Congressional Republicans have for months repeatedly written to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland demanding he appoint a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden, the president’s son, over his business dealings.
Some even demanded that a specific man be named to lead the inquiry: David C. Weiss, the Trump-appointed Delaware U.S. attorney who has long investigated the case.
But on Friday, after Mr. Garland elevated Mr. Weiss to special counsel status, Republicans in Congress reacted publicly not with triumph, but with outrage. “David Weiss can’t be trusted and this is just a new way to whitewash the Biden family’s corruption,” Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
The reaction was a notable political development, one that underscored both how Mr. Weiss, a Republican, has fallen in conservative circles, and how deeply it has become ingrained in the G.O.P. to oppose the Justice Department at every turn.
“The reality is this appointment is meant to distract from, and slow down, our investigations,” said Representative Jason Smith, Republican of Missouri and chairman of Ways and Means, one of three congressional committees looking into the Biden family’s finances.
But in interviews, away from social media and television appearances, the reaction of many Republicans to Mr. Weiss’s appointment was more nuanced. Privately, some in the G.O.P. were chalking up the development as a victory.
The party had worked for years to elevate the Hunter Biden case — which Democrats have long dismissed as a partisan obsession of the right — to a scandal equivalent to those dogging former President Donald J. Trump, who has faced two impeachment trials, two special counsel investigations and three indictments totaling 78 felony counts against him. Those indictments include charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and willfully retaining national defense information after he left office.
By contrast, Hunter Biden has thus far been accused of two misdemeanor crimes stemming from his failure to pay taxes on more than $1.5 million in income related to his overseas business deals, and one felony count of illegally possessing a firearm while being a drug user.
After leaving his job as a lobbyist while his father was running to become vice president more than a decade ago, Hunter Biden, a Yale-educated lawyer, and partners entered into a series of international business relationships, often with firms seeking influence and access within the United States. Mr. Biden was paid handsomely, even as he descended into drug addiction, and Republicans have accused him and his family of corruption. But they have not produced evidence that any of the overseas money went to President Biden or that the president influenced U.S. policy to benefit his son’s business partners.
Even as they objected to Mr. Weiss, some Republicans said the appointment appeared to be an acknowledgment that the allegations they had made deserved a serious investigation. It promised to keep Hunter Biden’s misdeeds in the news — and in the courts — for longer than Democrats would like as the 2024 presidential election heats up. And it ensured that in the minds of some voters the names Trump and Biden would both be linked to scandal, even if Republicans have not proved any wrongdoing by the current president.
In an interview with Newsmax, a top Trump adviser, Jason Miller, appeared to echo both sentiments, and foreshadowed coming attacks.
Mr. Miller said the appointment of Mr. Weiss “stinks” and accused the prosecutor of sitting on his hands for years. But, he added, ”I do want to make sure that my Republican brethren” don’t ”lose sight of the big prize here.”
He described the appointment of a special counsel as “a direct acknowledgment that Hunter Biden did something wrong,” and he recalled President Biden saying in a 2020 debate with Mr. Trump that he had not done anything wrong.
Since Mr. Weiss announced a proposed plea deal in June with Mr. Biden — an agreement that would have allowed him to avoid jail time on tax and gun charges but has since fallen apart — Republicans in Congress have sharply criticized the government, accusing the Justice Department of leniency with the president’s son as they conduct their own investigations in an effort to tie his overseas business dealings to the president. House Republicans have also brought forth two I.R.S. agents who worked on Mr. Weiss’s investigation and claimed there had been political interference.
One allegation made by the I.R.S. agents was that Mr. Weiss had sought to bring charges against Hunter Biden in Washington and California but had been rebuffed by prosecutors in those jurisdictions who declined to partner with him. The order appointing Mr. Weiss to special counsel authorizes him to bring charges in any jurisdiction.
Alyssa DaCunha, a co-chair of the congressional investigations practice at the law firm WilmerHale, said she believed House Republicans’ investigations and their criticisms of the proposed plea deal had “caught the attention” of the Justice Department.
“There’s a real need to make sure that whatever charging decisions are made are very, very well supported and the department can really stand behind them,” Ms. DaCunha said. “It seems like this will extend the life of the investigation, and so there are lots of ways in which this is going to complicate the narrative for Democrats moving forward and give the Republicans lots of leverage.”
Some House Republicans close to Mr. Trump acknowledged they were pleased with the announcement of the special counsel. For Mr. Trump, in particular, it provided him with the investigation he has long desired to be able to depict the Biden family as corrupt, even as Hunter Biden’s alleged crimes are significantly less severe than the charges Mr. Trump is facing.
Mr. Trump’s statement did not suggest that he viewed the appointment of a special counsel as a bad development, merely that it had come late, something his advisers also argued in private.
Mike Pence, the former vice president who is now running against Mr. Trump, was among the few well-known Republicans to openly praise Mr. Weiss’s appointment.
But other Republicans were worried the development could be used to block their investigations. Mr. Weiss had pledged to testify on Capitol Hill this fall, but those Republicans predicted he could now cite the special counsel investigation to refuse to do so.
The announcement also gives President Biden and Mr. Garland some political cover against Republican accusations that Mr. Trump is a victim of a two-tier system of justice, placing the investigation outside the normal workings of the Justice Department. It could also undercut Republican arguments that an impeachment inquiry of the president is necessary.
“In the near term, it gives Republicans the ability to say it legitimizes what they’ve been looking into and it helps give more momentum to their different oversight activities,” said Michael Ricci, a former top communications official to two Republican House speakers and a current fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service. “But in the longer term, the White House will absolutely use this as an argument against any kind of rush into impeachment.”
Several Republicans said their respect for Mr. Weiss had declined after he entered into the plea deal with Hunter Biden.
Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who had once called for Mr. Weiss to be made special counsel, said he no longer stands by that belief. “Given the underhanded plea deal negotiated by the U.S. attorney from President Biden’s home state, it’s clear Mr. Weiss isn’t the right person for the job,” Mr. Grassley said.
But Democrat-aligned groups saw something else in the Republicans’ about-face: disingenuousness.
“House Republicans’ opposition to Trump appointee David Weiss’s appointment as special counsel is nothing more than another political stunt,” said Kyle Herrig, the director of the Congressional Integrity Project, an advocacy group that defends President Biden from congressional investigations. “After months of calling for this, their dismay makes clear that they will stop at nothing to weaponize Congress to interfere with an ongoing investigation and harm Joe Biden.”