The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

It is Tuesday, August 22nd, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Let the Rule of Law Operate: The Hunter Biden Controversy Continues to Unfold

You can call it Hunter Gate, you can call it Biden Gate, you can call it whatever you want to call it, but the stink surrounding the president’s son is only getting stinkier.

Hunter Biden is actually the president’s second son, his first son, Beau Biden died–that is to say the elder of the two boys and their lives have been entwined with Joe Biden’s political career from the very beginning. And it began with tragedy. It was a tragedy in which Mrs. Biden, the first Mrs. Biden was involved in a horrifying car crash that led to her death and the death of their infant daughter, leaving the two boys injured. Hunter Biden has basically never known a time when his father wasn’t in politics, either as the United States Senator from Delaware or as Vice President of the United States, or now of course as President of the United States. But Hunter Biden has basically never been known to the American public as anything other than the center of a kind of scandal, a certain kind of scandal.

The question is what kind of scandal is it? We now know a great deal more about what it is. Now as Christian citizens look at this, we need to recognize that this is a family situation. We are talking about a father and a son. This is a moral context. It is a political controversy. There are people who for their own political purposes are going to say, there is more here than meets the eye, and there are people who are going to say, what are you looking at? Nothing’s going on here. Nothing to see. Just move on. Well, by now, the American people have figured out this is not something from which we can just move on. That was made graphically clear in the unexpected, but very disruptive breakdown of a plea agreement that had been arranged between the team working for the US attorney there in Delaware and the Biden defense team.

That plea agreement had basically called for Hunter Biden to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of not paying his federal taxes–over a million dollars by the way. And then to enter into a certain kind of diversion agreement as it is known whereby he would be put under the supervision of the court for a length of time because he had committed the crime of lying on an application for a gun permit. Now, that plea agreement itself was controversial as soon as it became known. Now, you had the team for the defendant in this case, Hunter Biden saying, look, the prosecutor in this case is the United States attorney there in Delaware, and he was appointed by Donald Trump. But then you had conservatives, you had Republicans who were making the case that this is a scandal that’s only getting worse, and the United States attorney who is central in this case is actually part of the problem.

He’s running the clock out so that by the statute of limitations, there won’t be any criminal allegations to bring. He’s basically cutting a deal so that Hunter Biden will do no jail time. One of the arguments made in a commentary published in the Wall Street Journal is that if you did these things, you would go to jail. Very clear accusation of a lack of adequate criminal prosecution in this case, but let’s just remind ourselves that the bigger scandal surrounding Hunter Biden isn’t really about the failure to pay his federal taxes in certain years. It’s not about lying on an application for a gun permit. It’s about a scandal that involves Ukraine, potentially China, millions of dollars that the president and formerly the Vice President’s son earned in a business partnership for which he had no particular expertise. An involvement with people in Ukraine where at the time his own father was the Obama Administration’s point person, then his Vice President of the United States trying to figure out the evolving, very tumultuous picture there in Ukraine.

You had allegations at the time made from within the Obama administration that here you had the vice president’s son who has no apparent ability or experience or expertise in these issues at all, who might actually be working with the people that the United States government was trying to sideline in that controversial situation in the tumult of Ukraine at the time. And remember his father, the Vice President of the United States was running point for the entire United States government on that issue. It was merely a coincidence. We are supposed to believe that his son having no experience or expertise in the area whatsoever would show up as a major financial player to his own benefit of millions of dollars. But let’s back up for just a moment. Americans of my age and my generation, we were basically introduced to political scandal through the name of Richard M. Nixon. President Richard Nixon, the Watergate scandal, the early 1970s.

I was in junior high school. I’d been a seventh grade volunteer for the Nixon reelection campaign in 1972. I wore my, “Now more than ever, we need Nixon now” button outside the Montgomery Ward store and passed out pamphlets supporting the president’s reelection effort. Only later did we come to know what was going on, and I learned words even just as a junior high student, like criminal conspiracy and obstruction of justice and unindicted co-conspirators. That was a disillusioning time in American politics, particularly for a teenager. But I also had to come to terms with the fact that some of the people that I thought were moral examples were far less than I thought. When it came to Richard Nixon, President Nixon, I read a good bit of the transcripts of his secret White House recordings. And honestly, as a 13-year-old, I was more shocked by anything else, by the president’s language.

As I said, he swore like a sailor. Not that I’d actually heard a sailor swear. Over time, and frankly in a relatively brief amount of time, I came to understand that scandal and the American government have never been fully separated. When it comes to the Oval Office, it has sometimes been at the center of a scandal, or it should have been if the truth had been known at the time. You look at the two immediate predecessors to President Richard M. Nixon, who were they? Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy. John F. Kennedy, well, where does the scandal start? Where does it end? His own father bragged about having bought votes in the 1960 presidential campaign. And it appears that he bought votes including from people who might well have been dead. But nonetheless, you also look at the fact that as you’re looking at President John F. Kennedy, you’re also looking at sex scandals. Some of them still not even fully understood. He did share a mistress with a mafia boss. That’s not a small thing, and before he was sharing a mistress with a mafia boss, he had had an affair with the Nazi spy.

