GREENVILLE, Del. — In August 2001, leaders at the exclusive Fieldstone Golf Club voted to admit a prominent new member: Sen. Joe Biden.
At the time, Biden walked a delicate line. On one hand, he campaigned as an Amtrak-riding “Middle-Class Joe” striving to make ends meet, and accurately described himself as “one of the poorest members of Congress” — reporting $221,000 in combined income with his wife that year and $360 in charitable contributions.
Yet at the same time in Delaware, Biden had deep ties with the one of the wealthiest families in his small home state: the du Pont clan, founders of the international chemical company headquartered in Wilmington. Biden had recruited top staffers from the firm, served in Congress alongside a du Pont, and even bought a mansion built by the family.
Then came a new opportunity: a membership at the new golf club, which was founded by a du Pont heiress, which offered Biden access to a highflying part of Delaware society that otherwise may have been closed off to him — one that he’s continued enjoying to this day, with records showing he has visited Fieldstone at least 22 times as president, most recently playing a round and dining there in August.
But his initial entry into the club in 2001 also later raised questions for federal investigators, who had spent years probing Fieldstone and its founder, Lisa Dean Moseley, over millions of dollars in loans she gave to a local official whose help she sought getting a permit at the new golf course.
A firm controlled by Mosely had given Biden entrance to the club without the usual upfront partnership fee, according to minutes of the meeting obtained by The Washington Post, which could cost around $34,000. The minutes say her company transferred to him an “unused” ticket for entree, while noting he did have to pay membership dues and other fees.
As a result, for about one month in 2007, the FBI investigated whether Biden, then a senator, had received a monetary benefit — and whether he should have disclosed that, according to two individuals with direct knowledge of the previously unreported inquiry, which went so far as to snap photos of Biden’s personal locker at the club. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an investigation. It was closed without surfacing allegations of wrongdoing by either Biden or Moseley, who died in 2016.
This previously untold story behind the investigation casts new light on how Biden has navigated his twin personas — as a penny pinching politico in a Congress full of multimillionaires, and as a striving Delawarean who spent much of his life viewing the du Ponts as privileged lodestars.
For someone raised in Delaware with Biden’s blue-collar background, “it would be quite an accomplishment” to rise into the same social circles as the du Ponts, said Joseph Hurley, a Wilmington attorney who grew up with Biden and represented Moseley.
“It’s like, ‘I’ve really arrived,’ because the du Ponts were the family, the king’s-family type thing,” he said.
It’s unclear if Biden was ever informed about the FBI investigation, which launched amid a crucial period in his career, around the time he declared a run for president — an effort that evolved into vetting by Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign before his selection as vice-presidential nominee. Biden was also reelected to the Senate the next year, enabling another Democrat to take his seat when he and Obama won the White House. Voters did not learn about the inquiry, which was never made public.
The White House declined to respond directly to questions about the matter. Instead, a spokesman wrote via email: “These bizarre suggestions from more than 20 years ago are confusing given the fact that the Post is reporting that President Biden was fully responsible for membership dues at the golf club and all out-of-pocket costs associated with it. Frankly, the Post’s own reporting suggests this supposed matter was closed 15 years ago with no finding of wrongdoing. If you want to dig deep on who’s funding a president’s golf habits, we might have some suggestions.”
The golf course access at the heart of the 16-year-old probe pales in comparison to the growing list of federal and state charges facing former president Donald Trump — Biden’s leading Republican challenger — including civil charges in New York in part over his valuation of his golf clubs and other properties.
The White House declined to disclose whether Biden ever purchased a membership partnership at the club in 2001, the period that was investigated. Separately, a White House official did not respond to questions about whether Biden today pays annual dues at Fieldstone Golf Club.
Biden has long cited the role of the du Pont family and company in Delaware in his family story. As he wrote in his memoir “Promises to Keep,” his father moved the family from Scranton, Pa., to a suburb of Wilmington, which he saw as more economically stable due to the presence of so many well-paid DuPont employees. “DuPont meant security for today and better times for the future,” Biden wrote.
By the time Biden was considering his own career, he later wrote, he decided to pass up the possibility of a typical DuPont “job for life” and aim for a position with more financial upside. (Many members of the du Pont family style their names differently than DuPont, the firm.)
