The exchange comes from a copy of a hard drive that Hunter Biden purportedly dropped off at a repair shop and never retrieved. A copy was provided to The Washington Post, and the emails cited in this article were authenticated by two forensic analysts.
James and Hunter Biden were in the midst of a lucrative deal with Chinese executives at the time, while Joe Biden was out of public service for the first time in nearly a half-century, having left the vice presidency a few months earlier. Hunter Biden was also wrestling with drug addiction, financial problems and a relationship with his late brother Beau’s widow that had become public. Amid all that, Hunter Biden turned to his uncle, at least as much as to his famous father, for emotional support.
Hunter also relied upon James Biden, who goes by Jim and is known as Jimmy within the family, on matters of dollars and cents. Within days of that exchange, Hunter received another email from his uncle urging him to take advantage of a financial opportunity related to Joe Biden. The urgency is clear, even if the precise subject is not.
“You need to call me now,” James Biden wrote on Oct. 1, 2017. “Just got off the phone with your father…We have the two biggest days of our business life in front of us!!!!!! We must be smart, or everything goes up in smoke! Please call me. You MUST remain calm. Timing could not be worse. Calm and measured!!!! Paybacks can come later.”
James Biden has in many ways always been the protector in the Biden family, the one who made sure the machinery ran while his brother soared; President Biden as recently as late last year referred to him as “my brother Jimmy, who fixes everything.” He has been there for the bad times, comforting family members in distress, visiting the bedside of loved ones, getting them into rehab when needed. He was by his brother’s side at his first wedding, was at the hospital when Beau died, found a neurosurgeon when Joe had a brain aneurysm.
He even helped paint Hunter’s law school apartment. When Joe Biden became president, his brother was tasked with redecorating the Oval Office.
Yet from the start of Joe Biden’s political career, James, who is seven years younger, has also walked up to ethical lines his brother has avoided, leaving a complicated trail of business dealings and angry lawsuits.
In a rare phone interview, James Biden said he tries to keep a low profile, and he used more than a few expletives to describe unwelcome attention from Republicans and the media. “I’m the guy who assists in everything. When it comes to my family I try to be as supportive as I can,” he said. “But this notion of ‘the fixer,’ or any reference that has a negative connotation, is offensive.”
He added, “The notion I am some underworld figure and I am a fixer or the cleaner or I’m this or that — I’m a very concerned family member who tries to protect my family in every way I can, in what is a very ethical way.”
Several times during the interview, James Biden mused aloud that he should not be speaking to a reporter, then resumed talking. Eventually his wife, Sara, entered the room and advised him to cut off the conversation. “Talk to a real person who knows me,” James Biden said, then offered, “Guess what? There’s not many who do.”
James Biden has included Hunter in a number of financial deals, his expressions of undying empathy for his nephew alternating with excited business pitches. Yet a number of those deals have turned sour, as onetime business partners have alleged in court documents that James Biden has said he would bring in business using the Biden name and connections, then failed to deliver — allegations he denies.
The Post spoke to associates of James Biden at his request. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive legal matters and declined to provide specifics. Hunter Biden did not respond to several requests for comment sent through his attorney, and the White House declined to comment.
The intricate mesh of relationships — between the president, his son Hunter, his brother James — illustrates how the president’s relatives have struggled to make a life in his political shadow.
The president and his family are certain to face any number of investigations if Republicans retake at least one chamber of Congress in November’s midterm elections. Republicans have recently drawn more attention to James Biden, in addition to Hunter, an indication that they would put him under a spotlight.
James and Hunter Biden are far from the first presidential relatives to face scrutiny. From Billy Carter to Roger Clinton, presidential siblings have caused political problems, while former president Donald Trump’s family members regularly sought business opportunities related to his presidency and even took positions in his administration.
It is clear that James Biden both soothed his troubled nephew in moments of genuine despair and worked to cultivate business opportunities with him. “My Uncle Jimmy is my best friend in the world,” Hunter said last year during a podcast interview.
