LaHood takes ‘wait-and-see’ view in Trump case, believes Hunter Biden plea deserves scrutiny
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood believes there should not be any rush to judgement against former President Donald Trump on federal charges of mishandling classified documents.
The Dunlap Republican serving Illinois’ 16th Congressional District also feels the plea agreement given to Hunter Biden for tax crimes shows a double standard and needs a closer examination.
During an appearance in western Peoria County last week, LaHood addressed the two high-profile federal cases, and the state of the country’s economy under President Joe Biden's leadership.
Former President Trump has pleaded not guilty to 37 felony counts of illegally storing classified documents, and interfering with the Justice Department's efforts to retrieve them.
LaHood admits the accusations are troubling, but said the matter needs to play out through the legal system.
“As a former federal prosecutor, I respect the rule of law,” LaHood said. “I serve on the Intelligence Committee. I mean, these are serious charges, right? They’ve got to be taken seriously."
“Anytime that you mishandle – or the allegation is you mishandled – classified documents, there's serious consequences to that," he said. "So we'll see what happens … everybody's presumed innocent until proven guilty. The court system is going to move forward and we'll see what happens.”
LaHood took a different tone in response to the Hunter Biden case. In an agreement with federal prosecutors, President Biden's son will plead guilty to two tax misdemeanors with a recommended sentence of probation.
In the deal, Hunter Biden will admit to willful failure to pay income tax on $8.3 million earned in 2017 and 2018. He will also enter a diversion program to avoid a federal firearm possession charge. Two IRS whistleblowers have alleged federal prosecutors were encouraged to give Hunter Biden preferential treatment.
The plea deal has drawn scrutiny from many Republicans, to the point that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has suggested the possibility of pursuing impeachment of Attorney General Merrick Garland. It's an idea LaHood said he's willing to consider.
“When you have an attorney general that that has implemented a two-tiered system of justice, I don't know what else you do,” LaHood said. “Now, I'm not generally in favor of impeachment. But when you look at the case with Hunter Biden, you have whistleblowers coming forth alleging that there was protection of Hunter Biden by the highest level of the [Department of Justice]. Then you have this plea agreement where it's a slap on the wrist with two misdemeanors.
“If anybody in my district took $8 million from China and Ukraine and Romania and didn't pay taxes, they'd be in jail and they'd be charged with felonies," he said. "The Department of Justice has not proven to me that this wasn't favorable treatment for Hunter Biden, because of his connections and because of his dad. So I think for a lot of reasons there, we're going to go where the facts and evidence lead us on this. But with what I've seen thus far from whistleblowers at the highest level, it's concerning.”
Turning to the state of the economy, LaHood said he didn't listen to President Biden's recent speech in Chicago where he stressed confidence that a recession will be avoided. LaHood said he's not sure that optimism is warranted.
“When I talk to my constituents, there's a lot of concern about inflation and where the direction of the country we're going economically,” LaHood said. “People are not happy when they see what's happened to their 401K, their pension plans and the decline there. Frankly, we have to do something about inflation; spending more money is not the option.
“We’re $32 trillion in debt, and this appetite to continue to spend money at the federal government is not the right approach. Frankly, that's really what the Biden administration has done is spend a lot of money and frankly, I don't think that's what we ought to be doing.
“Second thing is, we’ve got to get back to energy independence," he said. "We were a net exporter, of energy out of this country during the Trump administration; we’ve kind of forgotten about that. That's another thing that will help to bring down inflation and get the economy back on track. But that's something that this administration hasn't wanted to do as of yet.”
In his speech, Biden pointed to positive economic indicators such as increased job creation and unemployment reaching a historic low. But LaHood said he's not sure all the trends are pointing the right way.
“I think it's mixed. I think, if you talk to people, there's a lot of uncertainty, there's a lot of anxiety in the economy, in terms of the direction we're going,” LaHood said. “There are jobs and good paying jobs, but inflation eats up so much of that, that I think that's what concerns people long term.”
Biden also criticized the theory of trickle-down economics, claiming the approach has failed the middle class. But LaHood believes that Republican economic strategies have proven successful in the past.
“If you look at the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that we passed in 2017, you look at what that did to the economy, pre COVID, we had more people working in this country than ever before,” LaHood said. “Plus, we moved almost 6-7 million people out of poverty by giving more money back to individuals, whether they were poor, low income, middle class folks and what that did to the economy.
“We’ve got to constantly think about that we're going to grow the economy with the private sector flourishing," he said. "Giving more money back to small businesses, to farmers, to individuals will help all of us. That's what we really need to focus on.”