“I’m taking the risk,” Biden wrote, as he opted for law school and a life in politics.
Years later, Biden recalled that his mother urged him to value his heritage with as much pride as the state’s best-known family. “Like I’m a du Pont or something,” Biden recalled. “You’re a Biden. Nobody is better than you, and everybody’s equal to you,” his mother told him.
Still, he envied the position and power of those who founded the DuPont company.
Elected to the Senate in 1972, he served in Congress alongside Rep. Pierre “Pete” du Pont IV, who later became Delaware’s governor and ran for president. Biden’s close adviser and Senate chief of staff, Ted Kaufman, had worked for DuPont as a plastics engineer.
In 1974, Biden spent $185,000 to buy what he called a “gorgeous … enormous” mansion built six decades earlier by a du Pont family member in Greenville, Del. The home, which he named “the Station,” served as a base for Biden’s unsuccessful 1988 presidential campaign; he sold it for $1.2 million in 1996 and then bought a four-acre lakefront property in Greenville.
That is the same town near Wilmington where Lisa Dean Moseley, the great-great-great-granddaughter of the DuPont company founder, had her estate called Serendip.
While Trump is better known as a golfer and owner of golf courses, Biden, too, is an aficionado of the game — and as it happened, Moseley was planning to develop some of her property in Greenville into an exclusive club to be known as Fieldstone.
For that, she needed approval from New Castle County.
In the process of getting it, Moseley gave a $2.3 million loan to a close friend, Sherry Freebery — who was the chief administrative officer of New Castle County’s chief administrative officer, according to court records. Moseley appealed to Freebery for help, including sending her a message that said, “SOS. Please call asap — need help with Fieldstone,” according to the records.
As the FBI investigated that loan, Moseley’s family made national headlines when her third husband was arrested at the 1998 golf course opening on charges of arranging a murder, which he later confessed to. That same year, federal authorities charged Freebery and another local official on racketeering and other charges, which they denied. In 2007, most of the charges were dropped; Freebery pleaded guilty to the omission of the loan on a mortgage application, a felony, and was sentenced to a year of probation and a $350 fine. She declined to comment on the case.
Moseley was not charged.
As a result of the local corruption investigation, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Wilmington had developed a steady flow of tips related to the golf club and local politicians, according to two individuals familiar with the matter.
Among them was one the FBI decided warranted further investigation: the circumstances under which Biden had received access to Fieldstone.
The management meeting of Fieldstone’s top officers came to order on Aug. 28, 2001. The fourth item on the agenda was Biden’s application to become a member, according to a copy of meeting minutes obtained by The Post.
The agenda minutes read:
Fife Hills was a company controlled by the club’s founder, Moseley. Fieldstone was established as a partnership, meaning each member first paid a fee to join the club and obtain a “warrant,” which in effect carries the ability to be a member. Then they paid additional annual dues to maintain their membership.
People who paid to became partners were allowed to give their warrant to another golfer, a person familiar with the matter said, so warrants technically did not have a cost. An article in 1998 in the Delaware News Journal, shortly before Biden became a member, said partnerships cost $30,000. A lawsuit filed in 2004 revealed that Fieldstone had 291 partners, who had paid $34,000 apiece.
The minutes do not say that Biden became a partner but specified he had to pay membership dues and other fees, which typically would be a reference to items such as food charges. They also don’t say if Moseley herself directed that the membership warrant be given to Biden, or if the two knew each other. Nor do they indicate whether Biden continued being a member under this arrangement in the following years — and a White House official declined to explain.
Hurley said he doesn’t know if Biden and Moseley knew each other, nor any information about Biden’s golf club membership. But, speaking generally, he said the arrangement could have served the interest of both the heiress, who wanted proximity to powerful people, and the senator, who valued support from the du Pont family and its workers.
“People who are in Lisa’s position with a lot of money, as a general rule, like to ingratiate themselves to people who are in positions of power,” Hurley said. “Lisa was the type of person that had to have her way … and to be able to say a United States senator from Delaware is a friend of mine is something important to a person such as herself.”
