When the drip-drip of the Hunter Biden influence-peddling scandal became a downpour this summer, leading Democrats threw caution to the wind. They chose almost as one to say that the allegations and imputations relating both to the president of the United States and his son were all smoke and no fire. Not since the party circled the wagons around Hillary Clinton and her conduct relating to the attack on Americans in Benghazi had we seen such a stalwart defense of a leading Democrat under attack.

Representative Dan Goldman, a freshman member and heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, has been the Baghdad Bob: Nothing to see here, according to Goldman; every bombshell was a nothingburger. After Hunter’s former business partner, Devon Archer, testified in a closed-door interview that Hunter put his father, the then–vice president, on speakerphone at least 20 times in meetings with various foreign businessmen, Goldman informed Morning Joe’s audience that the hearing had been a bust.

The investigation, Goldman said, “is now very clearly a fishing expedition”—which you could also say of the events in the second half of Jaws. Goldman then went on to declare that Hunter hadn’t been selling access to his father. Rather, Goldman declared, Hunter had been selling the illusion of access. This argument, taken to its logical conclusion, would mean Joe Biden chose to abet his son’s deceptive schemes by allowing Hunter’s interlocutors to believe they could influence the vice president.

Archer’s testimony is only one arm of an elaborate scandalabra, and Goldman’s denials only one aspect of a definite effort to blow out the illumination. Over the past few months, the world has heard the testimony of two senior IRS investigators with impeccable nonpartisan credentials who reported under oath that the Justice Department probe into Hunter’s tax violations had been corrupted by political appointees. Their story was partially confirmed in July when a federal judge in Delaware voided the plea agreement reached between Hunter Biden’s lawyers and Justice Department prosecutors because the agreement could be read to provide immunity in perpetuity for crimes the Justice Department claims it is still investigating. And that all stands beside the multiple confirmations—from the FBI and mainstream press outlets—that information found on Hunter’s Biden’s abandoned laptop is authentic. Those  confirmations discredit a last-minute effort in 2020 on the part of the Biden presidential campaign to persuade news outlets and social-media platforms that the laptop story was the fruit of Russian fakery.

One might think this pattern would be a warning to Democratic politicians. They are sticking their necks out when the facts keep getting worse. On the campaign trail in 2020, Joe Biden repeatedly said he had never talked to Hunter about his son’s business. He insisted in his debates with Donald Trump that the allegations of his son’s receiving massive payoffs from foreign companies were baseless smears: “Hunter did nothing wrong.” Those talking points have now been overtaken by events. Even Biden’s own White House has changed its tune. No longer does spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre say the president never discussed his son’s business with Hunter. She now says the president was never in business with his son.

And yet Goldman’s cheery gaslight routine continues. It’s worth exploring why. Historically, at least, one path for ambitious politicians and pundits in the face of scandal was to wait until the facts came in and prepare to turn on one’s side if those facts warranted. In 1956, John F. Kennedy claimed authorship of a ghostwritten Pulitzer Prize–winning book called  Profiles in Courage, about senators so enamored of the truth that they were willing to attack their own fellow party members and party positions. Two decades later, Senator Howard Baker, the ranking Republican on the Senate’s Watergate Committee, followed the profiles-in-courage playbook. He informed the Nixon White House of what his committee was learning but did not defend him vigorously. Eventually, Baker voted with the rest of his committee to subpoena the audio tapes that ultimately sank Nixon. Baker is best known today for asking the prescient question: “What did the president know and when did he know it?”

Baker’s calculation paid off. Indeed, he was rewarded for turning on the leader of his own party. When Republicans won back the Senate in 1980, his colleagues made him majority leader. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman was chosen as Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 after proposing that the Senate censure Bill Clinton for his affair with an intern.

Recounting these acts in 2023 is an exercise in nostalgia. Today, there is no political or electoral upside to following the path of Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger, the only two Republican House members to participate in the one-sided January 6 Committee. They are out of Republican politics, likely for good. Meanwhile, yesterday’s pariahs are today’s insiders. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was stripped of her committee assignments in 2021 by Democratic speaker Nancy Pelosi, is now a close ally of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

The same dynamic explains Democratic intra-party politics as well. Goldman has been rewarded with cable-news hits and attaboys on social media for his see-no-scandal media spin. Like Greene, Goldman knows his party is not interested in truth tellers and referees. Democrats want team players willing to fight hard and dirty against the existential threat of Donald Trump.

Goldman’s star began to rise in 2018 when he met Representative Adam Schiff in an MSNBC green room. Goldman was then a former federal prosecutor who had joined the cable channel’s roster of anti-Trump legal analysts. They were there to challenge Trump’s assertion that he could pardon himself for any crimes for which he might be convicted. After Democrats won the House that year, Schiff became chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and hired Goldman to be the chief investigator during his committee’s 2019 impeachment inquiry. He became a resistance celebrity, and that—along with his unlimited family fortune and an ethnically fractured Democratic primary field—helped him win a House seat in 2022.

That Schiff-Goldman impeachment inquiry was an ironic harbinger of the Hunter Biden scandal. The president’s crime in that 2019 case was that he had tried to condition military aid to Ukraine on its new president’s willingness to announce an investigation into the Bidens. At the time, media were focused on Trump’s abuse of power. Schiff and Goldman repeatedly asserted that the episode was Trump’s corrupt effort to smear his likely opponent in the 2020 election. Little attention was paid by the Democrats or the media to the problems arising from Hunter’s monetization of his family’s name. Goldman’s and Schiff’s final impeachment report detailed phone contacts between former committee chairman Devin Nunes and shady Ukrainians peddling Russian dirt on the president’s rival. It was silent on Hunter’s influence-peddling when his father was vice president.

So it was not surprising that a year after the initial impeachment inquiry, when the New York Post published the first stories about Hunter’s abandoned laptop and the evidence of lucrative influence-peddling it contained, Goldman and Schiff and others waved it away. It was the Russians acting out again, trying to “steal” yet another election. Schiff even went so far as to claim that the intelligence community supported the allegation that the laptop’s manufacture and existence were works of Russian disinformation. What we now know is that, at that same moment, the FBI had confirmed that the contents of the laptop were authentic.

Now there is credible evidence that the Justice Department’s investigation into Hunter’s crimes has been stained by political interference. There is also credible evidence that, at the very least, executives from Ukrainian and Chinese energy firms believed they were purchasing Joe Biden’s influence by lavishing his son with money and positions for which Hunter was not qualified. And it remains an open question whether some of the fortune Hunter squeezed out of his foreign clients enriched his father.

Those are damning facts whether Trump is running for president or not. For Democrats, it might be worth taking a longer view. How much credibility can a political party have with voters if its members are unwilling to acknowledge mounting evidence of heinous corruption from its leader’s family? That question is often posed to the party of Donald Trump. What we’ve learned in the summer of 2023 is that it also applies to the party of Joe Biden. The evidence, though, is that the longer view just isn’t as thrilling as the post-resistance porn. Daniel Goldman is now the most famous freshman in his House class. And his one-time boss, Adam Schiff, is rolling in campaign contributions as Schiff pursues a Senate seat he is likely to win in 2024. Perhaps one of them can update the JFK playbook and ask a staffer to ghostwrite a new volume that extols the virtues of defending the indefensible: Profiles in Kool-Aid.

Photo: AP Photo

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