WASHINGTON – At the time, it seemed a little remarkable, but not particularly unusual: Vice President Joe Biden, who was traveling to China for an official visit, had brought his son Hunter Biden.
And when the two appeared During the trip to Beijing in 2013, the Biden men drank tea together in a Confucian teahouse with granddaughter Finnegan. Leafing through books in local shops and enjoying ice cream in the afternoon.
Yet, almost six years later, Biden's trip to Beijing is again under scrutiny as President Donald Trump tried to gather information to corroborate his unproven corruption allegations regarding Biden and his son's work in Ukraine.
What was not known at the time was that Hunter Biden, when he was accompanying his father to China, founded a Chinese private equity fund, which staff reported at the time, was planning to raise big money, even from China. Hunter Biden confirmed the meeting with Jonathan Li, a Chinese banker and his partner in the fund, during the trip, although his spokesman says it was a social visit.
The Chinese business license, which has launched the new fund, was issued by Shanghai authorities 10 days after the trip, with Hunter Biden a member of the board.
Trump, who wants to extend his allegations of corruption beyond Ukraine, has accused Hunter Biden of using his trip with Air Force Two to raise $ 1.5 billion from China for his fund, calling it "a terrible." Thing".
Despite Trump's allegations, there were no allegations of corruption or inappropriateness on the part of the former Vice President.
Hunter Biden spokesman George Mesires told NBC News that Hunter Biden was initially not an "owner" of the company and was never paid to serve on the board. He said that Hunter Biden would not take equity in the fund until 2017, after his father resigned.
And when he did that, he only invested about $ 420,000 – a 10 percent stake. The fund's total capitalization at this time is approximately $ 4.2 million – far from Trump's claimed $ 1.5 billion.
"The Washington Post Fact Checker has dismantled this conspiracy theory," said Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates, "Donald Trump's deterioration is unacceptable." The Swiss Post's fact check back the origins of the $ 1.5 billion figure to a 2018 book published by conservative author Peter Schweizer.
Nonetheless, Hunter Biden's participation in the trip has additional reasons to wonder why the elder Biden has not done more in office to ensure that his overseas son's business interests do not conflict with his work as vice president, or at least the Avoidance of potential conflicts of interest.
"I have never talked to my son about his overseas business," Biden said last month.
During the one-week journey, Hunter Biden seemed to be ducking and sometimes joining his father at events and ceremonies to arrive on the red carpet and other times to his own itinerary, presumably with his daughter Finnegan. As usual, the White House did not disclose details of what the Vice President's relatives were doing when they were not part of his public events.
Hunter Biden was with his father when Air Force Two put on in Beijing and a black man wore Pea Coat as he walked down the stairs behind his daughter and the vice president wearing his signature aviator sunglasses. At the bottom of the stairs, a Chinese honor guard was waiting with senior US and Chinese diplomats.
There was a lot to do for the Vice President in China. The Obama administration was struggling to prove that it was implementing the "realignment" of Asia, a strategy that US officials would only privately recognize to counter China's influence. A crisis in the region over a controversial Chinese air defense zone had prompted Biden to move Beijing to retreat.
Indeed, the greatest tension between the Vice President's office and journalists accompanying Biden on the trip was the media coverage of his five-and-a-half hour talk with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Reporters had described Biden as "gloomy" or "subdued" during a photo op, suggesting that the meeting may not have gone well.
"Trust is the foundation upon which real change – constructive change – is made."
It was about midnight when Biden's marathon meeting with Xi ended and Hunter Biden was absent. The next afternoon, he and his daughter had met with the vice president again and had been spending some time with his family in Beijing's Dongcheng District, a bustling shopping district near Tiananmen Square. Curious locals, the Bidens spent about an hour doing so in gift shops rummaging around, buying Magnum ice cream bars from a street vendor, and discussing how to buy Christmas presents for relatives so loudly that the journalists could hear them with them. Hunter Biden, wearing an apple red pullover and a white collared shirt, accompanied his daughter and father to a lavish, traditional tea ceremony using sun-dried "white tea leaves" and moonlit dried "blue tea leaves."
Former White House officials traveling with Biden on this trip told NBC News that they did not know at the time that Hunter Biden had business interests in China and did not know his private schedule in Beijing.
No sign that the younger Biden had associated his work with his father's government position. "It just was not something we saw on our radar screens," said Jake Sullivan, who was Biden's national security adviser at the time. "The presence of Hunter did not really contribute to what the Vice President and the team thought about from a political or diplomatic perspective." There is no indication that he met with Chinese government officials. Mesires, the spokesman, said he did not do business during the trip – not even when he met Li, the Chinese banker and his up-and-coming business partner.
"How do I go to Beijing, halfway around the world, and? Do not you see her for a cup of coffee? "The younger Biden told The New Yorker earlier this year.
Mesires said the fund was in the works months before the China trip. He said Hunter Biden had not played an active role in the decision to found the company, whose founding documents were filed in November 2013, one month before the China trip.
In August, Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, assumed responsibility for founding the company. Iowa, in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, voiced concerns over Hunter Biden's meeting with Li, who warned Hunter Biden's "History of Investment in and Cooperation with Chinese Enterprises" to lend a hand to the Vice President during his stay in Beijing give. Also involved in the fund is Devon Archer, a former adviser to former Secretary of State John Kerry, who has also teamed up with Hunter Biden in his work in Ukraine and in a partnership US investment firm.
The renewed interest in the China trip shows when Trump is facing a Whistleblower in the intelligence community facing a House impeachment investigation, calling attention to a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Trump urged the Ukrainian leader to examine Biden and his son as a "favor," and seemed to associate this with the sale of US spearheads to the Ukrainians.
Democrats claim that this represents an abuse of Trump's presidential power for political purposes in the face of Biden's position as the main contender for the nomination of the Democratic president.
Trump was also investigated for possible conflicts between his presidential duties and the business interests of his family abroad – including in China. Authorities in China have granted dozens of trademarks since Trump took over the office of his daughter's brand and senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump.