In the closing days of the campaign, President Trump and his allies are engaged in a last-ditch effort to raise questions about the ethics of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. by trying to link Mr. Biden to the international business dealings of Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, and one of his brothers, James.
Their efforts have drawn on a number of sources, including emails, photographs of encrypted text messages and other documents provided by Tony Bobulinski, a former business associate of Hunter and James Biden. Many of those records focus on a proposed joint venture in 2017, after Mr. Biden left office, with a Chinese partner. The deal ultimately fell apart.
Here are some questions and answers about the situation.
Was Joe Biden involved in this deal?
There is no evidence in the records that Mr. Biden was involved in or profited from the joint venture.
Encrypted messages, emails and other documents examined by The New York Times do not show Hunter Biden or James Biden discussing any role for the former vice president in the project.
Mr. Biden’s tax returns, which he has released, show no income from any such venture. There is nothing illegal about doing business in China or with Chinese partners; Mr. Trump long pursued deals in China, had a partnership with a government-controlled enterprise and maintained a corporate bank account there.
The Biden campaign has rejected all assertions that the former vice president had any role in the negotiations over the deal or any stake in it.
Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesman, said the former vice president never had any stake in the project. “Joe Biden has never even considered being involved in business with his family, nor in any overseas business whatsoever,” he said.
At the second presidential debate on Thursday, Mr. Biden said, “I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life.”
The messages produced by Mr. Bobulinski appear to reflect a meeting between him, the former vice president and James Biden in May 2017 in Beverly Hills, Calif. The messages do not make clear what was discussed.
Mr. Bates did not answer questions about Mr. Bobulinski’s claim that he met with the former vice president. But Mr. Bates said the Chinese deal never was discussed by Mr. Biden with members of his family. “He never had any conversations about these issues at all,” Mr. Bates said.
One email sent on May 13, 2017, by another member of the venture discusses how the various partners in the deal could theoretically split up the equity and makes reference to whether “the big guy” might get 10 percent. The document does not specify who this person is, saying only “10 held by H for the big guy ?”
Mr. Bobulinski has said the reference was clearly to the former vice president.
Mr. Bates said Mr. Biden “has never held stock in any such business arrangements nor has any family member or any other person ever held stock for him.”
What were Hunter and James Biden doing?
Records produced by Mr. Bobulinski show that in 2017, Hunter Biden and James Biden were involved in negotiations about a joint venture with a Chinese energy and finance company called CEFC China Energy.
The Bobulinski records include emails, contracts, business plan documents and photographs of encrypted messages among the American partners. The Times could not independently authenticate all of the records, but the records referred to in this article are consistent with interviews and previous reporting by The Times. The Biden campaign did not dispute that Hunter and James Biden participated in negotiating the deal with the Chinese company.
The records make clear that Hunter Biden saw the family name as a valuable asset, angrily citing his “family’s brand” as a reason he is valuable to the proposed venture.
The documents also show that the countries that Hunter Biden, James Biden and their associates planned to target for deals overlapped with nations where Joe Biden had previously been involved as vice president. One 42-page plan includes a section specifically highlighting former Vice President Biden’s role in facilitating increased commerce with Colombia, which is one of the targets of the joint venture, along with Luxembourg, Oman and Romania.
Hunter Biden’s role in the deal, according to one of the documents, “was key in relationship set up, messaging the good will around the chairman,” referring to Ye Jianming, the chairman of CEFC.
The Times reported in 2018 that Mr. Ye met privately with Hunter Biden at a hotel in Miami in May 2017, where the Chinese executive proposed a partnership to invest in American infrastructure and energy deals. Planning for the Miami meeting appears to be reflected in some of the messages released by Mr. Bobulinski.
The documents indicate that CEFC China initially said it would send $10 million in early 2017 to the joint venture.
CEFC focused on trading oil futures and securing the rights to overseas oil fields in strife-torn places like Chad, South Sudan and Iraq. It was looking to expand its global ventures, both as an energy company and a financial backer of projects, and it turned to Hunter and James Biden and their associates, including Mr. Bobulinski, to help find new deals.
One early version of the business plan indicated that Hunter and James Biden and their American associates “have forged alliances with the highest levels of government, banking and enterprise.”
What happened to the deal?
By August 2017, there were signs of trouble with the deal. Mr. Bobulinski wrote to CEFC noting that the promised $10 million payment had not been deposited in the American partners’ bank account.
There is conflicting information about whether any of this money was ever delivered by the Chinese partner. An election-year investigation into corruption allegations against the Bidens by two Senate committees, which found no evidence of improper influence or wrongdoing by the former vice president, suggested that some money from CEFC might have come through, prompting Mr. Bobulinski to ask James Biden whether that was the case in a recent message.
Documents from August 2018 suggest that at least parts of the business venture were shut down or that there were plans to shut it down, with one draft document referring to a “complete liquidation and dissolution” of the venture’s main investment vehicle.
CEFC, one of the largest privately held companies in China, was declared bankrupt in March of this year after it was named in a criminal investigation by the United States Justice Department.
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