The two men share the light banter of close family members, emailing on subjects like the sporting events of Hunter Biden’s children. In the emails, James Biden at one point asked Hunter for advice on getting his boat painted at his marina (“They are thieves down in Fla!!!!!”) and at another advised him on attire for an upcoming dinner (“Jeans very casual!!”).
James Biden also frequently encouraged Hunter to take time to relax, to try yoga and meditation. “It’s worked for you in the past,” he wrote on Oct. 4, 2017. “Force yourself. Im hitting the gym big time. Let’s take some stress off, any way we can! I’m with you pal.”
A few weeks after that message, James Biden was enthusiastically outlining ways for the two of them to leverage political connections in pursuit of infrastructure projects. They knew officials in California, James reminded Hunter, including Gov. Jerry Brown, so they could go after rail projects in the state. There were massive projects shaping up in Minnesota, he added, where they could tap the Democratic delegation for help. In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo would meet with them whenever they were ready.
“We are very driven people,” James Biden exhorted. “We are rifle shot rather than shot gun people.”
‘You never have to ask Jimmy’
Growing up, the Bidens were a tightknit family, and James Biden’s role of sticking up for others was clear from an early age. Their mother, Joe Biden wrote in his book “Promises to Keep,” “once shipped my brother Jim off with instructions to bloody the nose of a kid who was picking on smaller kids, and she gave him a dollar when he’d done it.”
When Joe Biden ran for Senate in 1972, it was a family affair. The candidate’s sister, Valerie, was the campaign manager. His youngest brother, Frank, rallied student volunteers. And it was 23-year-old James’s job to raise money. From the beginning, James was willing to tiptoe up to ethical lines in a way that Joe Biden, by his own account, was not.
In the heat of the campaign, James reported to Joe that Bill Holayter, president of the International Association of Machinists, was willing to make a $5,000 donation — but wanted to meet the candidate first. When they sat down, the cigar-smoking Holayter asked Joe Biden if he would support the union on an upcoming issue.
“If you’re asking me how I’m gonna vote on a particular issue, you can take that check and stick it,” Joe Biden told him, according to “Promises to Keep.” Joe Biden stormed off, so James Biden chased his brother to the elevator and asked him to reconsider. When Joe still refused to accept the check, James took it himself, according to the book.
James Biden rejects the idea that he was willing to engage in anything that his brother would not. “To get a meeting with that guy, I had to wait in his lobby for probably six months,” he recalled in the interview. “Finally he says, ‘Hey, I want to talk to your brother.’ I said fine, I brought him down.” When his brother stormed out of the room, James Biden said, he persuaded Holayter to apologize.
“The way that it was portrayed or suggested that I did something inappropriate or shady or that I crossed the line, or that I was the one that took the check and he refused?” he said. “Total, absolute bullshit.” He added, “This notion I did something that he wouldn’t do? Give me a break.”
Some of James Biden’s support for his brother was more personal — deeply so. When Biden’s first wife Neilia and their infant daughter died in a car crash, it was James who identified the bodies, who delivered the horrific news to Neilia’s parents, who broke the news to his brother that they were gone.
“Jimmy is among the most generous people in the world, and he would — the expression that we use in the family, ‘If you have to ask, it’s too late’ — and you never have to ask Jimmy,” their sister Valerie, called Val by the family, said during a recent Washington Post Live event. “He’s always a step ahead of trying to help. He’s fierce. It’s not a pushover by any means. He is genuine. You always know where you stand with Jimmy.”
Over the years and especially now, critics have often asked why the president has tolerated the dubious behavior of his family members, especially Hunter. That question may never be answered. But it’s clear that the Bidens have bonded through the kind of tragedy few other families can imagine.
