Hunter Biden pleads not guilty to three federal gun charges

President Joe Biden’s son appeared in a Wilmington court after his plea deal collapsed. The latest move puts his case on track toward a possible trial as the 2024 election looms

Hunter Biden
Hunter Biden, son of the U.S. president, at the federal courthouse in Wilmington (Delaware), last July.JONATHAN ERNST (REUTERS)
Miguel Jiménez
Wilmington (Delaware) -

Hunter Biden, son of U.S. President Joe Biden, appeared Tuesday in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware, to be arraigned on three counts related to illegally purchasing and possessing a gun.

As expected, the defendant pleaded not guilty in a brief appearance that lasted around 20 minutes and was surrounded by great expectation at the J. Caleb Boggs Building, which houses the courthouse, in downtown Wilmington.

The case is being used by Republicans as a weapon against the president with just over a year to go before the election.

Joe Biden’s son is facing three counts. According to federal prosecutors, he lied about his drug use when he purchased a .38 Colt Cobra five years ago, in October 2018. Prosecutors say he lied on a federal form certifying that he was not a consumer of illegal drugs, narcotics or any other controlled substances, even when he knew this to be false. Two charges are related to this form, while a third is for possession of a gun while using a narcotic.

During the arraignment, the judge went through the charges in a didactic manner, asking the defendant if he understood them. “Yes, your honor,” were the only words Biden uttered, half a dozen times. The plea of “not guilty” was entered by his lawyer Abbe Lowell.

The judge maintained the previous terms of release in place. Conditions include supervision by a U.S. probation officer from the Central District of California, where he resides, actively seeking employment, not possessing weapons, not consuming alcohol, not consuming drugs, and submitting to drug testing if required by the probation office. He would also be required to participate in drug abuse counseling.

Hunter Biden signed those conditions and left the courtroom through a side door, avoiding reporters, whom he had greeted with a half-smile as he entered the courtroom.

The two counts of making false statements and one count of illegal gun possession are punishable by up to 25 years in prison upon conviction. Under the earlier failed deal, the defendant admitted to the facts as part of a plea bargain whereby criminal prosecution would be waived in exchange for his staying away from drugs for two years and giving up owning a firearm in the future. This is a common deal in similar cases where the defendants have been rehabilitated and have no criminal record. Biden has acknowledged struggling with a crack cocaine addiction at the time of the purchase.

The deal to file the gun case had also acknowledged two tax fraud offenses in 2017 and 2018 (already regularized with the payment of $1 million) for which he was to be sentenced to lesser penalties, predictably avoiding prison time. Hunter Biden’s attorneys have suggested that prosecutors were pressured by Republicans who claimed the president’s son was getting a sweetheart deal.

There is no date yet for the trial, but it is likely to be held less than a year before the presidential elections in which Joe Biden will seek re-election, on November 5, 2024. It may overlap with one of Donald Trump’s multiple court cases, four of which are criminal in nature and total 91 offenses, according to the indictments.

Although the charges against Hunter Biden are over a completely private matter, Republicans are holding him up as an example of a pattern of corruption by the Biden family, even as they forgive Trump’s run-ins with the law.

Support from his father

Joe Biden has always been supportive of his son, although he has generally avoided answering questions about him or commenting on the indictment, deferring to the Justice Department. Attorney General Merrick Garland, appointed David Weiss as special counsel for this case, giving him added independence, but he is the same person who had been investigating him in Delaware as a federal prosecutor since Donald Trump’s term in office. Ongoing investigations since 2018 have so far found no evidence of other possible crimes.

His son’s business dealings in Ukraine and China when Joe Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president have been under scrutiny by Republicans for years. No evidence has been found that the current president intervened in them, beyond courtesy greetings and the like, but that has not stopped House Speaker Kevin McCarthy from ordering a formal investigation as a preliminary step to impeachment proceedings against Biden.

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