And as you’re looking at Lyndon Johnson, I guess the biggest issue there is the fact that he managed to live on a government salary as a member of Congress, as a United States Senator, as Vice President of the United States, and as president that is not a magnificent salary, but he turned out to be very, very rich when he left office. How exactly did that happen?

Now of course, fast-forward to 2023, former president Donald Trump indicted on multiple criminal charges. But at the same time, we’re told that the incumbent president Joe Biden, he’s a return to normalcy and a respite from scandal; except he’s not.

The Democratic message, and you hear this in the mainstream media, you hear a democratic figure saying over and over again that there’s nothing here. There’s nothing to see here. When it comes to Hunter Biden, nothing but a bunch of false accusations coming from Republicans and those opposed to Joe Biden. But at the same time, here’s what we need to note. Just a matter of a short time ago, a federal judge turned down the plea agreement that had been arranged by the prosecutor, at least in the name of the US attorney there in Delaware. And it had been approved basically through Justice Department systems and it went to the judge and it was with the agreement. Remember, the keyword and plea agreement is agreement. It had gone to the judge controversial at the time because it didn’t call for any felony prosecution. It appeared that there wasn’t going to be any real jail time for Hunter Biden and yet, just remember this even as there were those who said before the plea agreement was ruled on by the judge that it was quite inadequate.

The federal judge dismissed the plea agreement saying that it was probably unconstitutional and it certainly was unprecedented. So the plea agreement didn’t go down because of a vote of a Republican committee in Congress. It went down because of a United States federal court judge who said, this isn’t going to fly. But in the very same process, there had basically been a cat fight that broke out between Hunter Biden’s attorneys and those representing the prosecutor in the case because they were in fundamental disagreement as to whether or not this was a conclusive end to the investigation. At the time the hearing was held, the attorneys were Hunter Biden basically said, look, the deal’s off. If there was any further investigation at the same time you had the prosecution making very clear there, well might be a further investigation. Now, fast-forward to just the last several days, what’s happened in the last several days?

Well, just over the weekend, the New York Times, just remind yourself not a conservative newspaper, this is not a part of the right wing. The New York Times ran an article about how the Hunter Biden plea agreement broke down and it becomes very clear that there were those among prosecutors who felt that the prosecutor in this case, David Weiss, who is the US attorney there in Delaware, was not taking the investigation with the seriousness he ought. There were also those identified as IRS, Internal Revenue Service whistleblowers who basically said that their attempt to investigate Hunter Biden had been blocked by the US attorney there or other forces. They had tried to gain documents, they had tried to ask questions, they were stymied. They eventually leaked this to the Congress and it came out in hearings. The New York Times article, I want to say, which was on the front page of the paper pretty honestly and straightforwardly presented the fact that the whistle was blown.

Now, it’s just really important to recognize that the Democratic message, which is constantly trumpeted by the mainstream media, is that there’s nothing here, that nothing’s been proved that links the President of the United States to any kind of involvement with his son, and yet much of the evidence is just undeniable. Hunter Biden is a very troubled man. Nobody questions that. A very troubled man, he has had run-ins with the law. He has been, of course proved to be the father of a child he had denied. There are certain aspects of a sex scandal that are involved. His drug addiction is something he’s admitted even in a book he wrote as a form of autobiography. All that’s pretty well known, but what’s also known is that he is a man of no obvious or evident experience or talent when it comes to international business, who nonetheless grew rich during the time that his father was most importantly Vice President of the United States. And not only was his father Vice President of the United States, he was as we’ve already said, running point for the Obama administration on many of these issues.

But here’s where the story gets even more interesting, because even as the White House and the President himself, it said he had no involvement in his son’s business–indeed, this statement was made at least by some that he had no knowledge of his son’s business. If you believe that, you believe that. But nonetheless, even as that was said, it’s been changed of late to say that the president wasn’t in business with his son. The reason for that undoubtedly is testimony given by Devin Archer, Hunter Biden’s former business associate in these deals who made very clear that what Hunter Biden was selling was either access to the Obama administration and in particular to the Vice President, Hunter Biden’s father or the illusion of access. Either way, this situation stinks in moral terms.

