Vice-President Biden was playing a central role in overseeing U. Hunter was not always at ease as the son of the Vice-President. He asked that the Secret Service stop deploying agents to accompany him, a request that was eventually granted. The two girls became close, and Kathleen and Michelle Obama became friends, attending SoulCycle and Solidcore exercise classes together almost every day. Some evenings, they went out to dinner or had drinks at the White House. Kathleen went on vacations with Michelle, mutual friends, and their daughters. But he often wished that, like his father and his brother, he could contribute more to society.
Through his business, he got to know an Australian-American former military-intelligence officer named Greg Keeley, who regaled him with stories about his career in the Royal Australian Navy.
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After moving to the United States, at forty, Keeley had obtained an age waiver to join the U. Navy as a reservist. While on reserve duty at a U. Hunter took that message to heart and acted upon it. Hunter had suffered his first relapse, after seven years of sobriety, in November, , when he drank three Bloody Marys on a flight home from a business trip to Madrid.
He continued to drink in secret for several months, then confided in Beau and returned to Crossroads Centre. He had another relapse in early , after he suffered from a bout of shingles, for which he was prescribed painkillers. When the prescription ran out, he resumed drinking. He had hoped to work in naval intelligence, but was given a job in a public-affairs unit. In a small, private ceremony at the White House, Hunter was sworn in by his father.
Outside, Hunter said, he bummed a cigarette from two men who told him that they were from South Africa. On his first day, Hunter had a urine sample taken for testing. A few months later, Hunter received a letter saying that his urinalysis had detected cocaine in his system. Under Navy rules, a positive drug test typically triggers a discharge. Hunter decided not to appeal.
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Hunter did not tell anyone except his father and his brother about the reason for his discharge, and he tried to get his drinking under control. In July, , he went to a clinic in Tijuana that provided a treatment using ibogaine, a psychoactive alkaloid derived from the roots of a West African shrub, which is illegal in America.
I could see that he was in a very delicate position. At San Francisco International Airport, Hunter was waiting for his flight home when he saw the story on the front page of the Journal. In the summer of , Hunter, Beau, and their families took a vacation together on Lake Michigan.
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During the trip, Beau became disoriented and was rushed to the hospital. It was glioblastoma multiforme, a type of brain tumor. Patients who receive similar diagnoses tend to live no longer than two years. As Beau received radiation treatment, his motor and speech skills started to decline.
In the spring of , he underwent an experimental procedure in which an engineered virus was injected directly into the tumor, but it was unsuccessful. Beau kept breathing on his own for almost a day and a half before he died, surrounded by his family.
On June 6, , thousands of people paid their respects at a service at St. Anthony of Padua Church, in Wilmington. The next day, President Obama, Ashley Biden, and Hunter, who was fearful of public speaking, delivered eulogies. On the drive back to Washington, Hunter—moved by the outpouring of support for him and his family at the funeral—told Kathleen that he was thinking about running for public office.
She pointed out that he had only recently been discharged from the Navy after testing positive for cocaine. They rode the rest of the way home in silence.
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Kathleen declined to comment for this article. In couples therapy, Hunter and Kathleen had reached an agreement: if Hunter started drinking again, he would have to move out of the house. A day after their twenty-second anniversary, Hunter left a therapy session, drank a bottle of vodka, and moved out.
Later that month, Zlochevsky, the Burisma co-founder, invited him to Norway on a fishing trip. Hunter said that, every night, he and his colleagues on the trip drank a single shot of liquor before going to bed. Kathleen found out and was angry. Hunter began to confide in Hallie, whom he was growing closer to.
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He then enrolled in an inpatient program for executives at Caron Treatment Centers, where he used the pseudonym Hunter Smith. On returning to Washington, he began a program that required him to carry a Breathalyzer with a built-in camera. Hunter denied that the account belonged to him, but Kathleen was deeply embarrassed by the story.
Two months later, Hunter and Kathleen agreed to formally separate. Until mid-December, Hunter practiced yoga daily. Hunter told me that he pretended not to be at home. For weeks, he said, he left the apartment only to buy bottles of Smirnoff vodka at Logan Circle Liquor. Several times a day, his father called him, and Hunter assured him that he was O. Eventually, Biden showed up unannounced at the apartment. What do we have to do? When he returned to Washington, he enrolled in yet another addiction-treatment program, run by the Kolmac Outpatient Recovery Center.
On his way to Kolmac, he passed several homeless people, including a middle-aged woman who went by the name Bicycles, because of the bike she took with her everywhere. Later, whenever Hunter saw Bicycles near his apartment, he would give her a twenty-dollar bill to buy him a pack of Marlboro Reds and tell her to keep the change. One rainy night, Hunter said, he offered Bicycles his spare bedroom, and she stayed for several months.
In , Hunter was consulting for five or six major clients. Once or twice a year, he attended Burisma board meetings and energy forums that took place in Europe. He said that, in June, , while in Monte Carlo for a meeting, he went to a hotel night club and used cocaine that a stranger offered him in the bathroom.
He told his counsellors at Kolmac about his relapse but refused to take a drug test, out of concern that the results could be used against him and published in the press. During a layover at Los Angeles International Airport, before his connecting flight to Phoenix, he went to a nearby hotel bar and realized that he had left his wallet on the plane. Using a credit card he had in his pocket, Hunter checked into a hotel in Marina del Rey, where he waited for the airline to return the wallet.
Hunter said that the man took him to a nearby homeless encampment, where, in a narrow passageway between tents, someone put a gun to his head before realizing that he was a buyer. He returned to buy more crack a few times that week. One night, outside a club on Hollywood Boulevard, Hunter and another man got into an argument, and a group of bouncers intervened.
Hunter said that, at that point, he had not slept for several days. Driving east on Interstate 10, just beyond Palm Springs, he lost control of his car, which jumped the median and skidded to a stop on the shoulder of the westbound side. He called Hertz, which came to collect the damaged car and gave him a second rental. Later, on a sharp bend on a mountainous road, Hunter recalled, a large barn owl flew over the hood of the car and then seemed to follow him, dropping in front of the headlights. He said that he has no idea whether the owl was real or a hallucination.
On the night of October 28th, Hunter dropped the car off at a Hertz office in Prescott, Arizona, and Grace Grove sent a van to pick him up.