Joe Biden appears to have rowed back on his claim that he had no knowledge of his son’s controversial foreign business dealings as the scandal casts a shadow over his presidency.
The US President, 80, previously insisted he had never discussed business with Hunter Biden, 53, but now says he was never “in business” with him.
The apparent shift raises fresh questions over Hunter Biden’s alleged influence-peddling as the Justice Department continues to investigate his overseas business dealings.
The younger Mr Biden, whose plea deal to avoid jail for minor tax offences and a gun charge was rejected in court on Wednesday, has been accused by Republicans of leveraging his father’s position for lucrative positions.
Republicans have also claimed that the president communicated directly with his son’s foreign business associates, but have yet to provide evidence.
Questioned repeatedly on the issue, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said: “The President was never in business with his son.”
She added: “I’ve been asked this question multiple times … Nothing has changed.”
The comment is distinctly different from what Mr Biden has previously said on the subject.
“I have never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings,” he said while on the presidential campaign trail in 2019.
“There wasn’t any hint of scandal at all when [I was vice president] … It was the same kind of strict, strict rules. That’s why I never talk with my son or my brother or anyone else, even distant family about their business interest, period.”
James Comer, the Republican chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, claimed the President had been dishonest in distancing himself from his son’s links with foreign entities.
He said in a statement this week: “Joe Biden lied to the American people when he said he knew nothing about his son’s business dealings.
“Evidence continues to be revealed that Joe Biden was very much involved in his family’s corrupt influence-peddling schemes.”
The Justice Department confirmed in court on Wednesday that it continues to investigate Hunter Biden.
It is unclear what potential crimes they are pursuing, but reports suggest they are probing whether Hunter failed to properly register as a foreign agent while working in China and Ukraine during his father’s vice-presidency. Failing to register as a foreign agent could amount to a federal crime.
It has previously been alleged that an email, found on his laptop, referred to Joe Biden as “the big guy” and suggested he would receive a cut of the proceeds from a deal with a Chinese company.
Peter Baker, The New York Times’ White House correspondent, said there was a question of “whether or not [Mr Biden] had something to do with his wayward son’s business dealings”.
He told the broadcaster MSNBC: “The current president said that he never had even discussed business with his son.
“The White House press secretary this week changed that formulation a little bit to say he was never in business with his son. That’s a little bit different than what President Biden has said in the past.”
Two Internal Revenue Service (IRS) whistleblowers have previously testified that Mr Biden’s Justice Department slow-walked a criminal investigation into the President’s son.
Those claims have been refuted by David Weiss, the Trump-appointed US attorney for Delaware, who insisted he had complete authority over the case.
The Justice Department has made Mr Weiss available to testify in a public congressional hearing, saying it was “deeply concerned” by “misrepresentations” about its work.
It comes after a judge rejected a plea deal that appeared to end the younger Mr Biden’s legal troubles.
Mr Biden was charged last month with two minor tax offences related to his failure to pay more than $100,000 in taxes from at least $1.5 million in income in both 2017 and 2018.
Prosecutors also said that, for 11 days in 2018, Mr Biden possessed a firearm despite being a drug user, which is a felony.
Republicans repeatedly criticised the deal as a “sweetheart” agreement formed under pressure from the White House.
A judge refused to sign off on the plea agreement on Wednesday, citing serious “concerns” about the deal.
Prosecutors have 30 days to revise the agreement with Mr Biden’s lawyers.