By Alan Resnick
I can’t recall if I knew much about Hunter Biden, President Biden’s youngest son, before the last presidential election. But then Donald Trump and his henchman, Rudy Giuliani, dragged Hunter into the spotlight, raising questions about his board membership with Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas firm owned by a Ukrainian oligarch-politician. And being the sensitive, compassionate soul that he is, Trump also decided it was appropriate to make Hunter’s ongoing substance-abuse battles public.
Hunter’s tell-all memoir, Beautiful Things, is being published this week (April 6), so I decided to embark on a digital search to learn more about Hunter, to ready myself for my copy of the book, now winging its way from Amazon. Based on what I’ve gleaned so far, calling Hunter a troubled soul is like describing the Grand Canyon as a pretty big hole in the ground. As NPR’s book reviewer put it: “the details at times make one feel exposed to something like degradation porn.” I completely understand the sentiment; I too felt in need of a hot shower after my reading project.
Hunter’s story is one of both great pain and great privilege. Part of his saga is well known: Hunter, age 3, and his brother Beau, almost 4, were riding in a car with their mom, Nelia, and their 13-month-old sister, Naomi, to pick out a Christmas tree in 1972. Their car was broadsided by a tractor-trailer carrying corn cobs. Hunter’s mother and sister died in the horrific crash. Hunter says he remembers that Naomi was asleep in her bassinet and that he recalls the look in his mom’s eyes and her profile immediately before the accident. He also remembers waking up in a hospital bed next to his brother and Beau saying to him: “I love you. I love you. I love you.”
In the prologue of his memoir, Hunter acknowledges that he is a recovering alcoholic and crack addict: “I’ve bought crack cocaine on the streets of Washington, D.C., and cooked up my own inside a hotel bungalow in Los Angeles. I’ve been so desperate for a drink that I couldn’t make the one-block walk between a liquor store and my apartment without uncapping the bottle to take a swig. . . . At one point I dropped clean off the grid, living in $59-a night Super 8 motels off I-95 while scaring my family even more than myself.” (As an added bonus for readers who are avid do-it-yourselfers, he provides step-by-step instructions for cooking powder cocaine into crack in the kitchen.) Hunter does not make excuses for his addiction, but describes a long-running feeling of alone in a crowd, which he says is almost universal among those with real addiction issues.
Hunter bought his first rock of crack cocaine in a public square in downtown Washington, D.C. and admits, “I could drink five times as much as anyone.” Hunter discloses that a large part of his college years were spent drinking. He got to know his first wife, Kathleen Buhle, during the year he took off after completing his B.A. degree in history at Georgetown University in 1992. They met while Hunter was serving as a Jesuit volunteer at a church in Portland, Ore. Kathleen became pregnant after three months of dating, and they were married in July, 1993. Their first daughter, Naomi (named after Hunter’s deceased sister) was born that December. Hunter then enrolled in law school, graduating from Yale in 1996. So Hunter was married, had an infant daughter, and was attending law school while dealing with an alcohol and crack cocaine addiction. This is multitasking at its finest.
Hunter and Kathleen had two more daughters and were married for 22 years. He began to visit rehab facilities while still in his early 30s, about 10 years into the union. Hunter describes checking into multiple celebrity treatment centers in both the U.S. and Mexico. Not surprisingly, Hunter’s substance abuse put a tremendous strain on his marriage.
Meanwhile, the life of Hunter’s brother, Beau, was on a very different trajectory. Beau had served two terms as Delaware Attorney General, but he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013. The next year, with his cancer in remission, Beau announced his intention to run for governor of Delaware in the 2016 election. But in 2015, at age 46, the older son died after a battle with cancer,
Back at Chez Hunter, Kathleen filed for divorce in December 2016 after a two-month separation. The court documents revealed that Hunter had entered into a romantic relationship with Hallie Olivere Biden, Beau’s widow. Hunter writes that the relationship began as a “shared-travails bond” that collapsed largely because of his addictive tendencies. No doubt, the public scrutiny this relationship faced didn’t help. The relationship ended in August 2017, even though Joe and Jill Biden had voiced their public support for it.
