Joe Biden, when news broke years ago that his son Hunter had been discharged from the Navy Reserve because of cocaine use, responded with a quick message to his family.

“Good as it could be,” he wrote, in an email verified by The Washington Post. “Time to move on. Love Dad.”

Nearly a decade later, his son again is attempting to move on.

Hunter Biden on Tuesday agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax crimes and admit to the facts on a felony gun charge — terms that would probably keep him out of jail and could conclude a years-long criminal probe.

If a judge signs off on the deal, it may not dampen the potential political peril, but it could bring closure to a long-running legal saga that has thrust to the forefront a complex relationship between a presidential father and a son recovering from addiction. It is one in which a son acknowledged the vast benefits that have come with his famous father’s last name — while also at times believing that if he were named Hunter Smith, he wouldn’t be targeted the way he has been.

Those close to Hunter say he views this as part of the process for any addict: admitting to past mistakes and seeking to make amends for them. They point out that the charges focus on a narrower slice than investigators initially launched on — and as Republicans have accused him of. They have little to do with his foreign business deals — in Ukraine and China — and involve his own poor decisions rather than anything that might be tied to his father.

The tax charges are fairly minor, resulting in misdemeanors for two years of failing to pay taxes — a bill that his attorneys have said he has since paid. And the gun charge is related to him lying on a gun form and using drugs at the time of a gun purchase — something that he essentially admitted in his memoir.

Biden allies view it as part of a rehabilitation, of his life and of his public image. He has often been a third rail for the White House, with staffers uneasy about talking with the president about Hunter. Some of those close to Hunter view this as the next step in a process where he can be more of a public presence in his father’s presidency and reelection effort, returning him to a role he had long played as something of an informal adviser in his father’s political career.

During Biden’s 2008 presidential campaign, Hunter and his brother would travel together in Iowa on what was dubbed by the campaign as the “Here Come the Bidens!” tour. In the 2020 presidential campaign launch in Philadelphia, Hunter’s seat sat empty.

“The President and First Lady love their son and support him as he continues to rebuild his life,” Ian Sams, a White House spokesman, said in a statement on Monday. “We will have no further comment.”

Biden, who was at an event in California on Tuesday, did not respond to several questions about the agreement, saying only, “I’m very proud of my son.”

White House aides have emphasized that Biden had no role in the Justice Department investigation into his son. The Donald Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Delaware, David Weiss, was left in place to continue the investigation.

The history of troubled presidential children is extraordinarily long, often the result of struggles to live up to lofty expectations amid the glare of public attention.

Andrew Johnson’s oldest son died after being thrown off a horse, his middle son was an alcoholic who died by suicide, and his youngest suffered from tuberculosis, drank to excess and died at age 26. Andrew Jackson’s son died in a hunting accident. John Tyler and John Quincy Adams each had sons who were alcoholics and died young.

Franklin D. Roosevelt had five adult children with 19 marriages between them, with one son becoming the center of a national scandal for using his father to obtain lucrative contracts.

By most accounts, Hunter Biden’s life is on far more stable ground than it was four years ago. He has remarried and has a young son, named after his late brother Beau. He was at the White House to walk his daughter Naomi down the aisle at her wedding in November, and he has been a more visible presence next to his father during public events.

But he also lives in constant fear that his battle with addiction will resurface. He lives, he has said, with “a healthy fear of relapse,” and with the realization that he is one bad choice away from spiraling.

“I’m concerned. I really am. In the sense of, I have a healthy fear,” Hunter Biden said in 2021 at the end of a 90-minute discussion with Marc Maron on his “WTF” podcast. “I’m not living in that. But you know, I’m leaving here and I’m going straight home.”

In Hunter’s own accounts, Joe Biden is the figure offering unconditional love to a son. He’s a father who is often attempting — and, as many family members of addicts, frequently failing — to help his son through a life overwhelmed by alcohol and drugs.

He checks in with him daily, making phone calls, and, when they go unanswered, texts.

While Joe Biden is a teetotaler, Hunter’s first sip of alcohol came as an 8-year-old, when he drank champagne underneath a table at one of his father’s Senate reelection parties.

Decades later, Hunter was looking desperately for crack cocaine in Franklin Square around the time his father, two miles away on Capitol Hill, was spearheading a crime bill cracking down on drug abuse.

Hunter’s older brother Beau had often acted as a protector, helping get Hunter treatment in 2003, and ensuring that he stayed sober for a time. After Beau died of brain cancer in 2015, it removed an anchor of the family.

Hunter entered a romantic relationship with his brother’s widow, a romance that he would later say was built on grief. He also spiraled into the depths of addiction that tested the bonds of the family.

His father — at the time the vice president — traveled less than three miles from the Naval Observatory to confront Hunter in a dingy apartment that nearly led to a physical confrontation, according to Hunter’s memoir.

“I know you’re not fine, Hunter,” Biden said. “You need help.”

It led to a stint in rehab that briefly got him back on his feet.

“Dad saved me,” Hunter wrote. “He never let me forget that all was not lost. He never abandoned me, never shunned me, never judged me, no matter how bad things got.”

First lady Jill Biden, often the protector of the family, said that investigations targeting Hunter were not a factor in the reelection campaign.

“I love Hunter, and I’ll support him … in any way I can. And that’s how I look at things,” she told CNN during an interview on a trip to Africa.

Biden has one other living child — his daughter Ashley, 42, a social worker. In addition to the loss of Beau, his infant daughter Naomi died in a 1972 car crash that also killed Biden’s first wife.

“I love my son, number one. He fought an addiction problem,” Biden said on “60 Minutes” last year. “He overcame it. He wrote about it. And no, there’s not a single thing that I’ve observed at all from — that would affect me or the United States relative to my son Hunter.”

His problems are far from over. He remains a target of Republican activists and congressmen. He fathered a child and denied it until a paternity test proved otherwise — and has been in an ongoing legal battle in Arkansas as he attempts to lower his child support payments. And while announcing the agreement, Weiss’s office added: “The investigation is ongoing.”

At the same time, Hunter’s recent legal strategy has made clear he isn’t going to fade away, as he instead attempts to go after his longtime tormentors.

And he has become more of a visible presence in recent months. He worked the room at the celebrity-filled black-tie Kennedy Center Honors ceremony last year, and he attended a state dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron in December.

His role was most visible during a recent trip to Ireland, where Hunter acted as something of an adviser, advance staffer and a son all at once.

He shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. He pulled Irish President Michael Higgins over to tell him, “I’m a fan of your poetry.” He and his father met Father Frank O’Grady, the priest who performed Beau Biden’s last rites and now works at Ireland’s Knock Shrine.

It was a trip that was hard to imagine four years earlier, during a confrontation that took place in the weeks before Joe Biden announced his presidential campaign.

Hunter, in the midst of his latest bender, came to dinner, only to find family members waiting to stage an intervention: He stormed out, his father chasing him.

“He grabbed me, swung me around, and hugged me,” Hunter Biden wrote. “He held me tight in the dark and cried for the longest time.”

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