Last year, at an event at the White House, former president Barack Obama jokingly referred to the current president as “Vice President Biden.”
At the time, it was described as the more popular politician “reminding Biden who’s boss.” Yet, this needling carried an added bite, given reports of Obama’s private doubts about Biden’s judgment.
In 2020, Obama had famously warned fellow Democrats, “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to f— things up.”
Obama is now being asked to bail Biden out from another debacle of his own making, going back to his time in Obama’s administration. Various committees and private groups are seeking more than 5,000 emails from Biden in which he used an array of aliases during the Obama administration.
Under the Presidential Records Act, Obama has 30 days to bar the release of the emails and to help shield his former vice president in a growing corruption scandal over the influence-peddling operation run by Biden’s son, Hunter.
Recently, it was learned that Joe Biden went by a variety of code names and false names, including Robin Ware. Robert L. Peters, JRB Ware, Celtic and “The Big Guy.” House investigators believe that may only be a partial list. For many Americans, it is understandably unnerving to learn that their president has more aliases than Anthony Weiner. However, while the number seems unusual, the practice is not unprecedented.
Top officials have used such aliases in the past for emails, including former Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch. During the Obama administration, the practice was defended by then-White House press secretary Jay Carney, who assured the public that any such emails would still be subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and congressional inquiries. He added, “We do not use and should not use private email accounts for work.”
The problem is that there was “work” being discussed on some of these emails, including official foreign travel plans and the hiring of associates of Hunter for high-level positions. More importantly, some emails are relevant to the clients of Biden’s son. Biden has previously lied that he knew nothing of these dealings, but these emails could reveal even more about his knowledge and involvement.
Congress is investigating more than $20 million that was transferred to members of the Biden family from foreign sources through a labyrinth of shell companies and accounts. Even the Washington Post has been forced to admit that the president has lied in the past about aspects of Hunter’s dealings. Devon Archer recently confirmed that Joe Biden’s long-standing denial of any knowledge of their business dealings is “categorically false.”
Most reporters now admit that Hunter was clearly engaging in influence-peddling, Washington’s favorite form of corruption. Yet in the face of this growing evidence, Democrats insist that Hunter and his associates were merely selling “the illusion of influence,” not actual access or influence over Joe Biden.
Obviously, these foreign clients believed that they were buying more than an illusion for the millions they spent. One corrupt Ukrainian figure said that Hunter Biden was dumber than his dog, but that he paid him anyway for access to his father.
There are indications that these clients did receive more than illusion. For example, Archer described how Burisma executives were worried about the anti-corruption investigation being conducted by Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin. Archer testified that Hunter immediately “called D.C.” in response to the plea. Shokin was later fired at Joe Biden’s demand.
The House Oversight Committee has hit a wall in trying to get material from the Bidens and the administration on these past dealings. It has also learned that the president communicated with this son through alias accounts. That led them to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which has resisted the release of the emails. It has been over a year since a group requested these documents, and the NARA review is expected to take years at this pace — until after the next election.
Both Biden and Obama could easily allow the release of these emails to Congress. After all, the use of aliases has been defended on the basis that these emails are trivial or personal matters. If so, transparency will put all the allegations to rest. If it is not true, it would mean that Biden was using false names to convey important information to third parties, and the question would be why.
In one email from Hunter’s laptop, Biden associate James Gilliar explained the rules to Tony Bobulinski, then a business partner of Hunter. He was not to speak of the former veep’s connection to any transactions. “Don’t mention Joe being involved,” he wrote, “it’s only when u [sic] are face to face, I know u [sic] know that but they are paranoid.” Instead, they referred to the Big Guy or Celtic.
Likewise, a trusted FBI source said that a Ukrainian businessman had said that he paid a bribe to Joe Biden, but noted that they were told to avoid using his name and to transfer the money through a complex series of accounts.
Moreover, the request of Congress followed the discovery that staffers had used Biden’s fake government account, Robert.L.Peters@pci.gov, to send a message about meeting then-Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko with a cc to Hunter Biden.
Once again, there may be innocent explanations for such emails and the use of the alias. However, given the other evidence of corruption and influence peddling, it seems obvious that the information must be reviewed.
That brings us to the confrontation with NARA.
The agency could rely on the PRA statute to enforce the refusal of Biden and Obama to allow Congress to review the evidence. Biden actually is supposed to be consulted twice under the law: as the former vice president and as the current president. Both Joe Bidens are likely to have the same negative reaction to exposing his emails.
However, special access to presidential records is expressly allowed under the PRA “to…Congress” and “to the extent of matter within its jurisdiction, to any committee…if such records contain information that is needed for the conduct of its business and that is not otherwise available.” A refusal would deny Congress critical evidence into a corruption scandal and also a possible impeachment inquiry.
The added resistance to the review of the emails only adds to an already strong case for an impeachment inquiry. Such an inquiry does not mean that impeachment is inevitable. Rather, there is enough evidence to warrant an investigation into whether the Bidens were selling the illusion or the reality of influence. By acting under its impeachment authority, the power of Congress would be at its apex in forcing these disclosures and finding answers on the alleged corrupt practices.
None of this should be necessary, of course. Biden could remove these obstacles instantly to assure the public that his aliases were innocent, even playful, pseudonyms. “JRB Ware” may be a pun, but it is not necessarily the next “Carlos Danger.” We simply do not know, but there should be no reason why the president would not want to clear the record, particularly in an election year.
Otherwise, the effort to withhold this evidence could itself prove damaging, if material evidence of corruption or false statements are found. As Obama would say, one should never underestimate that prospect when it comes to his former vice president.