When Hunter Biden interrupted a House Oversight Committee vote over holding him in contempt of Congress on Wednesday, Republican lawmakers were not the only ones caught off guard. President Biden’s advisers were surprised to see him there, too.
According to several people with knowledge of the younger Mr. Biden’s legal strategy, he and his legal team, which includes the Washington scandal lawyer Abbe Lowell and the Los Angeles-based lawyer Kevin Morris, saw no reason to give the White House a heads-up.
Hunter Biden and his team had wanted the response they got: shock, surprise and, ultimately, unwillingness by Republicans to swear him in on the spot so he could testify in public, rather than in the closed-door deposition that the G.O.P. had demanded.
The chaotic scene on Capitol Hill came as the White House has been trying to keep its distance while the president’s son deploys an aggressive new legal strategy to hit back against the various political and legal battles he is facing.
President Biden, who talks to his son nearly every day, is supportive of him but is not kept informed of the details of every legal decision, according to the people familiar with the strategy, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Hunter Biden, 53, has been eager to fight back against attacks and to try to wrest back control of his life story, one marked by tragedy and an addiction to crack cocaine, from people he believes are using him as a way to bring his father down.
In fact, it was not heckling from Republicans but a question about his father that provoked Mr. Biden to break through his scowling silence on Wednesday. Though he stayed quiet for his short appearance at the hearing, after he left, he could not resist answering a question about why he put his father, who was then the vice president, on speakerphone as he tried to close lucrative consulting deals.
“Do you have a dad?” he replied as he kept walking. “Does he call you? Do you answer the phone?”
White House officials privately say that the younger Mr. Biden has the right to defend himself, but that there are risks associated with added public attention to his legal troubles. Mr. Biden is due back in court in California on Thursday for an arraignment on charges that he evaded paying taxes on millions of dollars in income. He is also facing separate gun charges in Delaware.
Publicly, though, the White House is trying to establish the president’s son as a private citizen who makes decisions independently of his father’s administration.
“He makes his own decisions, like he did today, about how to respond to Congress,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday. She did not respond to follow-up questions about whether President Biden knew in advance about the plans to go to Capitol Hill.
Hunter Biden last appeared on Capitol Hill in mid-December, when he delivered remarks not only in his own defense, but in defense of his father. The president is facing an impeachment inquiry from Republicans, who so far have had a difficult time finding evidence that he engaged in misconduct as vice president to help his son’s business ventures.
“Let me state as clearly as I can: My father was not financially involved in my business — not as a practicing lawyer, not as a board member of Burisma, not my partnership with a Chinese private businessman, not in my investments at home nor abroad and certainly not as an artist,” the younger Mr. Biden said. He insisted that he would not appear for a private deposition that House Republicans had scheduled over his refusals.
At the time, he had warned his father that he would be talking, and the White House disclosed that the president had known that his son would be giving an impromptu news conference. Soon after, Representatives James R. Comer of Kentucky and Jim Jordan of Ohio, the two Republican committee chairmen leading an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, sent a letter to the White House saying that they would be investigating whether the president had interfered with congressional proceedings.
On Wednesday, Hunter Biden sat quietly with his arms crossed tightly over his chest. He nudged Mr. Lowell’s arm when Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican who had circulated explicit pictures of him during a previous congressional hearing, began to speak.
It was a signal that it was time to leave. As Ms. Greene called after him, the younger Mr. Biden exited the room, taking a pack of reporters with him. Outside in the hallway, Mr. Lowell tried to read from a statement as a man yelled out, “What kind of crack do you normally smoke, Mr. Biden?”
The spectacle was assessed almost completely along party lines, castigated as a photo op and political stunt by Republicans, and by Democrats as a brazen attempt to highlight hypocrisy among Republicans who appear unwilling to let Mr. Biden testify publicly.
Inside the White House, there is a feeling that more media attention is not always good, but officials say that the president — facing an ever-widening impeachment inquiry — is deferring to his son.