Freebery, who was one of Moseley’s closest friends, said that she has no recollection of Moseley mentioning anything about meeting with Biden or the membership. “To my knowledge there was no friendship or social interaction,” Freebery said.
Another former associate of Moseley recalled her mentioning that Biden was a member of the golf club but did not know if she knew Biden.
Since many new members purchased a partnership to gain entree to the club membership, the FBI wanted to examine whether Biden had received something of value from Moseley or her LLC that he had not reported on his financial disclosure form, according to individuals familiar with the matter.
By the standards of a typical U.S. senator, Biden was not wealthy and it might have been a stretch for him to buy a club partnership, given the costs of maintaining his home and other obligations. In the jointly filed 2001 tax return on which he and his wife reported an income of $221,000, the Bidens reported deducting $38,753 for their home mortgage. They regularly gave modest charitable donations, including $360 in 2000 and $260 in 2002, according to the tax returns.
It is not clear how much Biden would have paid in annual dues at the club; Fieldstone has not said what it charged for membership dues.
The FBI launched the investigation by writing an “opening communication,” a standard document describing the scope of the inquiry and the potential offenses that justified it, according to the people familiar with the matter. In addition, opening a probe into a sitting U.S. senator required an extra level of approval, with vetting by officials in Wilmington, Baltimore and Washington, according to an individual familiar with the matter.
Investigators went to Fieldstone and verified that Biden was a member by taking a picture of his locker, according to an individual familiar with the matter.
(Separately, Biden’s son Hunter reported in a questionnaire for his appointment to the Amtrak board that he was a Fieldstone member from December 2001 to August 2003. The questionnaire does not say how much he paid to be a member. Hunter Biden’s membership was not part of the FBI’s inquiry.)
Typically, the local U.S. attorney would have worked in concert with the FBI.
But Delaware’s U.S. attorney, Republican Colm Connolly, recused himself and his office because he was being vetted for the nomination for a federal judgeship — a post over which Biden would have outsize say as the home-state member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, two former federal officials with direct knowledge of his decision said. That recusal has not been previously reported.
At the time of Connolly’s nomination, his top assistant was David C. Weiss, who is now Delaware’s U.S. attorney and special counsel handling the investigation and prosecution of Hunter Biden. An individual familiar with the matter said that Weiss would have known that Connolly had recused himself and the office over a Biden matter, although it is not clear if Weiss knew the precise circumstances.
Weiss declined to comment.
Several weeks after the FBI began its inquiry, and after Connolly recused himself, the Justice Department closed the investigation. It is not clear whether the records in the Biden case still exist. In general, a Justice Department official said, the policy is that if an investigation does not result in prosecution, the case file typically is destroyed three to ten years after an investigation is closed. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment about the case.
Connolly, whose nomination lapsed after the end of the George W. Bush administration, has since been successfully nominated to the federal judgeship by Trump. Connolly declined to comment.
Don Fox, the former acting director of the Office of Government Ethics in the Obama administration, said in an interview that the transaction could have been considered “a thing of value” that “should have been reported.” He said in similar cases, he advised government officials to disclose golf memberships. When he was deputy general counsel of the Air Force, a post he held from 1998 to 2008, Fox said he advised generals who accepted a waiver of initiation fees at golf courses that the arrangement was unacceptable, and he said that he viewed Biden’s acceptance of the warrant as the equivalent of an initiation fee.
Nonetheless, Fox said that he that even if officials had determined that Biden should have reported the warrant, he did not think that the Justice Department would have found it worthy of further investigation unless they believed that Biden had done something in exchange for the warrant.
Biden has now achieved something no du Pont ever accomplished: being elected to the White House. Still, the connection remains to a facility created by a du Pont family member. He has been a regular at Fieldstone Golf Club during his presidency, sometimes dining at the clubhouse after he plays, according to the accounts of journalists who track his movements.
On a recent trip to the club, Biden arrived at the club at 2:06 p.m. on Aug. 6, when the press bus was separated from his motorcade. The White House informed the press that “the president is golfing with family” and others. Then, at 5:02 p.m., the press rejoined the entourage and witnessed Biden being taken back to his home, where they were informed he would spend the evening.
But two hours later came a change in plans: Biden headed back to Fieldstone Golf Club for dinner.
Alice Crites and Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.