Shortly afterwards, Hunter fathered a child with a woman he does not remember having met. The woman, Lunden Alexis Roberts, sued Biden for child support in an Arkansas court. A 2019 paternity test found with “scientific certainty” that Hunter was the child’s biological father.
At least there appears to be a happy ending thus far in his personal life. Hunter was introduced to Melissa Cohen by a friend of hers in May, 2019. He says they proclaimed their love for each other on their first dinner date and were married six days later. (For purposes of comparison, I just picked up a picture that took two weeks to frame.) They have a son, Beau, named, of course, after his late older brother. Hunter credits Melissa with helping him break his cycle of addiction and rehab. Good news for them both and their son.
Hunter’s business career has also had major trials and tribulations, to say the least. I thought I was well-connected back in the day when my father, who was an executive at a local grocery chain in the Detroit area, helped to snag me a summer job as a bagger in one of his stores, but this pales in comparison to Hunter. Hunter’s first job after law school was for MBNA America, a Delaware-based bank-holding company. As coincidence would have it, the firm was reported to be a major contributor to his father’s political campaigns. Hunter left WBNA America in 1998 to serve at the U. S. Department of Commerce, focusing on ecommerce policy for the Clinton Administration.
In short order, Hunter then became a lobbyist, co-founding the Washington, D.C. firm Oldaker, Biden & Belair. The firm reportedly lobbied Hunter’s father’s office when Joe Biden was a senator, although Hunter Biden was not involved. Nonetheless, the relationship the firm had with Joe Biden certainly gave off a strong whiff of cronyism.
Hunter was appointed to a five-year term on the board of directors of Amtrak by President George W. Bush in 2006. He resigned in 2009, shortly after his father became Vice President. Hunter’s lobbying activities also ended at this time. It is a little fuzzy to what extent this decision reflected his father’s election or his ongoing struggles with substance abuse.
From 2013 to 2019, Hunter Biden served as a member of the board of the China-based equity fund BHR Partners, of which he acquired a 10% stake in 2017 at a discount. While Trump was accusing Hunter Biden of malfeasance in Ukraine, he also falsely claimed that Biden “walked out of China with $1.5 billion in a fund” and earned “millions” of dollars from the BHR deal. Biden announced his resignation from the board on October 13, 2019, citing the “barrage of false charges” by then-President Trump. But his participation on the board remains in question.
And then there is the Fox News favorite, Burisma Holdings, which offered Hunter a board seat and compensation of at least $10,000 per month, even though Hunter had no special experience in gas or the political economics of Ukraine. Now, after being battered by public criticism from the GOP for years, Hunter acknowledges, “There’s no question my last name was a coveted credential. . . My response has always been to work harder so that my accomplishments stand on their own.” Hunter maintains, though, that neither he nor his father did anything illegal regarding Burisma Holdings, and that he vetted Burisma with a reputable U.S. law firm and helped them comply with United States and European Union demands for greater transparency. Hunter does admit, though, that if given the chance, he would not again agree to be a Burisma Holdings board member.
Trump and his political cronies argued that the only reason Hunter was offered a board position was because his father pushed Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor, because the prosecutor was investigating Burisma. But the then-Vice President’s actions were in concert with U.S. policy looking to root out corruption in foreign governments. This, of course, was at the heart of Trump’s first impeachment, when he attempted to get Ukraine’s president to investigate both Joe and Hunter Biden by holding off providing $391 million in military aid. (Remember “Quid pro quo”?).
So, Hunter Biden is out of the woods both personally and legally–almost. Although he makes no mention of it in his memoir, Hunter’s involvement as a board member with BHR Partners is the subject of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into his tax affairs. Federal prosecutors are attempting to determine if Hunter failed to report income from China while on the BHR board from 2013 to 2019. It's also been reported that the Justice Department has subpoenaed documents pertaining to his involvement with Burisma Holdings as part of this investigation. Hunter’s last comment on the subject was in December, 2020: “I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisers." Stay tuned.
Personally, I hope Hunter is right. Being the son of a supermarket executive has been hard, but nowhere as challenging as being the son of a Vice President-turned-President and the younger brother of a rising star in the Democratic party .
Alan Resnick is an industrial psychologist with over 40 years of professional experience. He and his wife are sheltering at home in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He is passing the time by cooking, exercising, catching up on friends’ recommendations of must-see TV and writing.