The Justice Department’s announcement on Wednesday that it was investigating Hunter Biden, for what he deemed to be “tax affairs,” took root several years ago with a much broader inquiry that included possible money laundering, according to a report by CNN.
That inquiry reportedly fizzled, leading instead to a probe on tax matters that is now being led by the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware. But evidence of the larger probe was apparent in the markings on a series of documents that were made public—but went largely unnoticed—in the days leading up to the November election, according to two individuals familiar with the matter.
Hunter Biden’s business dealings were always a ripe target for President Donald Trump and his allies. But they became the primary focus of their attacks after the president’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, claimed in the election’s closing weeks to have obtained a copy of the younger Biden’s laptop from a computer repairman in Delaware named John Paul MacIsaac. According to MacIsaac, Biden had dropped off several devices at the store in 2019 for repair. MacIsaac told The Daily Beast that Biden never returned and that he eventually turned the devices over to the FBI for fear of his personal safety.
MacIsaac also said he copied the contents of one of the laptops for Giuliani. And, sure enough, those contents quickly made their way to conservative media personalities and outlets. Giuliani and others, including Steve Bannon, appeared on network television, stirring conspiracy theories and pushing unsubstantiated claims about Hunter’s overseas business dealings.
One of the main outlets pushing emails and pictures from the hard drive was the New York Post. And for one of its stories, the paper published what appeared to be federal law enforcement documents given to MacIsaac in return for his handing over the Biden laptops.
One of those documents—from the FBI— included a case number that had the code associated with an ongoing federal money laundering investigation in Delaware, according to several law enforcement officials who reviewed the document. Another document—one with a grand jury subpoena number—appeared to show the initials of two assistant U.S. attorneys linked to the Wilmington, Delaware, office.
At the time, law enforcement officials in the state would not confirm or deny the existence of such a probe and individuals associated with the Biden team also rebuffed inquiries from The Daily Beast about the existence of such a probe.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment on what they called an ongoing probe. It is unclear if federal investigators are relying on the contents of the laptop as part of their probe.
According to CNN, federal authorities at the FBI and the IRS Criminal Investigation Agency have been working with prosecutors in Delaware to investigate Biden’s business dealings in foreign countries, primarily in China, and that the probe started back in 2018. One of the lines of inquiry probed by DOJ was a 2.8-carat diamond Hunter received during a business meeting with a Chinese oil and gas conglomerate executive. According to those two individuals familiar, the contents of one of Biden’s laptops deal extensively with Biden’s work in China. One of those sources said a recording of Hunter speaking about the Chinese executive who gifted the ring, Ye Jianming, is on the device. Biden has previously said publicly that he did not keep the diamond.
The New York Times reported that “the money-laundering aspect of the inquiry appears to have died out” but that “investigators with the Internal Revenue Service continued to examine Mr. Biden’s taxes.” Hunter Biden had owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes in addition to facing credit card debt and two mortgages. The IRS issued a lien on him and his estranged wife for $112,805 in unpaid taxes from 2015.
In anticipation of the announcement of an investigation, the Biden presidential transition team put out a statement on Wednesday under Hunter Biden’s name.
“I learned yesterday for the first time that the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware advised my legal counsel, also yesterday, that they are investigating my tax affairs,” it read. “I take this matter very seriously, but I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisers.”
Those close to the transition subsequently insisted to reporters that the investigation was “not related” to the allegations leveled against Hunter Biden during the presidential campaign. But that explanation appears to leave off the origins of the probe into the younger Biden, which overlapped with his attempts to partner with a Chinese energy and finance company called CEFC China Energy and which seem evident in those FBI documents from his laptop.
Pressed on the discrepancies in the statement, a transition spokesperson declined to speak on the record.
The announcement of the investigation on Wednesday all but guarantees that the elder Biden will become president while the Justice Department is investigating his son. And it could complicate both his efforts to reform that department—amid widespread worry that it has been used by Trump as a tool for carrying out political vendettas—as well as the start of his time in office.
The president-elect’s team has bristled at the notion that Hunter Biden’s exploits are material to their agenda. And, for that reason, they have had a pushmi-pullyu approach to discussing questions about him with the press. Speaking on CNN shortly after the transition’s statement was released, reporter Evan Pérez said that he and colleague Pamela Brown had been in contact with Hunter Biden’s legal team since Monday about the investigation. The attorneys, Pérez said, told CNN that they would get back to them but instead released the brisk statement from the transition instead.
The Biden transition would not confirm whether the notification to Hunter Biden’s legal team by the U.S. attorney’s office was a request for information or a target notification—the means by which the federal government informs individuals that they are targets for potential criminal prosecution. The statement released by the transition gives the impression that the Department of Justice did not make any requests of Hunter Biden, but rather simply notified his team of the investigation’s existence.
“Target letters are basically, ‘We have you, come talk if you’d like to make it worse,’” a federal law enforcement official familiar with the distinction told The Daily Beast.
Editor's note: an earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to Hunter Biden's laptop as "stolen." We have removed that word, and we apologize to Mr. Mac Isaac for the error.