The scathing and salacious federal indictment against Hunter Biden on tax evasion charges has provided a boost to House Republicans at a critical time in their impeachment inquiry against President Biden, spotlighting the kind of wrongdoing by his son that they have repeatedly tried and failed to connect to the president himself.
Republicans immediately hailed the indictment — with descriptions of payments to “various women,” stays at deluxe hotels, a membership at a “sex club” and at least one Lamborghini rental written off as business expenses in a “scheme” to dodge a $1 million tax bill — as a validation of their inquiry. The charges, they said, would never have been brought without the testimony of two I.R.S. agents who have become congressional whistle-blowers and blew up a “sweetheart” plea deal between Hunter Biden and prosecutors.
Yet in the most critical respect, the indictment is far from helpful to the Republicans: It never mentions President Biden, not even indirectly, and provides no evidence linking the misdeeds of the son to the father.
Republicans have a steep challenge to build a bridge from Hunter Biden’s vices to their allegations that his father has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, and to show that their impeachment inquiry is anything other than retribution for the impeachments and indictments of former President Donald J. Trump.
Still, for the small group of mainstream House Republicans who once were queasy about diving into what appeared to be an evidence-free, politics-driven impeachment inquiry, the latest indictment of Hunter Biden provides a measure of political cover at an important moment.
Buoyed by the charges, House Republicans intend to push ahead next week with their plans for both a floor vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry and a demand that Hunter Biden testify behind closed doors on Dec. 13 — promising contempt of Congress charges if he continues to refuse. Aides working on the investigation said they expected no changes to their strategy.
“This is far from over,” pledged Representative Jason Smith of Missouri, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. “These new charges address years in which Hunter Biden earned millions of dollars from foreign countries by selling access to the Biden family brand — a brand built on and around Joe Biden’s political career.”
Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who has been skeptical of his party’s impeachment push, said the elder Biden would be judged on his own actions “and not what his son does.”
“But the president’s going to have to answer if he had any kind of involvement in any of this activity with Hunter,” Mr. Christie, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, said in an interview on MSNBC on Friday.
Mr. Biden’s allies have accused House Republicans of seeking to meddle with the criminal investigation, citing Mr. Smith’s efforts to block a plea deal by petitioning a federal court last summer.
Republicans are now signaling their intention to request information, currently kept under seal, that was presented to the grand juries in both Biden cases, according to a provision in their impeachment blueprint.
The Ways and Means Committee heard more closed-door testimony this week from the two I.R.S. agents — Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler — who have detailed the wide range of tax allegations against Hunter Biden. The men also described how they were blocked from pursuing some leads they wished to follow, including asking questions about Hunter’s father.
“During the Hunter Biden investigation, F.B.I. and I.R.S. agents were routinely prevented from following leads that might implicate Joe Biden,” Mr. Smith said, adding: “These charges further confirm the need for Congress to move forward with an impeachment inquiry of Joe Biden in order to uncover all the facts for the American people to judge.”
The 56-page indictment handed down by Special Counsel David C. Weiss on Thursday is, at the very least, a catalyst for those efforts — a narrative of debauchery that is equal parts moral condemnation and charge sheet detailing Mr. Biden’s scheme to spend profligately “on everything but his taxes.”
Prosecutors said that Hunter Biden falsely claimed that money paid to women with whom he had personal relationships was wages, reducing his tax burden — and fraudulently tried to write off personal spending as legitimate business expenses.
“Despite being engaged in little to no business activity, the defendant directed Personal Assistant 2 in 2018 to place on payroll and provide health care benefits to three women with whom he had romantic or sexual relationships,” wrote Mr. Weiss, who began investigating the president’s son five years ago as the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for Delaware.
The grand jury in the Central District of California charged Mr. Biden with three counts each of evasion of a tax assessment, failure to file and pay taxes, and filing a false or fraudulent tax return. If he is convicted, he faces up to 17 years in prison, Justice Department officials have said.
The charges came five months after he appeared to be on the verge of a plea deal that would have avoided jail time and potentially granted him broad immunity from future prosecution stemming from his business dealings. But the agreement collapsed, and in September, he was indicted in Delaware on three charges stemming from his illegal purchase of a handgun in 2018, a period when he used drugs heavily. Mr. Biden’s lawyers intend to file a motion to dismiss that case next week.
The tax charges have always been the more serious element of the inquiry, however, and the indictment, while widely anticipated, hit many in the Biden camp hard.
His son’s legal woes are weighing heavily on President Biden, people close to the president said, and he is less concerned with the political fallout than the toll they are taking on his son’s mental state and recovery from alcohol and substance abuse, particularly if the cases go to trial.
That follows a familiar pattern for the president, who is deeply protective of his son, the last living child from his first marriage. His wife, Neilia Hunter Biden, was killed in a 1972 car crash that also took the life of his 1-year-old daughter and left his young sons Hunter and Beau critically injured. Even before Beau’s death from cancer in 2015 and Hunter’s descent into addiction, the president would snap at any aide who said anything critical about his youngest son.
There has also been considerable hand-wringing among the president’s allies over the unwillingness of Hunter Biden’s former lawyer, Christopher J. Clark, to accept a less generous plea deal from Mr. Weiss over the summer, after the agreement that would have avoided jail time and granted Mr. Biden broad immunity disintegrated under the questioning of a federal judge in Wilmington, Del.
Mr. Biden’s top lawyer, Abbe Lowell, sharply criticized Mr. Weiss for the decision to indict, saying he was caving to the pressure of Republicans who had waged an all-out effort to scuttle the plea deal before it was finalized.
In one respect, the timing of the indictment could work to the younger Mr. Biden’s advantage: It gives him the cover of citing the ongoing criminal case to invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination if he testifies in the House impeachment inquiry, as Republicans are demanding that he do next week.
“This greatly increases the odds he takes the Fifth,” said John F. Fishwick, who served as a U.S. attorney in Virginia under President Obama.
Hunter Biden has offered to testify publicly, but balked at submitting to private questioning out of fear that Republicans would twist his words and selectively leak out-of-context portions of his testimony. Testifying in either case would carry a risk because his words before Congress could be used against him in the federal case.
In addition to his current criminal cases, a contempt of Congress charge — if approved by the Justice Department — carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Republicans plan to discuss the impeachment inquiry in the Rules Committee on Tuesday. The resolution authorizes three Republican-led panels to continue their ongoing investigations and petition a court for grand jury materials; retroactively approves a slew of subpoenas that have already been issued; and allows for the hiring of outside counsel, among other provisions.
“We know from the whistle-blowers that the investigation of the president’s son was interfered with,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the Rules Committee. “So there’s enough there to continue to look and certainly to empower the investigators with every tool they need to get to the truth.”