A search of Justice Department databases reveals that Hunter Biden failed to register as a foreign agent while promoting the interests of foreign business partners in Washington, including brokering meetings with his father and other government officials, and RealClear Investigations has learned that at least one Senate committee is investigating whether Joe Biden’s son violated federal laws requiring disclosure of such foreign contacts.
Paul Manafort ended up in prison in part for failing to publicly disclose his lobbying on behalf of Ukrainian clients and partners. Compared with the treatment of Hunter Biden, that's “a double standard, 100%,” said a former assistant FBI director.
The Obama administration did not prosecute Hunter Biden for potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, despite its much more aggressive pursuit of FARA cases relative to other administrations – including its opening of criminal investigations on no fewer than six Trump campaign advisers in 2016.
One of them, Paul Manafort, ended up in prison on charges that included failing to publicly disclose his lobbying on behalf of Ukrainian clients and partners. Newly discovered April 2015 emails show Hunter Biden appeared to be helping a Ukrainian energy executive meet with and lobby his father, who was vice president at the time. Hunter, who held a lucrative seat on the board of Ukrainian gas giant Burisma at the time, also sought meetings with State Department officials.
None of these contacts were publicly disclosed in government filings, according to a search of both FARA and Lobbying Disclosure Act records, which show Hunter registered as a federal lobbyist in 2001 and stopped filing disclosures in 2008. In contrast, Hunter’s former law partner and fellow lobbyist, William Oldaker, has registered as a foreign agent under FARA. Oldaker is Joe Biden’s longtime campaign lawyer and fundraiser.
Although it has not sent a criminal referral to Justice, at least one Senate committee is actively investigating Hunter’s compliance with the FARA law. RCI has also learned that a public-interest law firm is preparing a complaint to Justice regarding Hunter Biden's arranging meetings between his foreign contacts and his father when Joe Biden was vice president.
Tony Bobulinski, who says he is a former associate of Hunter Biden, has turned over evidence to the FBI. He says Joe Biden was included as a silent partner in a proposed 2017 partnership.
Some former investigators and prosecutors say the uneven enforcement of the federal statute smacks of politics.
“It’s a double standard, 100%,” said former assistant FBI director Chris Swecker, who led public corruption cases out of Washington.
Added Swecker, who also served as a federal prosecutor: “It’s strange how in this election there is no curiosity whatsoever about foreign influence on a potential president of the United States, especially from this country’s greatest threat – China.”
Chinese nationals with ties to the communist government in Beijing offered to pay Hunter Biden millions of dollars to make “introductions alone” with influential U.S. parties, according to emails leaked from Hunter’s abandoned laptop. Joe Biden was included as a silent partner in a proposed 2017 partnership with the Chinese, according to another partner in the deal, Tony Bobulinski, who has turned over evidence to the FBI. Biden was widely believed to be planning a White House run at the time.
Bobulinski says the Chinese weren’t looking to make a “healthy” return on investment, but rather "as a political or influence investment.”
In a May 2017 email, their mutual business partner, James Biden, sent his nephew Hunter, Bobulinski and other partners a list of friendly American political contacts whom they could exploit to advance the proposed joint venture with their Chinese partners. Among the “key domestic contacts” were: Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who is now Joe Biden’s running mate. (FARA records show James Biden has not registered as a foreign agent either.)
In text messages sent that same month, Hunter sought to avoid registering as a foreign agent as part of the venture.
“We don’t want to have to register as foreign agents,” he told Bobulinski on May 1, 2017, and suggested setting up a U.S. shell company to work around it.
The texts indicate Hunter was familiar with the requirements of the law. It is a crime to knowingly violate FARA. Violations carry a maximum punishment of five years in prison.
Hunter’s lawyer George Mesires did not respond to requests for comment. Attempts to reach James Hunter were unsuccessful.
Asked if Hunter Biden is the target of a FARA investigation, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec declined to comment. FBI spokeswoman Katherine Gulotta also declined comment, "keeping with our standard practice of not confirming or denying the existence of an investigation." However, the FBI in late 2019 seized Hunter Biden's laptop hard drive reportedly as part of a money laundering investigation, which would mean investigators have his emails discussing his desire to avoid registering as a foreign agent.
The Senate Finance Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, is actively investigating Hunter Biden’s possible non-compliance with the FARA statute, according to a spokesman.