But what makes it stinkier so to speak, is the direct involvement of the President then vice president, in, for example, a number of phone calls made as deals were being made. Now the White House and Democratic authorities will come back and say, look, the president wasn’t involved in any business decisions, knew nothing about the business. But here’s what he knew. He knew when to call his son and go on speakerphone and talk about the weather, and again, what Devin Archer made very clear what was being sold was access. There was no reason for Hunter Biden to be hired by anyone having to do with Ukraine or China or any other foreign country, other than that, the last name involved here was Biden, and it was the name or as has been claimed the illusion of access given that name that was being sold. Now, in any event, what we have to understand is the entire enterprise really stinks. In moral terms, this is not an honorable enterprise.

In moral terms, there’s simply no way that the vice president at the time, Joe Biden, now President of the United States, didn’t know what his son was up to in Ukraine at the very time that the vice president is supposed to be running point for the Obama administration. For one thing, in trying to avoid American involvement with corruption there. Well, it’s pretty hard to avoid corruption when you’re entering into a speakerphone conversation to let your son’s potential business partners know, hey, here shows up the brand. In one transcript, the big guy.

Whatever the evasion, Joe Biden’s phone calls, even if the talk was only about the weather, were a business involvement, certainly in moral terms. But any financial involvement, Ukrainian interest by Hunter Biden was just flat wrong. Even more for certain, Joe Biden knew that Hunter Biden had nothing to sell in Ukraine or China or anywhere else but his last name.

Now, go back to the fact that this is a long history and it goes back to the relationship between a father and a son. Here’s what Christians should think. We should admire the fact that Joe Biden loves his son and that he is faithful in that relationship. We can understand that, but it’s a different thing entirely when the good faith and reputation and the moral integrity of the justice system of the United States of America is put at stake. The President of the United States invited his son even as the final arrangements for the plea agreement were being made to a diplomatic event at the White House, a public event in which one of the fellow guests was the Attorney General of the United States. Who of course is part of the Biden administration and who should never have been present with someone who was a defendant in this kind of investigation. Even if that is the president’s son, at the very time that a plea agreement is being arranged.

Now, accusations that members of a President’s family, immediate family or extended family have misused the name, the brand, the access, they’re not new. And you just have to think about Billy Carter for example, going back to the late 1970s, and you go back to his involvement in which very similar things seem to have happened. You have former presidents, and this is bipartisan who had real issues with their brothers or siblings or others getting involved in commercial affairs in which something like the illusion of access may well have been something bought and sold. But in moral terms, there’s just no way to say there’s nothing here. I think we all know there’s something here, and this is where those who are Christians who believe in the rule of law simply have to say, the rule of law really should operate as a rule of law.

The Justice Department really should operate as the Department of Justice of the United States of America, and the chips, as they say, will simply have to fall where they fall. But if this is a political effort just to run out the clock on a statute of limitations, if this is an effort simply to avoid dealing with the obvious, then those who are part of saying there’s nothing to see here right now are those who we can at least hope will have to answer for that in the future.

When you are talking about a president running for reelection, of course you’re talking about politics. But Joe Biden’s life has basically been one long obsession with politics, a very long obsession with politics in more ways than one. But it’s really important to recognize that the President has made the public statement, “My son has done nothing wrong.” That’s in commensurate with showing up in a federal courtroom to agree to a plea agreement. Clearly, it’s not true that the President’s son has done nothing wrong. How much and how wrong? That’s where our system of justice needs to work and be allowed to work and required to work. That’s what the rule of law, which is a great civilizational achievement depends upon.

Part II

Russia’s Luna-25 Probe ‘Ceased to Exist’: The Failed Moon Mission and the Continuation of the Space Race

But next, let’s think about a recent headline. It has to do with the fact that Russia has failed to land a moon mission as it had been planning a big matter of prestige for Russia.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, “Russia’s first mission to the moon in nearly 50 years ended in a disaster as its unmanned, Luna 25 spacecraft crashed while attempting land on the unexplored South Pole that was acknowledged by Russian authorities on Sunday.” The Russian statement after it was known that the mission to run into trouble, it was rather terse and easy to understand. The statement simply came down to the fact that the spacecraft “has ceased to exist.” Well, it did, and let’s face it, this is an extremely complicated matter. Landing any kind of spacecraft in that part of the moon hasn’t been done before, certainly not on this kind of scale. Russia was putting its prestige on the line, and that turns out to be pretty important because it’s been more than three decades since Russia has had a big mission like this. And it is something that basically came to an end as the Russian space program about the time that this former Soviet Union came to an end.

Part III

The Competition for International Prestige Continues: The Big Issues Behind Russia’s Race Back to the Moon

There’s a huge geopolitical story here because when it comes to this kind of space mission, it really is a matter not only of national prestige but of international competition. Just think of the Cold War where you had the USSR, the Soviet Union, the communist regime, and you had the United States of America representing liberty and democracy and constitutional government go head-to-head in a space race. And it’s just important for us to understand that you’re looking at two different systems, two different economic systems, two different political systems, and here’s one of the things to note. Early on, it looked like the Soviets had the advantage.

