After a turbulent few days in the House and the astonishing backfire from last week’s impeachment inquiry—which even Republicans panned as an “unmitigated disaster”—the conservative lawmakers fixated on impeaching President Joe Biden are regrouping, still hopeful they can convince the public that, despite their own expert witnesses claiming otherwise, there does in fact exist some sort of evidence that will justify impeachment proceedings.
The GOP investigators running this show plan to regain the public’s trust in part through testimony from a person they’re holding up as star fact witness—a former associate of Hunter Biden named Tony Bobulinski.
Bobulinski first gained fame not for something he said, exactly, but for confirming the authenticity of an email he was copied on, where a Biden associate called Joe Biden “the big guy”—a phrase that has since been injected with undeserved notoriety, becoming something of a mantra in very online right-wing circles.
But if Bobulinski does testify at this month’s scheduled hearing—as inquiry ringmaster Rep. James Comer (R-KY) recently indicated—he might not exactly fit the heroic mold that Republicans have cast for him. In fact, Bobulinski is so problematic that his presence could torpedo the inquiry’s desperately needed comeback, generating Comer and his allies another cycle of blistering reproach from their conservative colleagues.
It turns out Bobulinski has a history as a spiteful litigant, including suing his own cancer-stricken father, stepmother, and their esteemed local children’s charity for $900,000.
The dispute—in which Bobulinski claimed without any clear evidence that his parents and the charity had defrauded him of $25,000, and allegedly threatened to take their home (and, later, their car)—sparked months of family turmoil. He pursued the lawsuit for months after his father died, trying to secure a settlement with his stepmother, the charity, and his father’s estate. Settlement negotiations went unresolved, and Tony ultimately withdrew the matter without offering explanation, according to court records obtained by The Daily Beast.
While Tony was trying to chisel money back from his dying father, and then his dad’s estate and widow, over what Virginia court records indicate was a misunderstanding about a $25,000 donation, he was simultaneously pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money—including in emergency loans—into a failing offshore U.S.-Chinese branding venture operating in the Cayman Islands.
At one point, Bobulinski forwarded that faltering business three $50,000 installments around the same time that he was trying to take his dead father’s van from his stepmother, according to court filings. That China venture soon imploded, and Bobulinski sued for his money back there too. That dispute, now in its seventh year, is ongoing, according to Cayman Islands court filings.
The Virginia records are riven with emails, text messages, and other documents that paint Bobulinski as a volatile and self-serving manipulator with an explosive temper. At one point, Bobulinski stormed his parents’ home and forcibly shook his dad’s head, having learned in person only a few weeks earlier that his brain cancer had returned, according to his stepmother’s sworn affidavit in her application for a protective order.
The case file obtained by The Daily Beast does not include a document granting the protective order, which had asked that Tony stop texting her. (Text conversations resumed a short while later.) However, a draft of a mutual release agreement included among its seven points a term a release from “in any manner to events that led Alicia to seek a protective order against Tony.”
It’s unclear whether the release took effect. The document, drawn up in February 2016 by Tony’s lawyer and sent to Alicia, does not bear Tony’s signature, and it is unclear whether he ever signed it. Alicia, who signed the release on Feb. 12, included it without Tony’s signature as documentation of “reasons” in her motion to dismiss the case the next month.
The conflict appears to have dominated much of the final year his father and stepmother had together. Robert Bobulinski died two months after his son filed the complaint. His wife, Alicia Fernandez Bobulinski, blamed Tony.
“If Tony thinks that he can bully me still even after he was responsible for the death of my husband he is mistaken,” Alicia Bobulinski wrote in one email, sent to her son’s lawyer two months after the death. “He shot his own foot out of being mean spirited. Twenty days after we were in court my husband was in the hospital. Six days later my husband drew his last breath!!!”
That email is in the court records because even after the death, Tony Bobulinski was still pursuing claims. At the time, Alicia Bobulinski was protesting her stepson’s new attempt to repossess a family vehicle.
The Daily Beast reached out to Alicia Bobulinski by phone and text message, and did the same with a number associated with Tony’s brother, whose name also appears in the court filings. A few hours later, this reporter received a call from Arthur Schwartz, a Republican operative and Donald Trump Jr. adviser who had enlisted Bobulinski in an ineffective bid to pitch the Biden story to The Wall Street Journal during the 2020 election.
“Tony won’t talk with you,” Schwartz said, adding that Bobulinski had instructed him to tell this reporter to “stop harassing his family members.”
When The Daily Beast reached out to Tony for comment anyway, Bobulinski didn’t reply.
The lawsuit, which Tony Bobulinski filed in Virginia Beach Circuit Court in 2015, stemmed from an apparent misunderstanding between the son and his parents about how they were to spend his $25,000 contribution to their charity—a small, quite literally mom-and-pop operation called the “Making a Difference Foundation” (MADF).
