Although Hunter Biden is not on the official list of topics for Thursday’s presidential debate, the former vice president knows he’ll be asked about his son. The final debate comes amid a swirl of stories about Hunter Biden’s business dealings, a laptop that is alleged to be his and the emails it purportedly contains. Even if debate moderator Kristin Welker doesn’t raise the issue, Donald Trump surely will. Biden’s camp has been prepping ways for him to respond.
As first reported by the New York Post, emails from 2017 (when Biden was out of office) appear to involve payments from a Chinese energy company that refer to “H” holding a 10 percent equity stake in the deal for “the big guy.” In another email, an adviser from a Ukrainian energy company apparently thanked Hunter for inviting him to meet his father, who was then vice president. Asked about the emails, Biden called them “a smear campaign” and rebuked the reporter who asked the question.
Biden will likely denounce Trump for wallowing in ”conspiracy theories” so close to an election, says a source close to the Biden campaign who was not authorized to speak on the record. “The story [of the laptop] has too many holes; most people aren’t following it,” the adviser tells Newsweek. Biden is ready to mock Trump: ”This is your last chance to talk to 75 million Americans before this election, and you want to talk about this crap,” says the staffer. And if moderator Welker doesn’t ask about Trump’s hotel company bank account and tax payments in China, as disclosed in a New York Times report Tuesday, Biden may raise the issue. “It’s certainly on the table,” says the staffer.
Biden, his camp says, will emphasize that he wants to talk about how to deal with increasing COVID-19 cases, how to rebuild the economy, how to lower health care costs and get more people health insurance. “The bread-and-butter issues that people want to hear about,” says another Biden campaign adviser who also requested anonymity.
Less clear is whether Biden will counter accusations of “grifting” by going after Trump’s family. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner both have White House jobs, and according to financial disclosure forms released this past summer, they earned about $36 million in outside income in 2019 from businesses and investments they had made before Trump took office. Ivanka’s fashion business—since closed—received trademarks in China after Trump took office. “You want to talk grifting, let’s talk grifting,” says the Biden adviser.
Others in the Biden camp think it would be unwise to get into a mud-wrestling match over whose children are more corrupt. ”It’s unseemly and no one wants to hear it,” says Biden friend and former staff member Moe Vela. Instead, Vela tells Newsweek, he should focus on the fact that some of the emails appear to show a supportive, loving father who wanted a son plagued by drug addiction to get help. ”Everyone in America knows someone with addiction problems, a friend or a family member. They sympathize,” he says.
Trump’s own camp knows the president will go after Biden as a “corrupt politician”—and they’re not entirely in favor of it. The tactic may help the president remind voters of his winning brand, the outsider running against a symbol of the entrenched Washington corruption “which Americans despise,” says a Trump adviser who was not authorized to speak on the record. The worry, though, is that a drawn-out fight over the emails will distract from Trump’s core strength, which they see in a recent Gallup poll showing that 56 percent of Americans feel they are better off today than they were four years ago. That was the highest percentage for any president since Gallup began asking the question in 1984. Other polls show voters trust Trump more than Biden on the economy, even amid the pandemic. “We just need to pound that message every day, all day, for the next two weeks,” says the Trump adviser.
Will the president stay focused on that message?
”We shall see,” the adviser sighs. ”We shall see.”