WASHINGTON — Facing financial pressures and a federal probe into his taxes and overseas consulting work, Hunter Biden turned to an unlikely source for cash and strategic advice: a wealthy lawyer and Hollywood novelist best known for brokering a lucrative licensing deal for the animated series “South Park.”
The attorney, Kevin Morris, has quietly taken on an important role as Mr. Biden’s financier, confidant and potential avenger, dealing with sensitive matters for President Biden’s son that could have acute political ramifications for the White House.
Mr. Morris loaned more than $2 million to Hunter Biden, which was used to support his family and repay taxes that are the subject of the ongoing federal investigation, according to four people familiar with the matter.
Mr Morris advised Mr Biden as he navigated a paternity and child support lawsuit, and helped him with his artistic career and a memoir published last year which was partly a response to attacks by former President Donald J. Trump.
He is funding a documentary project that is expected to build on the memoir redemption story, while portraying the president’s son as the victim of Trump allies who distributed a cache of files to the media that appear to be from a laptop computer abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop.
Some of the tactics Mr Morris allegedly advocated – such as publicly questioning the story behind the laptop’s cache and attacking those involved in spreading files from it – have not been put forward. implemented. They appeared at odds with the approach of Mr. Biden’s defense attorneys, who proceeded with caution while he remains under federal investigation.
Mr. Morris declined to be interviewed. Attempts to reach Hunter Biden through his attorney were unsuccessful. The White House declined to comment.
Hunter Biden has a long history of seeking employment or profit in areas that overlap with his father’s public duties and doing business with questionable partners around the world, including in Ukraine. His extensive and well-publicized personal woes — including crack addiction, divorce, a relationship with his brother’s widow and money troubles — spilled over into politics, helping to fuel the relentless but widely unfounded Republicans to tie his father to his businesses. .
The criminal investigation into Hunter Biden’s taxes and international work seems to be reaching its climax. Justice Department prosecutors have been meeting in recent weeks to discuss whether to pursue the case. In the coming months, the department is expected to make a final decision on whether to pursue criminal or civil action, or reach some sort of settlement that could include a significant fine.
The decision will need to be approved by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and will be among the most scrutinized in his tenure. Above that is the possibility that Republicans will take control of Congress in November and immediately begin investigations into Hunter Biden and the Justice Department’s handling of the case.
The White House has said it has no role in advising Hunter Biden on his legal issues or his public messaging. Mr Morris’ emergence as an influential adviser underscores the predicament President Biden faces with the issues swirling around his son.
For one, Mr. Biden’s use of Mr. Morris’ loan to pay taxes could make it harder to pursue a criminal tax case against the president’s son. And the president’s confidants see Mr. Morris as a key member of Hunter Biden’s emotional inner circle, a friendly shoulder to lean on as he navigates the federal investigation while trying to rebuild his life after the death of her brother, Beau, and struggles with drugs. addiction.
At the same time, some of the president’s allies see Mr Morris as a potential liability. They are uncomfortable with his many ideas of how to commit the offense publicly, a person familiar with their thinking said. And they fear it could trickle down to the administration if the president’s son receives financial assistance from a wealthy benefactor — a dynamic that could bring to mind the payments, which are now being scrutinized by federal prosecutors, that Hunter Biden agreed to pay. a Ukrainian. oligarch’s company and other foreign interests.
Allies would rather the president’s son continue to lay low and follow exactly what his lead attorney, Chris Clark, tells him to do. They want Hunter Biden to do everything he can to settle the matter with the Justice Department if prosecutors decide to indict him, according to the person familiar with their thinking.
Mr. Morris’ help is driven less by political calculation than by “tremendous empathy for people in difficulty,” said Glenn C. Altschuler, author and professor at Cornell University, who mentored Mr. Morris then. that he was a student and remained in close collaboration. contact with him since.
“He has a heart as big as a house, and as his portfolio has grown he has been able to show his sympathy, his empathy, in various ways,” Mr. Altschuler said.
