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Opinion

Column: Matt Gaetz tosses rocks at Hunter Biden — from a glass house built by his dad

Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) raised the issue of Hunter Biden’s drug and alcohol addiction during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of articles of impeachment against President Trump.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Last week, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz worked himself into an angry lather after Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan alluded to President Trump’s youngest child, Barron. How dare she mention the president’s son!

“It makes you look mean!” Gaetz said. “It makes you look like you’re attacking someone’s family.”

Eight days later, Gaetz attacked someone else’s family.

“It’s a little hard to believe that Burisma hired Hunter Biden to resolve their international disputes when he could not resolve his own dispute with Hertz rental car over leaving cocaine and a crack pipe in the car,” Gaetz said Thursday, as the House Judiciary Committee marked up articles of impeachment against President Trump.

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By dragging Hunter Biden into the hearing, Gaetz was trying to inflict maximum embarrassment on Biden and his father, the former vice president who is Trump’s most worrying political rival. Gratuitously, Gaetz quoted from a July New Yorker profile of Hunter Biden, in which he revealed his long-standing struggles with drugs and alcohol, and many stints in rehab. Hunter Biden’s confession was an effort to insulate Joe Biden from criticism by confessing to his many sins.

Gaetz, who has run into trouble with drinking himself, immediately drew the slyest, most effective rebuke I have ever seen on national television. In 2008, he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving after leaving a Florida nightclub called Swamp in his father’s BMW. Charges were eventually dropped.

“The pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do,” said Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia. “I don’t know what members, if any, have had any problems with substance abuse, been busted in DUI. But if I did, I wouldn’t raise it against anyone on this committee. I don’t think it’s proper.”

It wasn’t. But propriety has not stopped House Republicans from lying about the actual record of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, or about testimony given by more than a dozen witnesses, or of engaging in the most obvious attempts to redirect attention from what Trump has done to accusing Joe Biden of behaving corruptly for carrying out American foreign policy.

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I’m sure that like any recovering drug addict, Hunter Biden is full of regrets. Not just for the family wreckage caused by his addictions, but for his poor judgment in other aspects of his life.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that he took advantage of his father’s name and position as the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine when he was hired at a very high salary to join the board of a Ukrainian gas company in 2014. Or that Burisma was trying to use Hunter Biden to burnish its reputation and create an impression of ties to the U.S. government.

Hunter Biden admitted as much in a television interview in October.

“If your last name wasn’t Biden, do you think you would’ve been asked to be on the board of Burisma?” he was asked by ABC’s Amy Robach.

“Probably not, in retrospect,” Biden said. “But that’s — you know — I don’t think that there’s a lot of things that would have happened in my life if my last name wasn’t Biden.”

Fair enough.

Whether it’s college admissions, sought-after internships or stellar business opportunities, having a famous last name will open doors that are closed to the rest of us.

This form of corruption — nepotism — can be benign. Or it can be very problematic, as it is in the case of Biden, who at the very least has given his father’s opponents some potent political ammunition.

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Hunter Biden, a Yale law graduate who had served on a number of nonprofit boards, may not have been qualified for a spot on the board of Burisma Holdings — even if the whole point of such a job is for appearance’s sake.

However, nothing he did comes remotely close to the nepotism practiced daily in the White House, where Trump’s daughter and son-in-law have been elevated to positions of power and authority simply by virtue of their relationship to him.

Can anyone really defend putting Jared Kushner in charge of Middle East peace, or letting Ivanka Trump represent the United States at the G-20, or allowing her to receive trademarks in China at the very time her father is engaged in a trade war? This nepotistic duo is not just an international embarrassment, but dangerous.

And, come to think of it, Gaetz himself is the beneficiary of a sadly common form of nepotism. The son of a well-known former Florida state senator, he was going to run for his daddy’s seat in 2016 when pops was term-limited out. He dropped out of that race, and sought a House seat instead when the incumbent opted not to run for reelection. (Here in California, we have an excellent example of nepotism gone awry, now that Duncan Hunter, who inherited his father’s congressional seat, has pleaded guilty to stealing campaign funds.)

When Gaetz was arrested on suspicion of driving drunk, his father, Don Gaetz, was a member of the Florida Senate. Gaetz refused to take a breathalyzer test, the Tampa Bay Times reported, but for some reason, his license was not suspended, as Florida law requires.

“And,” the paper reported, “he didn’t have that refusal used against him in a criminal proceeding.” How nice for him. Charges against him were eventually dropped.

I’m sure it had nothing to do with his last name.

Ah, so many kettles, so many black pots.


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