopher Clark, a former federal prosecutor and New York-based partner at Latham & Watkins, a prominent international firm. Clark has held extensive discussions with federal prosecutors in the case, which also has included possible charges for an alleged false statement related to a 2018 gun purchase.

Clark declined to discuss his client’s billing structure and whether any discounts or financial accommodations have been made for Hunter Biden.

Meanwhile, internal disagreements have broken out among Hunter Biden’s legal team, particularly over how aggressive to be amid looming congressional investigations. Those close to President Biden and the White House have preferred a more conservative approach that makes few public waves, while some close to Hunter Biden want to be more assertive in telling his side of the story.

Hunter Biden’s team initially hired Josh Levy, a prominent white-collar criminal defense lawyer. But Levy’s quieter approach clashed with the desire of Morris and others to take a more aggressive posture.

After Hunter Biden’s team last month brought on Abbe Lowell, who has represented many well-known figures and is known for his hard-hitting tactics, Levy withdrew from the legal team, according to two people familiar with the moves. Levy did not respond to requests for comment.

Bob Bauer, the president’s personal attorney, had recommended that Hunter Biden hire Levy, supporting his “buttoned-down” strategy of complying with congressional requests and oversight, according to a person familiar with the events, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private matters.

White House officials previously said they are less likely to cooperate with Republican investigations that they view as politically motivated, such as those involving Hunter Biden, and are more likely to work with GOP-led probes on topics they consider legitimate subjects for congressional scrutiny, such as the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

While gearing up for the congressional probes, Hunter Biden and his legal team have been seeking closure from the federal investigation into his taxes and gun purchase. Hunter Biden has paid the IRS more than $1 million in back taxes, using a loan that came from Morris.

The case remains open for now, and The Washington Post reported in October that federal agents believed they had gathered enough evidence to charge Hunter Biden with tax crimes and a false statement related to the gun purchase.

Beyond that, Hunter Biden since 2019 has been represented in Arkansas by family law attorney Brent M. Langdon, first to deny paternity over whether a child was his and later to determine the terms of child-support payments.

In recent weeks, Langdon has fought efforts by the mother to have her 4-year-old daughter use Biden’s last name.

Last September, Langdon filed a motion to reduce the child support paid by Hunter Biden, suggesting his economic condition had worsened and citing “a substantial material change in [Biden’s] financial circumstances, including but not limited to his income.”

Langdon did not respond to a request for comment.