After Joe’s wife and baby daughter died, James converted a garage outside Joe’s house into an apartment so he could be a constant presence as Joe tried to raise two young boys while learning the ways of the Senate. In those early days, James often tagged along on congressional trips — including a side jaunt to Europe with his brother, at the advice of Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.). “I became basically a Senate wife for the first year,” James Biden later recalled.
To Hunter and Beau, he was the fun-loving uncle. The one who brought the toys and candy, or tossed them into the air at the swimming pool. The one who dragged an artificial tree into their hospital room when they were recovering from the accident that killed their mother and sister as the family shopped for a Christmas tree.
Joe Biden has recounted moving Hunter into a New Haven apartment when his son was in law school, and realizing the entire place needed a new coat of paint. “My brother Jimmy, who fixes everything — my brother Jimmy was with us, and we went down and bought about 28 gallons of paint,” the president said last year during a talk in Connecticut. “For real. It was hot as hell.”
Business pursuits and litigation
As vital as James Biden has been in his brother’s personal life, he has also been a potential liability in his political one. His repeated efforts at business deals — sometimes using the family name or enlisting Hunter — have not infrequently ended in recrimination, bankruptcy or lawsuits. In several cases, as noted by ProPublica and in Ben Schreckinger’s book “The Bidens,” associates claimed that James promised to use his status as a Biden to drum up business but didn’t, which he denies.
Shortly after Joe Biden became a senator, James Biden opened a nightclub in Wilmington, Del., with bank loans from lenders who may have been eager to please the new young senator on the Banking Committee. Joe Biden was in touch with the banks that were lending money to his brother but did not directly influence the loans, according to news accounts at the time.
On one occasion in 1975, Joe Biden called Edwards Danforth, chairman of the Farmers’ Bank of Delaware, to complain about his brother’s treatment. Biden’s justification, the News Journal reported at the time, was that he’d only called because the bank was threatening that a default would be embarrassing for Joe. “They were trying to use me as a bludgeon,” he said. Eventually, the nightclub folded.
Years later, in 2000, James took out a $353,000 loan from Leonard Barrack, a prominent Biden donor, according to registry of deeds documents. Barrack simultaneously hired James’s wife, Sara, and paid nearly $250,000 for the couple to travel internationally to work generating business for his firm.
But the relationship fell apart and resulted in competing lawsuits between Barrack and the Bidens over Sara Biden’s contract and compensation. Barrack’s firm claimed that, in hiring Sara Biden, James Biden had promised to help land clients in part “through his family name and his resemblance to his brother, United States Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware,” but they generated business for themselves rather than the firm.
Sara Biden, who was represented in part by her nephew, Beau Biden, filed a countersuit. The parties settled in 2004, and Barrack did not respond to a request for comment.
There is no record that James directly responded to the assertion in legal papers, but in the phone interview he suggested that the various lawsuits against him were meritless. “It’s not that I haven’t made mistakes in my life,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is, here I sit, anybody can sue anybody for anything. But it would never be cast in the light that ‘they can sue me just because they can sue me.’ ”
James Biden declined to respond in detail to the legal claims he’s faced over the years and referred questions to legal associates, who declined to address specifics.
A few years after the Barrack dispute, James and Hunter jointly purchased a controlling interest in a hedge fund called Paradigm Global Advisors, along with a partner named Anthony Lotito. But that relationship, too, soured, as the Bidens and Lotito sued each other for fraud, each side claiming the other had misled them. The case was ultimately settled.
In a discussion with Marc Maron on his “WTF” podcast last year, Hunter was asked about getting involved in a hedge fund with his uncle. “I tried. It didn’t work out. I was sober. I was sober then,” he said. “It just, it just didn’t work out, you know. I mean, one thing is that you think that, you know, D.C. is bad. Go to Wall Street. I mean, it’s just like, oh, my God.”
