Hunter Biden's Plea Deal Collapses in Court Over Tax and Gun Charges
In a stunning turn of events, a previously negotiated plea deal involving Hunter Biden, son of US President Joe Biden, has been upended in court. The deal, which was the outcome of weeks of deliberation, was designed to allow the younger Biden to plead guilty to tax charges from 2017 and 2018 and acknowledge a gun offence, thereby avoiding incarceration.
However, on Wednesday, US District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika expressed her reservations, stating she couldn't just "rubber stamp the agreement". This development is noteworthy as it's the first instance wherein a sitting president's child has been formally charged by the Department of Justice.
Following a comprehensive five-year probe into the US first son's financial activities, Hunter Biden made his way to the court in Wilmington, Delaware, expecting to settle the charges through the plea deal. The outlined agreement required him to admit to two misdemeanour counts relating to unpaid taxes for the specified years. Additionally, he was to confess to illegal possession of a firearm during a period of drug use, agreeing to undergo drug treatment and monitoring as an alternative to graver charges and potential imprisonment.
Nevertheless, during the lengthy three-hour court session, Judge Noreika raised concerns about the deal's ability to potentially offer Hunter Biden immunity for potential future crimes. She further highlighted "non-standard terms" in the agreement, especially finding the resolution pertaining to the gun offence to be atypical.
The justice department is concurrently scrutinising Hunter Biden's compliance with federal laws, particularly regarding mandatory registration as a foreign agent during his professional engagements in China and Ukraine when Joe Biden was Vice President. This was reported by CNN.
With the initial agreement in jeopardy, both sides' legal representatives were seen openly negotiating in the courtroom, aiming to either retain the initial plea deal or arrive at a more narrowed-down understanding.
However, by the end of the hearing, Judge Noreika, who was appointed during Trump's presidency, chose not to endorse the plea deal. She has now provided a two-week window for both parties to draft a revised agreement and provide her with an update.
While Hunter Biden had initially expressed his intention to plead guilty, he has for now pleaded not guilty.
The White House, in response to Wednesday's events, issued a statement reinforcing the president and the first lady's unwavering support for their son. White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, emphasized that "Hunter Biden is a private citizen and this was a personal matter for him."
Hunter Biden Under GOP's Radar
The misdemeanour charges levied against Hunter, while significant, are minor compared to more serious allegations. Many congressional Republicans have been vocal in committee hearings about their suspicions. They claim the leniency of the plea deal was due to his familial connection to the president.
The House of Representatives Oversight Committee has already been briefed by a whistleblower, alleging deliberate delays by the justice department in the tax investigation. The US Attorney for Delaware, David Weiss, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump and retained by the Biden administration to conclude the Hunter investigation, disputes these claims. Mr Weiss has also proposed testifying before Congress to dispel any doubts regarding the investigation's integrity.
Furthermore, Republicans have been keenly examining a laptop supposedly left by Hunter Biden at a Delaware computer repair store. Its contents are being used to allege bribery and corruption, even attempting to link President Biden to illicit business affairs. However, Democrats believe the Republicans' focus on the justice system is strategic, especially considering former President Trump is currently grappling with two criminal indictments and potential charges in two additional cases.