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Exclusive: Hunter Biden's tax returns

Mattathias Schwartz   

Exclusive: Hunter Biden's tax returns

Business Insider has reviewed hundreds of pages of Hunter Biden's financial records. The documents — made public, in part, for the first time today — include several years of personal tax returns filed by President Joe Biden's son in the late 2010s and early 2020s.

Hunter Biden's 2018 individual tax return, also known as a Form 1040, offers an intimate, primary-source view of his income and his relationship with the IRS, subjects that are now the focus of a federal indictment. The view they give of Biden's lifestyle and his attitude toward his tax obligations is more nuanced than the 56-page charging document released last week by Special Counsel David C. Weiss. That indictment charged Biden with six misdemeanors spanning four tax years, and three felonies — including filing a false return and tax evasion — all from 2018. It sought to depict Biden in starkly moralistic terms, a debauched and entitled playboy who made his living off of sketchy influence-peddling deals, then spent it on sex workers and hotel rooms instead of paying his taxes.

The 2018 tax return obtained by Business Insider and published exclusively on Thursday does not contradict that picture, nor does it offer any smoking-gun evidence of wrongdoing. But it does complicate the attempt by prosecutors to lay out a damning portrait of Biden as a consumer and taxpayer. The return shows what Hunter Biden did after hitting bottom during his years of addiction and profligate spending. By his own account, he spent much of 2017 and 2018 binging on crack cocaine and moving from hotel to hotel. Then, in 2019, he got sober, remarried, and found a wealthy friend to lean on — Los Angeles entertainment lawyer Kevin Morris. Morris lent Biden at least $4.6 million as Biden tried to make things right with the IRS. Using Morris' money, Biden filed his overdue tax returns and voluntarily paid the IRS millions in back taxes, penalties, and interest.

Weiss's investigation of Hunter Biden dates back to 2018. After public sparring between then-Attorney General Bill Barr and President Donald Trump, it was ultimately Biden's attorney general, Merrick Garland, who did what Trump had long demanded and appointed Weiss as special counsel in 2023. Weiss charged Biden with three federal gun charges in September after plea negotiations fell apart; Biden has pleaded not guilty in that case.

Biden has not yet entered a plea on the new tax charges. "He paid all of the taxes that are owed in this indictment more than two years," Abbe Lowell, who represents Biden, said on CNN. "Nobody in that position would be charged the way he was yesterday."

A representative for Hunter Biden's legal team told BI by email that issues with the 2018 tax return were "simple mistakes, not intentional misstatements." They cited a letter from Lowell to the House Ways and Means Committee claiming that Biden had actually overstated his taxable income for that year and "will be due a refund."

Experts agree that it's unusual for the Justice Department to bring criminal charges in a case like this, where the old returns have been filed, the overdue taxes paid, and the only thing in dispute is the legality of business expenses claimed as deductions.

One former prosecutor who reviewed both the indictment and Hunter Biden's 2018 tax return told BI that Biden's conduct falls short of what would typically prompt federal prosecutors to bring criminal charges. They requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of commenting on a pending case.

"There are thousands of people who collectively owe the IRS billions," said the former prosecutor. "We're not prosecuting them criminally. We're meeting with them and trying to work out a payment schedule. Criminal charges under these kinds of circumstances are very unusual. I've never actually seen them."

Here is what Hunter Biden wound up paying the IRS, broken down by year:

  • For 2016, Biden paid the IRS $462,754 in taxes, 29 percent of his income.

  • For 2017, Biden paid the IRS $710,598 in taxes, 30 percent of his income.

  • For 2018, Biden paid the IRS $659,366 in taxes, 30 percent of his income.

Biden's self-reported income for these three years ranged between $1.5 million and $2.1 million, enough to put him in the top one percent of household earners. His effective tax rate was slightly higher than his fellow one-percenters. They paid the IRS an average of 27 percent of their household income as compared to Biden's 29 to 30 percent.

Hunter Biden also paid more in tax over these three years than the $1.1 million Donald Trump did over the four years of his presidency. Richard Nixon paid a mere $1,670 over a two-year span during his presidency, thanks mainly to deductions that he took for donating his pre-presidential papers to the National Archives.

The most serious allegation laid out by Weiss is that Biden's stated income for one of those three years, 2018, is too low. According to the indictment, Biden wrongly labeled many transactions — luxury hotel rooms, payments to sex workers, $30,000 in college tuition — as business expenses. All of the three tax felonies that Biden is charged with originate with those allegedly fraudulent misclassifications.

Today, BI is publishing Biden's complete 2018 tax return, a key document in the special counsel's criminal case alleging that in that same year, Biden underpaid his taxes and misreported some personal expenses as business ones.

It can be read in full here:

The White House referred a request for comment to Hunter Biden's representatives. Weiss's office at the Justice Department declined to comment.

BI also reviewed Biden's tax returns for 2016 and 2017. All three years' filings show that as he descended into addiction, the amount of money that he effectively paid the IRS in advance, through withholdings, plummeted. The bulk of Biden's self-declared income shifted from wages paid out through Owasco, Biden's payroll company, to business income. A single line on the return — $1,956,694 — notes what Biden reported he made from "legal and consulting services."