Bobulinski had cut the check in December 2014, shortly after learning that his father’s brain cancer had returned. But whatever goodwill was kindled at the time went up in smoke about a month later, when Bobulinski erupted in a text message conversation with his stepmother, accusing his parents of fraud, spending the money on themselves without his authorization. (Alicia included her text messages with Tony as exhibits in the case, and Tony did not dispute their authenticity.)
His parents argued that they never had such an agreement and that Tony had sent them the “unsolicited and unexpected” check without any directions or restrictions. One text from Alicia said that Robert had told her Tony had included the message, “Enjoy!”
The fraud allegation on its face would have certainly puzzled the Virginia Beach community. The MADF—which Bob, a retired U.S. NAVY commander, founded in 1992—does not appear in any other lawsuit in state or federal court records, and was by all accounts a singularly generous and beloved operation that sustained a positive impact on the city for more than a generation.
It’s difficult to overstate just how purely the community loved Robert and the group. For more than two decades, MADF served untold tens of thousands of children in need, according to the Virginian-Pilot, which described the organization as “an out-of-the box social service program that has helped children, teens and adults in numerous ways throughout the past 23 years.”
The group’s impact is all the more remarkable given that the organization never received more than $32,660 in annual income, and which the Bobulinskis ran almost entirely in a volunteer capacity. MADF won multiple awards, was heralded by national and local groups alike, and received glowing coverage in local press. Each year, the charity threw an extravagant Christmas party, landing a “Today Show” sponsorship and earning Robert the nickname “Santa Bob.”
His death occasioned the mayor of Virginia Beach, the state’s largest city, to remark that “we have lost one of our greatest humanitarians.”
The Bobulinskis cashed their son’s check the day after Christmas in 2014, court records show, with Alicia informing Tony in a grateful text a few weeks later that they’d put the money towards taxes, bank obligations, dental work, and home repairs to accommodate his father’s decreased mobility, noting that the organization was run out of their home.
At the time, Tony Bobulinski’s business ventures had already met with financial success, according to his parents’ claims in court, rendering him “more than a millionaire.” His parents were not.
“Many of their resources have gone to others in need, not to their home’s upkeep,” the Virginian-Pilot reported in 2010, noting that Bob’s brain tumor treatment had “further depleted their finances.” When Tony sued them, Alicia represented herself, Bob, and the foundation; Tony retained Kevin Martingayle, at the time the president of the Virginia State Bar.
Six years later, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson told Tony in an interview ahead of the 2020 election that his independent wealth redounds to his credibility.
“And we can say, because we verified it, you’re not actually looking for anything,” Carlson told him. “You don’t need the money, that’s for sure.”
In 2018, Bobulinski filed a lawsuit in the Cayman Islands against the since-shuttered U.S.-China venture, called China Branding Group Limited, seeking remuneration of $1.75 million. After multiple appeals and a separate federal civil case, the suit has still not been resolved.
According to his parents’ court statements, one month after the donation, Bobulinski told them the funds were “in part to be used for his father’s salary and that he wanted us to feel empowered.”
Alicia Bobulinski also used that “empowered” phrase in an effusive thank-you text message to Tony after a January 2015 visit, court filings show.
“Thank u again for the donation we would not been able to have done it without ur help when u get a chance to visit I think u will like what was done,” Alicia wrote in a Feb. 22 text. “Have a great day the feeling of having the money to bring about a better quality of life is immeasurable.”
But the message of gratitude had the opposite effect, sending Tony into an extended bitter tirade that seven months later found its legal instantiation.
“What? Bs,” Tony replied. He demanded a conversation with his father and a “line item by line item breakdown” of “every penny” by noon the next day, “or you can feel empowered from a jail cell as I will come after you for fraud and theft.”
Over the next two days, Tony sent a barrage of irate messages, telling his stepmother he’d never given her the right to spend the money. “Think about how sad the boys will be when you are sitting in a jail cell for fraud, theft, and self dealing,” he wrote.
Alicia eventually responded, explaining her understanding of the arrangement and wondering why Tony wasn’t happy the money went “to ease ur dads’ anguish & his ability to get around the house.” But Tony fired back again, for days, repeatedly belittling his stepmother and threatening to contact the FBI, vowing at one point that “if I have to put Grandpa in front of a judge I will.”
“Own up to your lies you coward, my dad won’t be able to protect you,” he wrote on Feb. 28, adding, “I will come down like a hammer.”
Then, on March 6, Tony “unannounced barged into our house,” Alicia wrote in a court filing. He appeared “angry and extremely agitated,” she claimed, and “yelled it was not about the money it was about the ‘principal.’”
Tony “put his hands on his father,” the filing said, and “yelled that he was going to take our house away from us.”
Three days after the incident, Alicia Bobulinski sought a protective order, saying in a sworn affidavit that Tony “put his hands on his father, moving his head and face up, down and side to side. He was aware my husband had just had a brain tumor relapse.”
