Hunter Biden’s name has become something of a tragicomic buzzword. He’s often invoked as a punchline in jokes about drugs and hookers or as a dig at right-wingers who believe his abandoned laptop holds the encryption key to establishment corruption. He’s a one-man meme machine whose image is captioned and re-captioned for laughs. And he himself has dismissed the investigations into his international business affairs as a “red herring.” But the reality beneath the Hunter Biden spectacle has always been deeply serious, perhaps involving high-level influence peddling and flatly producing a partisan disinformation campaign that suppressed an important news story. This week saw two developments in the case that have the potential to steer us deeper into very unhumorous territory.

First, on Wednesday, a lawyer for the IRS special agent supervising the Hunter Biden tax probe sent a letter to Congress requesting whistle-blower protection for his client to air allegations that the case has been mishandled and contaminated by political favoritism. As the New York Times reports, the agent claims to have “information that would contradict sworn testimony to Congress from a senior political appointee, an apparent reference to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland,” who had vowed in March that there would be no political interference in the investigation.

Second, on Thursday, Chair of the House Judiciary Jim Jordan revealed that former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell received a call from Joe Biden’s campaign in October 2020, days after the New York Post broke the laptop story. Morrell testified to the House Judiciary Committee that the call from Antony Blinken, then Biden’s senior campaign official, “triggered” Morrell’s organizing a letter signed by 51 intelligence officials incorrectly characterizing the story as Russian disinformation. That letter itself would become the spine of the American  disinformation campaign to exculpate Joe and Hunter Biden and discredit the Post’s reporting. It was cited by online platforms as justification for suppressing the story and by Joe Biden himself in a debate with Donald Trump.

One can easily make too much of all this, and some surely will. But that’s how you ensure Hunter Biden’s name remains in the red-herring file. So it’s important to acknowledge the unknowns. We still have no details about the IRS agent’s claims or his credibility. And Morrell said that the Biden campaign had called him only to get his reaction to the laptop story.

But, taken as a whole, boy, it smells bad. The Wall Street Journal describes the potential IRS whistleblower as a “career Internal Revenue Service criminal supervisory special agent.” It’s hard to imagine that such a figure doesn’t know what he’s talking about or has decided to chuck his career for the glory of political activism. And speaking of careers, one has to wonder what kind of conversation would “trigger” a former CIA deputy director to draft a letter defending a future president and attesting to Russian disinformation on the basis of zero evidence. This is to say nothing of the Bidens themselves. Did Hunter think his own emails were crafted in Moscow? Did Joe Biden believe this when he claimed as much while debating Trump?

And we shouldn’t forget Trump’s place in this. His growing popularity rests on the argument that the establishment is a corrupt behemoth bent on his destruction. To him, this all smells like roses. These developments help make his case: The Bidens, the intelligence community, the IRS—they’re all in on it. He told you the laptop was real. And he was right. He told you that Hunter Biden was being protected from prosecution. And now he may have someone to corroborate the claim. One argument for elevating to a felony Trump’s allegedly falsifying business records is that he did so to defraud the voting public by withholding relevant information during an election. Well, what do you call a campaign to kill a potentially damning and true story on a candidate’s son and the candidate himself?

A remarkable symmetry has emerged in the offenses of Trump and Biden. It’s there no matter the very real differences between the two men. A tit for tat of misdeeds. Misinformation for misinformation. Mishandled documents for mishandled documents. Misleading the public for misleading the public. It’s no small feat keeping up with Donald Trump, but Biden seems determined to try.

The Hunter Biden story began as a story about Joe Biden’s wayward son. It turned into a story about censoring media. It might yet end up being a story about something much bigger. Or it might not. But it was never a “red herring,” and it’s no joke.

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