They were the first to put a man in space. They were the first to put a woman in space. They were the first to put a satellite even before that in space. The Americans appeared to be playing catch up, and it was President John F. Kennedy who gave the United States this Cold War aspiration to come out ahead by sending a man to the moon, lending him on the surface of the planet and returning a human being, a man safely back to Earth. And it turned out that the United States accomplished that, but it was no easy accomplishment, and there was a lot of catch up, and there were embarrassments on both sides. But some of the early embarrassments came to the United States of America. For one thing, because of our openness, our failures were pretty much well known and they were impossible to deny.

When you had a spacecraft blow up on the launchpad, it was pretty much there for everyone to see, and it was right there in Florida. There were plenty of witnesses. It wasn’t way out in the wilderness where such things could be denied. In one sense, this competition of great powers, this competition of worldviews has continued even as Vladimir Putin is the autocratic head of what is now a much diminished Russia, and in the United States, we have of course largely privatized that space effort. There’s still very much a NASA that is involved at the federal level. We even have Space Force now as a part of our armed services actually as a branch, but much of the entire enterprise has been basically outsourced to private enterprises such as SpaceX. I was very glad with my family to be witnesses to a major SpaceX launch, even as I saw some of the Apollo launches as a boy. And I can simply tell you there is nothing like the exhilaration of seeing a great rocket like that blast off into the sky.

In the case of SpaceX, it was also interesting to see the boosters return to earth and land upright. That wasn’t even in the imagination of the Apollo program going back to the 1960s and the 1970s, but looking at the United States and Russia, here’s the thing. The United States really gained the lead in the space race pretty early by the time you get to say the mid 1960s. And by the time you get to the Apollo missions, well, you are looking at American technology, American expertise, American experience in space, vastly outstripping that of the Soviets. But as you look at the situation now, you also have to add the Chinese to the space race, and increasingly even you’re looking at nations like India getting rapidly involved. A consortium of European nations has been involved for some time. One of the things to recognize is that even as the Russians failed pretty spectacularly in this particular mission, they succeeded in other ways. And it’s important to recognize that the Soyuz spacecraft, this great rocket that lifts payloads into space, it has been launched successfully about 2,000 times.

That’s an amazing number. 2000 times this former Soviet now Russian project. It’s not all that spectacular in terms of new technology, but you know what? It’s a workhorse. Two-thousand successful launches. That’s frankly amazing. But then you go back, say to the Apollo program, and you look at the Saturn five launch vehicle that was necessary for the moon missions, and it was a far more spectacular rocket. It actually had a net thrust that was a multiple of the Soyuz, but the United States used 13 of those massive Saturn five rockets in those launches that were basically over the early 1970s. Meanwhile, the Soyuz, they just kept being launched over and over again. Including sometimes carrying American astronauts along with Soviet and later Russian cosmonauts to get to facilities such as the International Space Station. The Soviets had some other big achievements that turned out to be pretty spectacular failures, including the supersonic transport, the aircraft known as the Tu-144.

The United States basically pulled back on the supersonic transport. A European consortium went ahead with what became known as the Concord, but the Tu-144, it was basically we now know stolen largely in terms of Western technology, but nonetheless, they had it and it flew. But in a tragedy, it crashed spectacularly. The Paris Airshow in 1973 and shortly thereafter, it was withdrawn from service. The Soviets that turned out were better at building big planes that weren’t particularly beautiful and weren’t particularly sexy, but they could carry a big payload. Many of them are still flying, including the giant Antonov freighter aircraft, and that’s still the backbone of a lot of freighter fleets across much of Europe and in some other places in the world. One of the reasons the Soviets needed these big cargo aircraft is that after all, you’re looking at a country that is so vast in terms of just space, miles, geography, that it takes some pretty big freight power to be able to take things from one end of the Soviet Union to the other, just count all the time zones involved.

In any event, as you’re looking at the Cold War competition, that’s not just something in the past. The competition right now for international prestige and more is still present between the United States and Russia. Add China to that makes as well. Why did Russia want to land this moon mission near that pole on the moon? It is because it is believed that there may well be all kinds of repositories of rare metals and minerals that might well be used even in the making of high technology and armaments back on planet Earth. This wasn’t just a scientific investigation or mission. It had another angle, and trust me, it wasn’t very well hidden. So worldviews really do matter in so many different ways. You look at something like a space race. You look at recent headlines in terms of the competition between the United States and Russia. You look at this one mission with the spacecraft that suddenly ceased to exist, and you recognize there are big ideas behind these stories.

There is more than technology, engineering and science that is involved here. Christians understand that that’s always going to be true, but we need to press back sometimes and ask, how is it true in this case? If there’s more here that meets the eye, how do we see it?

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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