Hunter Biden indicted on federal gun charges for allegedly lying about drug addiction

Hunter Biden had been scheduled to plea guilty to misdemeanor tax charges and enter a pretrial program for a gun charge in July, but a judge refused to accept the deal.

  • Hunter Biden is indicted on two federal charges for allegedly lying to a gun dealer and on a federal form when buying a revolver in 2018.
  • The indictment revives the case after Republicans criticized a plea agreement the federal prosecutor, David Weiss, reached with Hunter Biden as too lenient.

Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, was indicted Thursday on federal gun charges less than two months after a plea agreement fell apart over tax and gun charges.

The indictment charges Hunter Biden with knowingly deceiving a firearms dealer when buying a Colt Cobra 38SPL revolver on Oct. 12, 2018. He is charged with falsely filling out a federal firearms form denying he was addicted to any narcotics. And he is charged with knowingly possessing the revolver despite the restrictions against drug addicts owning firearms.

Hunter Biden has acknowledged he was a drug addict at the time.

The charges revive the prospect that Hunter Biden could be jailed if convicted and rekindle his role as a lightning rod for political criticism as his father runs for reelection in 2024. He faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison if convicted − five years for the false statement to the dealer, 10 years for the false statement on the federal form and 10 years for possession of the firearm − but actual sentences typically are shorter than the maximum, according to the Justice Department.

Republicans had criticized the plea agreement, which could have carried no jail time, as a "sweetheart deal" and called for a new investigation.

Instead, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed David Weiss, the U.S. attorney for Delaware who had investigated Hunter Biden for five years before reaching the plea agreement, to be a special counsel to continue his investigation.

Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, speaks to guests during the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House, April 18, 2022, in Washington.

What happened with Hunter Biden's plea deal?

Biden was set to plead guilty in July to two misdemeanor charges for not paying his taxes in 2017 and 2018, which he has since paid. He was also set to enter a pretrial program for a gun charge, which would have resulted in the charge being dropped if he complied with program’s requirements.

But U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika refused to accept the plea agreement because of disputes between Biden’s lawyers and federal prosecutors about the terms.

The Gun Control Act prohibits drug users from possessing firearms. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ruled the ban applies to "a conviction for use or possession of a controlled substance within the past year.

When Biden filled out a federal form when he bought the handgun, he replied “no” to a question of whether he was “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance."

By his own account in his memoir, “Beautiful Things,” Biden battled drug addiction and for periods during 2018 smoked crack “every 15 minutes.

Prosecutors have wide discretion to defer prosecution or seek diversion programs and often do so in cases like Biden's in which the offender has no criminal record, the charges are minor and the case does not involve aggravating circumstances such as use of the firearm in a criminal act, according to Cheryl Bader, a former federal prosecutor who runs the Criminal Defense Clinic at Fordham Law.

Legal expert: Gun charges 'raw deal'

Legal experts called the three charges harsh compared with the plea agreement, which could have potentially dismissed a single charge if Hunter Biden complied with the requirements.

Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney who is now a law professor at UCLA, said the Justice Department rarely brings such gun charges.

“The 3 false statement charges against Hunter Biden are a raw deal,” Litman said in a post on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. “There appears to be nothing that happened since the plea deal unraveled (through no fault of Biden) other than Republican ignorant potshots.”

Andrew Weissmann, a former federal prosecutor and general counsel at the FBI, called Weiss erratic for veering from a deferred prosecution to pursuing three “legally and factually tenuous charges.”

“The new gun charges display the same lack of judgment,” Weissmann said in a post on X. “Expect lots of defense challenges.”

House GOP questions 'sweetheart deal' in plea agreement

Three House Republican chairmen have sent a letter to Biden’s lawyers, Christopher Clark and Abbe Lowell, asking for documents related to the plea deal. Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, head of the Judiciary Committee; James Comer of Kentucky, head of the Oversight and Accountability Committee; and Jason Smith of Missouri, head of the Ways and Means Committee, seek documents described in articles in The New York Times and Politico about how the deal fell apart.

“The Justice Department’s sweetheart deal fell apart after a federal judge refused to rubber-stamp it,” Comer said Thursday

Lowell has called the request further evidence of interfering with the investigation.

“These Republican chairmen continue to abuse their power to push a purely partisan attack on the Biden administration and family," Lowell said. " This latest demand is further proof of their continued and improper interference with the Justice Department’s investigation, which remains ongoing and in which Congress has no legitimate role.”

Under the part of the plea agreement for not paying taxes, prosecutors said Hunter Biden took in $2.4 million in income in 2017 and $2.1 million in 2018 through Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, a Chinese development firm, as well as domestic business interests and legal services.

Leo Wise, an assistant U.S. attorney, said an accountant prepared Biden's taxes both of those years, but his corporate and personal taxes were not paid. During this period, Hunter Biden made large cash withdrawals and covered other expenses like car payments on a Porsche, Wise said.

Biden told the court a "third party" paid the back taxes along with interest and fees pursuant to a personal loan he had not begun to repay in July.

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