He defended James Biden’s role. “Look, my uncle is the most amazing man, one of the most amazing people I know,” Hunter Biden said. “Yeah. He is literally there for everyone. He’s my, he’s my best friend in the world, my Uncle Jim. I mean, he’s an incredible human being in his own right.”
In another case, after teaming up with Americore Health, a Florida-based health-care company, James Biden was accused of stealing blueprints for a rural health-care business and failing to generate the international investments he’d promised.
In June 2019, two medical service firms who were involved in that arrangement — Azzam Medical Services and Diverse Medical Management — sued James Biden and his business partners. Among other things, they alleged James had cited his family connections and promised that Joe Biden would promote the firms’ health-care model in his 2020 campaign.
They also alleged that James touted Joe Biden’s connections to the labor movement and the Department of Veterans Affairs, promising the plaintiffs he’d help them win federal contracts and expand their model nationwide. James Biden’s attorneys disputed many of the allegations in the lawsuit, which was settled in 2020.
And in a case that didn’t end up in litigation but has drawn recent attention, James and Hunter Biden signed a lucrative deal in 2017 with officials from the Chinese energy conglomerate CEFC. As The Post previously reported, the company and its executives paid $4.8 million to entities controlled by the two Bidens over the course of 14 months — even though the energy projects Hunter Biden discussed with CEFC never materialized.
The arrangement provided Hunter Biden with a monthly stipend of $100,000 while his uncle received $65,000, according to records on the copy of Hunter Biden’s hard drive, as well as bank documents obtained by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). James and Hunter Biden have declined to respond to questions about this arrangement.
A source close to Biden, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, declined to comment on several specific questions about his legal issues, saying only that “Jim Biden has always maintained that he conducted himself ethically and honorably in all his business dealings.”
Inside Hunter Biden’s deals with a Chinese energy company
‘He sent in the cavalry: my uncle Jim’
Congressional Republicans are increasingly making it clear that James Biden as well as Hunter will be a target of their probes. “Hunter Biden wasn’t the only Biden family member who had connections to the [Chinese] communist regime,” Grassley said in a recent floor speech. “James Biden did as well.”
But James Biden’s bond with his nephew goes far beyond business deals, a fact that has played into the president’s own relationship with his son. When Hunter was in the depths of a drug relapse, he often would stop answering his father’s anxious calls, and Joe Biden knew the best way to reach him was to go through James.
“He sent in the cavalry: my uncle Jim,” Hunter Biden wrote in his memoir. “Uncle Jimmy is my best friend in the world and Dad knew that if his younger brother asked me to do something, I’d do it. Uncle Jim has his own superpower: he gets things done.”
At one point in 2018, James Biden flew out to Los Angeles, pulled Hunter out of a hotel room and checked him into rehab. Hunter wrote about the encounter in his memoir, and there is further evidence on the copy of his hard drive, which includes increasingly urgent messages from his uncle.
On Sept. 17, 2017, James wrote Hunter an email with the subject line, “Our relationship ‘Rock Solid’ ” and apologized for not providing even more comfort.
“You are a fine and (yes) noble man. I will do better from my end, and start acting like a real friend and partner,” James Biden wrote. “I am on your side/team period. Forgive me for being so insensitive to all that you are going thru. If you will permit me, I would like to start being part of the solution, rather than another problem to deal with. We will get thru this. I really believe that there are good times ahead.”
He added, “I love you pal, U Jim.”
About two weeks later, James Biden took out his phone to type the “corney” message to Hunter. He added other words of encouragement, and even indirectly suggested that he might appreciate Hunter in a way his own father did not.
“Stop beating yourself up, and realize that there is a least one person in this world, who truly appreciates what a quality person you are,” he wrote. “Your grandparents, your mother, sister, and brother are looking down on you, and want their Hunter to be happy. I Couldn’t sleep last night, but all good. As the great philosopher Happy Gilmore would say, ‘put yourself in your happy place.’ ”
Alice Crites, Tom Hamburger, and Craig Timberg contributed to this report.