Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, was indicted Thursday on federal firearms charges, the latest move in a long-running probe into the president’s son that puts the case on track toward a potential high-stakes trial as the 2024 election looms ahead.
The younger Biden is accused of lying about his drug use when he purchased a firearm in October 2018, when he has acknowledged struggling with addiction to crack cocaine, according to the federal indictment filed in Delaware by a special counsel overseeing the case.
The indictment comes only weeks after the collapse of a plea deal that would have avoided a criminal trial and weeks or months of distracting headlines for President Joe Biden.
The court battle might be prolonged: His defense attorney argued that Hunter Biden didn’t violate the law and remains protected by an immunity provision in the plea deal. Meanwhile, the charges are rarely filed as stand-along counts, and a recent decision by an appeals court called the law itself into question.
The president’s son has also been under investigation for his business dealings, and the special counsel has pointed out that tax charges could be filed at some point in the future in California, where he lives, or in Washington.
Political pressure has escalated as the House has formally opened an impeachment inquiry into the president, seeking to tie the president to his son’s businesses and pull attention away from former President Donald Trump’s legal troubles.
Over the lengthy probe, federal prosecutors haven’t indicated the elder Biden is connected. The White House maintains the president was not involved in his son’s business affairs.
The prosecutor overseeing the Hunter Biden investigation, Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss, was elevated last month to special counsel, giving him broad authority to investigate and report his findings.
The three-count indictment says Hunter Biden lied on a form required for every firearm purchase when he bought a .38 Colt Cobra Special at a gun shop in Wilmington, Delaware.
Hunter Biden is charged with two counts of making false statements by falsely checking a box saying he wasn’t addicted to drugs and submitting it to the shop for their federally required records. A third count alleged that he possessed the gun for around 11 days despite knowing he was a drug addict.
According to a statement from the Justice Department and Weiss, the counts are punishable by as long as 25 years in prison if convicted.
Rep. Comer: Indictment “a very small start”
GOP Representative James Comer, the lead Republican pursuing an impeachment inquiry into the president, said on Thursday that the indictment was “a very small start.” However, Comer said that unless the Justice Department pursues the GOP claims regarding whether the president was involved in his son’s business dealings, “it will be clear President Biden’s DOJ is protecting Hunter Biden and the big guy.”
The felony gun charge against Hunter Biden was part of a plea deal that included guilty pleas to misdemeanor tax charges. However, the agreement imploded during a July court hearing when a judge raised concerns about its unusual provisions.
The agreement wouldn’t have included a guilty plea for the firearms charge but spared him any formal prosecution if he stayed out of trouble for two years.
Defense lawyer Abbe Lowell argued that part of the deal remains in place, including the immunity provisions against other possible charges. In a statement, he said Hunter Biden “possessing an unloaded gun for 11 days” did not present a public safety threat and slammed “MAGA Republicans’ improper and partisan interference in this process,” referring to former President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Lowell took over after the younger Biden’s previous lawyer in the case, Christopher Clark, withdrew and said he could be called to testify about the immunity provisions.
Prosecutors maintain that the agreement was never implemented and is now invalid. In a court filing earlier this month, they indicated new gun charges were coming.
Gun possession charges by drug users are rare, especially when not connected with other crimes. Of all people sentenced in 2021 for illegal gun possession, about 5% were because of drug use, according to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Most cases are brought against people accused of another crime as well, according to Adam Winkler, an expert in gun policy and constitutional law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. “It’s relatively rare to prosecute someone for being a substance abuser in possession of firearms, absent other criminal activity or unusual circumstances,” he said.
Meanwhile, a federal appeals court recently found the longstanding ban didn’t stand up to new gun law standards set by the Supreme Court.
Members of the GOP had denounced the plea agreement as a “sweetheart deal.” It would have allowed the president’s son to serve probation rather than jail time after pleading guilty to paying taxes in 2017 and 2018.
His personal income during the two years totaled about $4 million, including consulting and business fees from a company he formed with the CEO of a Chinese business conglomerate and Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, said prosecutors.
Republicans in Congress have continued their investigations into the Justice Department’s handling of the case and almost every aspect of Hunter Biden’s business dealings, seeking to connect his financial affairs to his father. The GOP has obtained testimony about how Hunter Biden used the “Biden brand’ to get work overseas, but they haven’t produced solid evidence of wrongdoing by the president.