"Chairman Grassley is continuing to review developments surrounding Hunter Biden’s foreign-influence arrangements to determine whether any potential violation occurred,” Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said, adding that staff investigators are combing through the trove of emails found on Hunter's laptop.
Asked if they are preparing to refer the matter to Justice for criminal investigation, Foy said, “We haven’t reached that point at the moment, but we are actively looking at the material with FARA in mind."
At the same time, a Washington-based conservative watchdog group is pressing Justice to investigate the matter.
“We are preparing a complaint to the Department of Justice as to whether Hunter Biden may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act for arranging meetings with his foreign contacts with his father when he was vice president," Paul Kamenar, counsel to the National Legal and Policy Center, said in an interview with RCI.
The Biden campaign has dismissed accusations of influence peddling as a “smear campaign” against the Democratic presidential candidate and his family. If Democrats take control of the government, including the White House and Senate, former federal investigators say, they expect the inquiry to be shelved by the new Justice Department as well the Congress.
“Starting in 2016, the previous administration used FARA and the criminal justice system as tools to attack and eliminate the opposition,” said FBI veteran Michael Biasello. “If Biden gets in, the same elements will be back in charge and make sure those tools won’t be turned on themselves."
The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires anyone who is lobbying the government or doing public relations work in the U.S. on behalf of a foreigner to register his or her precise activities – as well as compensation – in a public filing with Justice, which ensures Americans are given notice of any actions by foreigners to influence public opinion, policies or elected officials.
Though violations are rarely prosecuted, the Obama-Biden administration opened investigations against six Trump campaign advisers for suspected FARA violations – Michael Flynn, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos and Walid Phares, as RealClearInvestigations first reported. In fact, the overarching Russia “collusion” probe, codenamed Crossfire Hurricane, was actually predicated on possible FARA violations, not espionage.
After Donald Trump took office, Special Counsel Robert Mueller built FARA prosecutions against Flynn, Papadopoulos and Manafort, as well as Gates. The campaign was led by his prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who boasts in his new book of aggressively pursuing FARA cases against the Trump associates as part of the so-called Russia “collusion” probe, which ended with no evidence Trump or any of his associates conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
In the end, Mueller’s team dropped the cases against Flynn and Papadopoulos. But in September 2018, Manafort pleaded guilty to, among other crimes, violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and making false and misleading FARA statements related to consulting work he did in Ukraine. He was sentenced to 43 months in federal prison. In February 2018, Gates also was indicted for FARA violations unrelated to the 2016 campaign, but the government dropped the FARA charges against him after he agreed to cooperate against Manafort.
Before the flurry of Trump-related FARA cases, only three people had been found guilty of violating the seldom-enforced law since 1966.
“Unfortunately, shoddy FARA compliance and enforcement is nothing new,” Foy told RCI. "In fact, Chairman Grassley put the issue under the microscope long before Special Counsel Mueller dusted off the statute during the Russia probe.”
"The law must be followed and enforced without regard to party, power or position,” he asserted.
Jason Foster, former chief investigator for the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the FARA statute is clear in its registration requirement for those representing or promoting the interests of a foreign government in the U.S. However, he said there is more gray area when it comes to promoting the interests of non-government entities from abroad, such as corporate partners or other foreign principals.
“If Hunter or James Biden were doing lobbying or public relations for a non-government entity, they could get around FARA by registering their activities under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, or LDA, which is much less onerous,” he said. “That would be the only way to legally avoid the FARA registration."
James Biden does not appear in the LDA database as a registered lobbyist. And though Hunter does show up on lobbying forms, his disclosures are limited to the period between 2001 and 2008. And his clients are based in the U.S. and include universities, health-care providers and Indian casinos. Hunter lobbied Congress and various federal agencies on their behalf, the forms show.
Burisma, the Ukrainian company he lobbied for while his father was vice president, does not appear in any of his LDA entries. Nor does CEFC China Energy, the Chinese conglomerate Hunter and James tried to partner with in 2017.
CEFC’s chairman at the time, Ye Jianming, has previously been an officer in an organization controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and also has ties to the People’s Liberation Army, according to a recent Senate report. Bobulinski says he met with Joe Biden and Hunter for more than an hour to discuss the CEFC venture at a Beverly Hills hotel in May 2017.