Former President Donald J. Trump has been among the most insistent of Republican voices seeking to use Hunter Biden as a way to discredit his father, President Biden — and the guilty plea on Tuesday quickly became yet another point of attack as Mr. Trump seeks the Republican presidential nomination for a third time.
But for Mr. Trump and his allies, decrying Hunter Biden has long served as a political applause line — most notably during the 2020 race.
It was in the run-up to that campaign that Mr. Trump was first impeached, in 2019, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — charges that stemmed from a phone call Mr. Trump made to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, during which he pressed Mr. Zelensky to investigate leading Democrats and to open an inquiry into Hunter Biden.
Mr. Trump repeatedly circulated unsubstantiated claims in efforts to link his Democratic rival to his son’s business dealings, which he painted as corrupt, even before Mr. Biden became his party’s nominee.
In 2019, Mr. Trump publicly called for China to examine Hunter Biden’s financial dealings in the country. Mr. Trump claimed, without evidence, that Hunter Biden “made millions of dollars from China” and that he used his political connections to persuade China to invest $1.5 billion in a fund he was involved in.
At campaign rallies, Mr. Trump frequently levied claims that Hunter Biden was corrupt, often pointing to a New York Post report about a laptop that was seized by the F.B.I.
And during a presidential debate in October 2020, Mr. Trump repeatedly suggested, without evidence, that Mr. Biden had both served as a consultant and used his former position as vice president to help secure business deals for his son. That series of attacks drew further public scrutiny to Mr. Biden’s son’s activities, as searches for “Hunter Biden” skyrocketed following the exchanges during the debate.
Mr. Trump later called for his attorney general, William P. Barr, to take action against his Democratic challenger for his son’s work, just two weeks before the 2020 election.
Now, with Mr. Trump newly arraigned on federal charges over his handling of classified documents, he and many Republicans have sought to cast Hunter Biden’s agreement with federal prosecutors as overly lenient and sought to establish a double-standard narrative.
Mr. Trump likened Hunter Biden’s charges to that of a “traffic ticket,” in a post on his Truth Social website shortly after the guilty plea was announced on Tuesday.
Anjali Huynh covers politics for The Times. @anjalihuynh
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