Mr Morris, 58, caused a stir in Hollywood, and big money, when he brokered a landmark deal that gave ‘South Park’ creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker an unprecedented 50 % in the success of the cartoon in digital media.
Mr Morris had met the couple years earlier when they were relatively unknown filmmakers, and he portrayed them for free for the next few years. He then produced a musical, “The Book of Mormon”, which the couple had written with a third partner for which he won a Tony Award.
Mr. Morris also wrote a satire of show business titled “Gettysburg”, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale titled “All Joe Knight” and a collection of short stories.
Mr. Morris met Hunter Biden, now 52, in December 2019 at a fundraiser for Biden’s presidential campaign, and quickly developed an almost fatherly affection for Mr. Biden, according to an associate at Mr Morris. Mr. Morris’ relationship with Mr. Biden was first reported by CBS News.
When they first met, Hunter Biden was working to get his life back together. Mr. Biden was under attack from Mr. Trump and his allies, who were taking advantage of his personal struggles and foreign business connections to try to undermine his father’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Morris both lived in Los Angeles and became close, with Mr. Morris helping out as Mr. Biden worked to complete a memoir. He detailed his struggles with addiction and loss and credited his new wife, Melissa Cohen, for pulling him from the brink of despair and self-destruction. It also repelled Mr. Trump’s attacks on him and his family.
Mr. Morris, who had donated $2,800 to the Biden campaign before meeting the candidate’s son, donated $55,000 to super PACs supporting the campaign and opposing Mr. Trump in the months since followed the meeting — exponentially more than he had given to federal committees before, according to campaign finance records.
As a young man, Mr Morris worked as an office assistant for a British Member of Parliament, but he has little discernible experience in American politics.
Mr Morris – who produced a 1997 film called ‘Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary’, about an annual competition in Texas to see who can hold their hands on a van the longest – started developing the idea and to collect footage for a film featuring Mr. Biden. It is produced by a company Mr. Morris set up last year called Media Courthouse Documentary Collective. The company also produces films on topics including cryptology, Congress, and Johnny Depp’s libel case against his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard.
While the documentary on Mr Biden is still in the formative stage, according to people who know him well, they said he may seek to undermine attacks on his subject while advancing the story of his redemption , including focusing on the launch of Mr. Biden’s film. artistic career.
Mr Morris, who collects art, encouraged Mr Biden’s art and owns some of it, according to two people familiar with his collection, although one suggested the art could have been given to him as a gift.
While Hunter Biden previously told The New York Times that his painting “literally keeps me sane,” it caused the administration headaches. The White House helped develop a set of ethical guidelines intended to guard the identity of buyers of Mr. Biden’s art, and other details of sales, from both the artist and the administration. It came after reviews of a gallery show in SoHo in which asking prices were between $75,000 and $500,000 per piece, which is high for a novice artist.
Mr Morris and a man with a video camera were pictured following Mr Biden and Ms Cohen outside the SoHo Gallery during the opening of Mr Biden’s exhibit, which the sister was attending of President Biden and other family members.
Plans for the documentary also include raising questions about the veracity of the story behind the cache of emails, text messages and other files from Hunter Biden’s accounts that were obtained and released to the media initially by Rudolph W. Giuliani.
The New York Times and other outlets have authenticated some of the files, which detailed Mr Biden’s finances and his work for foreign individuals and companies during a time when his father was vice president and oversaw elements of politics. American foreigner who overlapped with the interests of Hunter Biden’s clients.
Some of those records have been reviewed by prosecutors investigating Hunter Biden for possible violations of tax, money laundering and foreign lobbying laws.
Mr Morris privately asked if the files were all from the abandoned laptop in Delaware or if they were pieced together from a range of sources. He also said the Justice Department should investigate the chain of custody.
He circulated diagrams showing an array of Trump allies who were involved in the release of the files, including former White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon, former personal lawyer Mr. Giuliani and the Chinese billionaire and Mar-a-Lago member Guo Wengui.