US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday said the federal prosecutor who has filed criminal charges against President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, would get additional authority to investigate whether the son engaged in improper business dealings.
Garland's elevation of prosecutor David Weiss to special counsel comes as Republicans in Congress threaten an impeachment inquiry into unproven claims that Biden benefited from his son's business ventures.
Weiss, was originally appointed to his position as US Attorney for Delaware by Republican President Donald Trump, and allowed to stay on during the Biden administration. His appointment as special counsel gives him more independence than federal prosecutors usually enjoy.
Republicans have accused the elder Biden of profiting from his son's business ventures in Ukraine and China, though they have yet to produce any evidence of wrongdoing. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy said in July that the chamber might launch an impeachment inquiry in the autumn.
The White House has dismissed those allegations as "insane conspiracy theories" and has said that Biden did not participate in his son's business affairs. A years-long inquiry conducted by Weiss has not turned up any evidence that Hunter used his father's political power for personal gain.
Charges against Hunter Biden
Hunter Biden, 53, has worked as a lobbyist, lawyer, consultant and investment banker and has said he has struggled with alcoholism and crack cocaine use.
Weiss charged Hunter Biden with failing to pay taxes in 2017 and 2018 and unlawfully owning a firearm while addicted to illegal drugs.
A federal judge in July rejected a deal that would have allowed Biden to plead guilty to the tax charges and avoid the gun charge.
Weiss is the third such quasi-independent prosecutor appointed by Garland to oversee politically sensitive investigations. Special Counsel Jack Smith has filed two criminal cases against Trump -- one accusing him of trying over overturn his 2020 presidential defeat to Biden and a second that alleges he improperly took sensitive government documents with him when he left the White House and tried to prevent officials from recovering them.
Another special counsel, Robert Hur, is probing whether Biden mishandled classified documents after he left office as vice president in 2017.
Weiss was appointed by Trump and allowed to stay on when Biden took office. He has said the Justice Department has not interfered with his work and Garland has also denied allegations of special treatment.
Hunter Biden has been a focus of several Republican congressional committees.
One former associate told the House Oversight Committee that Hunter gave an impression that he emphasized his family ties while he was doing business in Ukraine nearly a decade ago, while his father was vice president. That witness, Devon Archer, said Hunter spoke with his father daily but said the conversations did not involve business dealings.
Trump also has frequently mentioned the younger Biden in an attempt to tar his father as the two gear up for a possible rematch in the 2024 presidential election.
A June Reuters/Ipsos poll found half of Americans, including 75% of Republicans and 33% of Democrats, believed the younger Biden received preferential treatment from Weiss. But most said that would not affect their vote next year.