BI was not able to obtain access to other key documents supporting the felony charges: correspondence between Biden and his accountants, as well as tax filings for Owasco. The indictment alleges that Owasco received "approximately $2.1 million" in 2018 from a fund with ties to CEFC China Energy Co., "a Chinese energy conglomerate." But while the indictment is packed with details regarding Biden's overseas deals, the charges all stem from how he paid taxes on that money, not how he made it.

In 2018, Owasco had gross receipts of $2,659,014 according to a document detailing a plea agreement between Biden's attorneys and prosecutors that collapsed in court. Only a tiny fraction of that money, $159,000, appears on Biden's 1040 return as wages. According to prosecutors, Biden later told his accountants that much of the remainder was used on business expenses that were, in fact, personal.

Robert Nassau, who teaches tax law at Syracuse University, told the BBC that criminal tax prosecutions are "very rare" and the amounts of money at issue in the indictment "small potatoes."

Eric Holder, who led the Justice Department under President Barack Obama, told CNN that he believed political pressure was driving the tax charges. "I've spoken to former colleagues, both Republican and Democrat, who were United States attorneys," he said. "I asked them, if you had these facts in your office, would you have brought this case? And the answer, to a person, was no."

While the documents show that Biden did eventually get serious about making substantial (if late) payments to the IRS, they also show that the money Biden used to make them wasn't his own. It was borrowed from the man who has become his friend, confidante, and backer, Kevin Morris.

Morris is a 60-year-old entertainment lawyer. He made tens of millions representing Matthew McConaughey, the creators of "South Park," and as a producer of "The Book of Mormon," a hit musical. Morris and Biden reportedly met in 2019 at a Democratic fundraiser. Since then, Morris has quarterbacked Biden's multi-pronged effort to fight back against House Republicans who are investigating him, an effort that includes civil lawsuits, responses to congressional subpoenas, and a reported documentary that will go on the counter-attack against Hunter Biden's GOP and MAGA-world adversaries.

In June, the New York Times reported that Morris "lent more than $2 million to Hunter Biden which went to supporting his family and paying back taxes." The indictment claims that Morris, who is identified only as "an entertainment lawyer" and "Personal Friend" paid more than $1.2 million to cover Biden's expenses, including rent payments on a lavish home in Malibu.

Biden's own tax filings show that the support he received from Morris was far more substantial.

In 2020, according to Biden's tax return, Biden received "financial support from a personal friend totaling approximately $1,425,000." That support was formalized as a loan, a "a promissory note in the amount of $1,417,634 bearing 5% interest."

In 2021, according to Biden's tax return, Biden received another $3,240,355 in financial support, which was also formalized as a loan.

BI did not review Biden's 2022 return; if Morris lent him money during that year, the amount is unknown. But the $4.6 million documented by Biden's 2020 and 2021 returns is far more than Biden's past due tax liability, suggesting that Biden was living off funds borrowed from Morris.

A person close to Morris said that beginning in 2020, Morris hired outside lawyers to vet and sign off on each of the loans that he made to Hunter Biden.

Other data show that Biden's reboot as a memoirist and fine artist did not produce taxable income on the scale of the millions he was making during his years as a Beltway lawyer, at least not during the first two years.

In 2020, according to Biden's tax return, he made $187,500 as the author of "Beautiful Things," his memoir, and another $47,734 from his career as an artist. All but $134 of the art income that year came from the sale of art to Kevin Morris.

In 2021, according to Biden's tax return, he made $374,759 from his book and another $83,250 as an artist, $12,649 was deducted for expenses.

BI previously reported on internal documents from Hunter Biden's gallerist showing that his artwork had grossed $1.3 million. The bulk of Biden's share of that money — 60 percent, according to his contract — was likely paid out in 2022.

Hunter Biden has long been the focus of obsessive and sometimes conspiratorial interest by Republicans in Congress, who used his overseas business dealings as part of the basis for opening a formal impeachment inquiry into Biden's father, in a party-line vote on Wednesday. The GOP fascination with Hunter Biden began with his lucrative service on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, and picked up steam just before the 2020 election, when files purported to come from Biden's abandoned laptop were made public by Trump's supporters.

The GOP has never really let go of the idea that Hunter Biden can be used to weaken (if not take down) Joe Biden. Their inquiries have produced evidence that Hunter Biden traded on the family name and occasionally arranged for brief introductions and phone calls between business associates and his father, some of which occurred while he was still vice president. But despite countless hearings and "Biden crime family" rhetoric, the GOP is yet to produce evidence showing that President Biden was a party to any of his son's deals.

On Wednesday, speaking near the Capitol, Hunter Biden condemned his GOP critics, called the impeachment effort "shameless," and suggested that the Justice Department's criminal charges against him were the result of political pressure. But also accepted some measure of responsibility.

"In the depths of my addiction, I was extremely irresponsible with my finances," he said.

Mattathias Schwartz is chief national security correspondent at Business Insider. He can be reached at

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