By Paula Reid and Devan Cole, CNN
The White House initially reacted with anxiety toward a decision by Hunter Biden’s lawyer to pursue an aggressive legal strategy against increasing Republican attacks on him, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
Much of the tension centered around Kevin Morris, the lawyer, bringing on attorney Abbe Lowell, who is known for his aggressive style and litigious nature. Since joining Hunter Biden’s legal team, Lowell has fired off letters demanding investigations into Biden’s opponents, filed a federal lawsuit in his defense and been involved in a child support dispute.
According to multiple sources, senior White House officials and Democrats held a meeting late last year with Lowell, who was expected to be handling GOP-led congressional investigations into the president’s son but whose portfolio has since expanded.
While some of the reticence at the White House around the new legal strategy has abated, sources told CNN, the initial anxiety about publicly pushing back against Hunter Biden’s detractors underscores some of the thorny issues that President Joe Biden must contend with as he runs for reelection.
The president affirmed his support for his son in an interview that aired Friday on MSNBC, saying that the Justice Department’s investigation would not affect his presidency. “First of all, my son has done nothing wrong. I trust him. I have faith in him,” Biden told Stephanie Ruhle. “It impacts my presidency by making me feel proud of him.”
A source close to Hunter Biden’s legal team said one reason the anxiety has died down is because the strategy has been successful. It’s also been assuaged in part thanks to the more open lines of communication between Lowell, the White House and President Biden’s personal attorney Bob Bauer, according to a person familiar with the matter.
A senior Biden adviser insisted that the president’s advisers “don’t direct or advise” Hunter Biden’s legal team on what to do. The senior adviser stressed that Hunter Biden is a private citizen who has the right to make his own decisions about how to handle his legal strategy.
A spokeswoman for Lowell declined to comment.
Hunter Biden’s legal team also has been weighing the possibility of setting up a legal defense fund to help defray his legal bills, according to a person familiar with the matter. A key hurdle is whether they could create a fund with enough guardrails to protect against ethical conflicts for the Biden family.
House Republicans have already launched an investigation into the Biden family’s business dealings, and a legal defense fund soliciting outside donations would be yet another target for congressional scrutiny.
Late last year, shortly after Republicans won control of the House, Hunter Biden made it clear to the White House that he wanted to take a more aggressive approach in responding to attacks against him, according to a source familiar with this legal strategy.
At the time, Republicans had made clear that the younger Biden was going to be their top target for congressional investigations. Hunter Biden was also still staring down a long-running federal criminal investigation focused on tax- and gun-related issues. And when there appeared to be no movement in the criminal probe for months, his lawyer Morris believed it was time to go on the offensive.
As Hunter Biden and Morris moved ahead with their approach, a source familiar with the behind-the-scenes conversations described the White House as having a very negative reaction to the more aggressive strategy and surprise that Morris brought on Lowell.
Multiple sources familiar with the legal strategy said the addition of Lowell caused tension even within the legal team. Josh Levy, one of Hunter Biden’s attorneys who had long been aligned with the Biden White House, resigned as Lowell joined the team.
Levy declined to comment.
The federal criminal investigation is ongoing, and Hunter Biden’s attorneys recently met with the Justice Department. Hunter Biden denies any wrongdoing.
Since coming on board, Lowell has fired off letters calling for investigations into various officials. In one sent to the Office of Congressional Ethics, he requested an independent ethics review of GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s conduct for her public statements that “sound and read like school-yard insults rather than the work of a Member of Congress.”
Another, sent to the Treasury Department’s inspector general, asked for a review of a former Donald Trump aide who allegedly acquired and published online financial activities of Hunter Biden, known as Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs). Hunter Biden’s legal team also recently filed a lawsuit accusing the aide of harassing Biden’s team.
Earlier this week, Lowell traveled to Arkansas to represent Biden in a child support dispute that has become a proxy for Republican investigations, underscoring his wide-reaching involvement in his client’s legal troubles.
Lowell also filed a lawsuit in March that accused a Delaware computer repair shop owner who worked on a laptop of trying to invade Biden’s privacy and wrongfully sharing his personal data for political purposes.
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CNN’s Sara Murray, Jeremy Diamond, Evan Perez and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.