Joe Biden, the ‘X’ factor in world politics

Joe Biden’s best bet is the dictum, ‘After me, the Deluge.’ His trump card is that Donald Trump might win if he gives up his candidacy in such unsavoury circumstances.
For representational purpose.(Express Illustration | Soumyadip Sinha)
For representational purpose.(Express Illustration | Soumyadip Sinha)

The simmering controversy over corruption involving US President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden for having accepted bribes from a Ukrainian firm has so far been shoved under the carpet deftly through media management and leveraging relevant government investigative agencies. But the moment of truth is approaching, which has immense consequences for America and global politics.

What we see are three things. First, the rule of law is not really applicable to powerful people in America. Second, the sort of media freedom that used to exist in America at one time, as in the era of the Watergate or the Monica Lewinsky affair, is a thing of the past, the tendency now being to sidestep, ignore or deliberately play down unsavoury stories about the personage of Biden—be it his senility or his integrity. Third, most important, public apathy is appalling in America towards issues of political corruption that are so deep-rooted and rampant.

However, a cover-up by the White House and Biden’s loyal supporters among Democrats may not be sustainable for much longer. The developments within the past week alone point in that direction. Certainly, the political temperature shot up following the release of a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) document by a top Senate Republican, Chuck Grassley, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, detailing an allegation that Joe Biden and his son accepted bribes from a Ukrainian firm.

Senator Grassley’s move drew strong rebuke from the FBI, which had possessed the document since mid-2020 but doggedly kept it under wraps. The FBI document says an informant described a 2016 meeting where the CEO of Ukrainian energy company Burisma claimed that he had made two $5 million payments to “the Bidens”.

The document quotes the informant (who the FBI describes as highly credible) as saying, “It costs 5 (million dollars) to pay one Biden, and 5 (million) to another Biden.” The case refers to the 2015-16 period when Hunter Biden was on Burisma’s board earning $50,000 a month, and dad Joe Biden was not only the vice-president but also the Obama administration’s point person for the US-backed regime change project in Ukraine in February 2014, which installed a pro-western puppet regime in Kiev.

The White House has once again scrambled to stonewall, saying the FBI document stated claims that have been “debunked over the years”. According to the document, Burisma executives employed Hunter Biden despite him being unintelligent with no previous background in the energy business, only because he was his father’s son and could benefit the company from a powerful vice-president—and was found to be a useful influencer.

Four days after the document’s release, Republicans dialled up the pressure, seeking an investigation into President Joe Biden and his family business dealings. The speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, said the probes’ findings are rising to the level of an impeachment inquiry against the president.

Meanwhile, the House Oversight Committee chairman James Comer, carried matters further, saying he will call for closed-door testimony from one of Hunter Biden’s former business partners. The investigation, led by Comer, revolves around allegations that the then vice president took part in a bribery scheme connected to his son’s business relationship with Burisma, with evidence pointing towards Hunter putting his father on speakerphone with his overseas business partners in at least a dozen instances.

On Wednesday, as if all that happened last week was not enough, during a court hearing, a federal judge raised concerns about the terms of preferential treatment given by the Department of Justice to Hunter Biden in two tax evasion cases involving over $1.5 million in income, where he’d plead guilty and reciprocally, the prosecutors would recommend a token punishment of two years of probation.

By the way, the so-called “plea bargaining” in law with the prosecutors also includes an agreement on a separate gun charge—Hunter Biden has been accused of possessing a firearm in 2018 as a drug user, and the deal is that the gun case will be wiped from his record, as otherwise, the felony charge carries 10 years in prison for an ordinary citizen!

Evidently, the Republicans’ dominance in the House of Representatives will crucially come into play in the coming months. President Biden is likely to find himself a cat on a hot tin roof since these developments also have the potential to dovetail into his candidacy for a second term in the White House in the November 2024 election. Already, only 3% of Americans want an elderly president like Joe Biden, who is 80. But the president, who has an enviable record as a politician and dealmaker for over half a century, wields significant control of the Democratic Party establishment.

Although a majority of Democrats would prefer him to retire from seeking a second term, they don’t articulate that sentiment since he is an incumbent president, and secondly, given their profound unease about the prospect of Vice President Kamala Harris throwing the hat into the ring and staking claim to succeed Joe Biden, her mediocre record in office for the past two years notwithstanding.

As things stand, Joe Biden’s best bet is the dictum, “After me, the Deluge.” His trump card is that Donald Trump might win if he gives up his candidacy in such unsavoury circumstances—something Democrats uniformly dread and abhor. Besides, Joe Biden needs to remain in office and benefit from the immunity from prosecution available for incumbent American presidents, or face a shameful, miserable period in old age as a corrupt outlier.

For the world community, this morality play is indeed going to be hugely important: how Joe Biden manipulates the flow of the cesspool surrounding his political persona and family members, keeps his candidacy for 2024 afloat, and, to that end, diverts public attention. The spectre that haunts us is that he may well take the route of Bill Clinton, who fired dozens of cruise missiles at Kandahar when coming face to face with the day of reckoning. Ukraine and Joe Biden’s political career are joined at the hip, and its implications cannot be underestimated.

M K Bhadrakumar

Former diplomat

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