White House Aide Does Not Say if Biden Would Commute Son’s Sentence


A White House spokeswoman did not rule out on Wednesday the possibility that President Biden might commute the sentence of his son Hunter Biden, who was convicted on three federal felony counts for illegally purchasing a handgun during his addiction to crack cocaine.

The president declared flatly last week that he would not pardon his son if convicted, but did not address a commutation, which would leave the guilty verdict intact but wipe out some or all of the punishment. Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday that she could not say whether the president might consider such an action.

“He was very clear, very upfront, obviously very definitive” in ruling out a pardon in an interview with ABC News, Ms. Jean-Pierre said aboard Air Force One as the president flew to Italy for a meeting of the Group of 7 major industrial democracies. But as for a commutation, she added, “I just don’t have anything beyond that.”

Ms. Jean-Pierre said she had not spoken with the president about the matter yet and so her careful response may only reflect not wanting to go beyond her talking points, not an effort to leave the option open. Mr. Biden has not given any public indication that he would consider commuting his son’s sentence. But without further clarification from the White House, the refusal to rule it out could provoke public debate about the propriety of a president using his clemency powers to spare his son a prison term.

Hunter Biden faces as much as 25 years in prison for lying on a federal form about his drug addiction when he bought a handgun in 2018, but he is unlikely to receive a sentence near that length. First-time offenders who did not use weapons for a violent crime typically receive much lighter sentences; legal analysts said it was possible that the president’s son could receive a year or less behind bars or even probation. No date for sentencing has been set.

Other presidents have used their executive power on behalf of members of their extended families caught up in the criminal justice system. On his last day in office, President Bill Clinton pardoned his half brother Roger Clinton for old cocaine charges. A month before leaving office, President Donald J. Trump pardoned his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s father Charles Kushner for tax evasion and other crimes.

Both Roger Clinton and Charles Kushner had long since completed their prison terms, and the pardons were about forgiveness or vindication rather than avoiding time behind bars. Any commutation for Hunter Biden would presumably have to wait until after the judge in his case rules on sentencing.

It may also depend on whether the president’s son appeals his conviction, as expected. Justice Department guidelines stipulate that “a commutation request generally is not accepted from a person who is currently challenging his or her conviction or sentence through appeal,” although a president is not bound by department policy.



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