A Chance Not Worth Taking: The collapse of his son’s plea-bargains agreement underscores Joe Biden’s vulnerability to unwelcome surprises.

Last-minute news can determine the result of a close-run election campaign,  especially when an Establishment candidate runs against a populist outsider with an enthusiastic base. The experience of 2016 made that abundantly clear.  FBI director James Comey’s impulsive announcement that a small trove of unexamined emails had been discovered on a laptop computer probably cost Hillary Clinton the election.

The Democratic Party may be on the verge of taking the same chance again in 2024.

The collapse last week of Hunter Biden’s draft plea agreement illustrates his father’s vulnerability to more bad news about his son, his own health, or both, correctly interpreted or not, in the fifteen months running up to the 2024 election.

A well-regarded US District Court judge in Delaware cited ambiguities of various sorts in a draft agreement to end Hunter Biden’s legal peril. Federal Judge Maryellen Noreika declined to “rubber stamp” the agreement and gave prosecutors and Biden’s attorneys thirty days to resolve their differences as best they can.

The Editorial Board of The Wall Street Journal throttled back its usual contempt for the rest of the press corps, including its own news pages, and wrote:

Voters may not care much about the shady dealings of a dissolute son. But they will care if President Biden is shown to have lied about his knowledge of his son’s multi-million-dollar payments to Biden family members – and if Mr. Biden’s Justice Department blocked IRS and FBI investigators from learning the truth.

I read the WSJ editorial pages carefully every day because they make me think.  Most often I just shake my head, but the news from that Wilmington courtroom has made me see things through their eyes, despite my center-left prior convictions.

Official curiosity about Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine began five years ago, according to the WSJ news pages, to a time when the Department of Justice, then under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, opened an investigation of whether Biden, or the Ukrainian energy company that hired him, should have registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. For a time the story remained out of the lime light.

On July 25, 2019, President Trump phoned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to ask, among other things, for a favor.  At the time, Trump was withholding nearly $400 million of promised military aid to Ukraine. Might Zelensky announce an investigation into Biden family practices in Ukraine, as had been previously requested by Trump aide Rudy Giuliani?  A National Security Council member who monitored the conversation reported it to Congress.  The weapons were delivered; Trump was impeached by the House, but not convicted by the Senate.

Two weeks before the 2020 election. The focus intensified on Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine. The New York Post, a newspaper now owned by Rupert Murdoch, published a story sourced by Giuliani, about another laptop computer supposedly left for repairs and forgotten by Hunter Biden, by then in the custody of the FBI, allegedly containing voluminous emails concerning his business in Ukraine.  The computer turned out to be genuine; the messages’ authenticity as well:  but their truth very much open to question.

Was the ten percent to be reserved for “the Big Guy” signify Joe Biden himself?  Was it more than an idle boast by a lying drug-addled entrepreneur, intended to season a deal? Questions like these have smoldered for three years since then, as the US Attorney for Delaware, appointed by Trump, kept in place by Biden, and said to have been given free reign by Attorney General Merrick Garland to pursue the investigation, has sought to bring the task to completion. His is like Comey’s decision, only this time in agonizing slow-motion.

It is the issue of independence, or, to put it slightly differently, the devolution of authority, that surfaced last week. This time, with a perpendicular judge and attorneys on both sides operating so far in good faith, the longstanding dispute seems susceptible to resolution. Whistleblowers, Republicans in control of the House, and the amplifiers at the WSJ editorial page, will draw out the process as long as they dare.

Still, the question, to be answered, before Republican-led committees in Congress, comes down to why did the prosecutors and Biden’s attorneys think they could get away with the deal they reached?

Meanwhile, this letter’s tormented descent into the mire of those years has cost me my Saturday, and you, the time it took to read it (or perhaps nothing more than the effort to turn the page.) My admiration for the reporters who cover these stories is boundless, for the columnists somewhat less so.  I had promised myself to never go back to the swamp.

I returned because last week’s developments in Delaware reinforced the opinion I ventured last week.  Biden and Trump are like Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, wrestling atop Reichenbach Falls. Let them plunge into the abyss.  I am rooting for Biden to make the first move.

Don’t take chances with the 2024 elections.  Run some primaries next year and choose between two younger candidates with less complicated histories behind them.

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