Less than a month later, Tony sent Alicia a text addressed to Bob, denouncing his father’s “absurd antics” and threatening to engage “the financial crime unit of Va beach.”
“Dad—just so you don’t think your absurd antics allowed you to get away with anything my lawyers and the financial crime unit of Va beach will be following up with you directly,” Tony wrote, demanding his money back and vowing to “pursue u for fraud, charity fraud until I get it back.”
“Then I can give it to a charity that is honest, respects their donors wishes and invests the money towards the agreed upon mandate vs whatever they want,” he wrote.
According to the Bobulinski’s response to Tony’s complaint, they had never solicited donations from Tony, and refused offers in the past because “we did not agree with his conditions.” In 2013, they wrote, Tony provided $36,000 to the foundation, asking them to reroute most of it to specified organizations. They complied “to the letter,” the filing says.
Tony eventually filed his lawsuit in September. His complaint presented no evidence of any agreement beyond his own recollections—claims that his father and stepmother disputed—but cited communications that “resulted in admissions by Robert and Alicia that they spent the money for their own selfish purposes,” and that there was “no appreciable benefit to the Foundation, the mission of the Foundation, or any of the individuals that the Foundation is supposed to assist.”
“At this point, it appears that the Foundation is no longer functioning and that the substantial assets donated by Tony have utterly wasted,” the complaint said.
As for his father, the complaint said, “Because Robert engaged in deliberate fraud and has shown a callous disregard for Tony’s rights, he is liable for not only compensatory damages, but also for punitive damages, and Tony hereby requests an award of punitive damages.”
He sought a combined $900,000 in combined damages from the three defendants, along with attorney’s fees, pre- and post-judgment interest, court costs, and “such other and further relief as allowable by law.”
About two months later, his father was dead.
Tony’s lawsuit, however, was not. In pursuit of mediation two months later, his attorney—Martingayle—and Alicia exchanged a series of emails, where Alicia blamed Tony for his father’s death and asked for “some degree of assurance” that Tony “will not try to hurt me or my family anymore.”
“I don’t understand him and his accusations to me were unfounded,” she wrote on Feb. 11. “The pain I am living now is unbearable, I will never see my husband’s eyes again or hug him. Why??!!”
The next day, Martingayle replied that the proposed settlement could “wipe the slate clean,” adding, “You can’t solve future disputes that don’t exist, only the disputes that do exist.” Then on March 3, Martingayle identified a new dispute.
“It is my understanding that there’s a new issue that has arisen, this time involving a car loan at NFCU. Have you taken care of that? Once you do, we can wrap up everything,” he wrote, referencing a joint loan the father and son had taken out.
Alicia argued that her husband had put her name on the title and offered to pay her share of the loan—“The only loyalty Tony has is to his money. He had none to his dad”—but Martingayle told her that Tony was considering repossessing the vehicle himself.
“It will be stealing if Tony sends anyone to take my van,” Alicia wrote on March 4.
Martingayle did not reply to a comment request.
The suit dragged on for months, with Tony pushing for a jury trial. All the while, however, he was working on his increasingly strained venture with the China Branding Group, advancing a total of $650,000 in loans to the struggling company, including three $50,000 installments between Feb. 2 and March 10, Cayman Islands court records show. By May, the company was insolvent.
In July, the Virginia judge pushed the jury trial date from August to December, writing that Tony would be “out of the country on business-related matters.” Then, on Sept. 20, 2016, Tony’s lawyer filed a nonsuit, with Alicia’s agreement. That same day, Tony refused to sign a distribution agreement related to the failed Cayman venture, court records show—a move that he later sought as leverage to cut ahead of other creditors. The claim is still unresolved.
But Bobulinski kept pushing his Chinese connections, which eventually landed him in cahoots with Hunter Biden. He made his first public splash three years ago with unverified claims that Joe Biden was supposedly slated to keep a 10 percent cut from an ultimately failed business proposal with a Chinese oil company in 2017.
While Bobulinski has offered competing explanations for why he chose to go public ahead of the election—including a ringside seat at the final presidential debate—his legal history suggests a person intensely motivated by grievance and grudges. He told The Wall Street Journal that he came forward after a Senate report revealed that Bobulinski appeared to have been cut out of $5 million in indirect payments from the Chinese energy company to Hunter Biden’s law firm.
But WSJ—along with every other major news organization, including Fox News—has not found any evidence that Joe Biden had a role in his son’s overseas deals, let alone an improper or illegal one. So far, neither has the Republican-led impeachment inquiry.
But that hasn’t stopped Bobulinski’s right-wing fan club. In a Fox & Friends interview last October, James Comer went to bat for his star witness’ integrity.
“And I can tell you this—we’ve been probing Hunter Biden for many months, as you know, Todd, and everything Bobulinski has said about Hunter Biden we have fact checked and found to be true,” Comer said.
But that observation raises the question of just how relevant Bobulinski’s information is—even if it is entirely accurate.