President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden arrive at Fort McNair on Sunday in Washington. Credit: Andrew Harnik / AP

Editor’s note: Park officials said Saturday that Acadia plans to stay open through Sunday, Oct. 1 if the federal government shuts down.

President Joe Biden previously assured the public that his son Hunter had done “nothing wrong.” By agreeing to plead guilty to multiple misdemeanor federal tax offenses and accept a pre-trial diversion on a felony gun possession charge, however, the younger Biden has proven his father wrong.

Hunter Biden has admitted to breaking laws, and will face consequences. There will continue to be debate about whether those consequences are consistent with what less well-connected defendants would receive. There will also continue to be investigation into Hunter Biden’s actions, both by Congress and by the Justice Department (DOJ officials have indicated that their investigation is ongoing despite the plea deal).

Whether he broke additional laws with his questionable foreign business activities, some conducted while his father was vice president, is less definitive. Some Republican members of Congress certainly seem to think so, and think the elder Biden was involved as well, but unsubstantiated accusations on a form in the possession of the FBI is not confirmation. Neither are alleged recordings that so far have yet to be produced by an unnamed person who reportedly might have died. That is not how our justice system works. That’s not how basic fact-finding works.

So it is possible that everything else Hunter Biden has done — including serving on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was helping lead the Obama administration’s policy efforts in that country at the time — were within the bounds of U.S. law. But they shouldn’t be. This type of obvious conflict of interest should not be permissible, and there should be stronger federal ethics requirements for family members of top executive branch officials to prevent it from happening in the first place.

We’ll return once more to past remarks from Joe Biden. When he was president-elect, he assured the American people that Hunter and other members of his family “will not be involved in any business, any enterprise that is in conflict with or appears to be in conflict, where there’s appropriate distance from the presidency and government.”

That should have been true when he was vice president, too, and it should be true for leaders’ family members in any presidential administration — whether someone’s last name is Biden, Trump or anything else. Ethics promises tend to be made at the onset of a new term in office but weaken over time, which is one reason why stronger rules should be enshrined in federal law.

Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp, but backtracked on an early ethics pledge on his way out of the White House. He and his family have had numerous apparent business conflicts related to their government work, both during and after his time in office.

Vague pledges and easily rescinded orders are not enough. As Hunter Biden’s plea deal proves, presidents can be wrong about the behavior of their family members. Stronger laws about what those family members can and can’t do to mix business and government connections — in practice or in perception — might be complicated to create and enact. But they are clearly needed.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...