Hunter Biden, the son of U.S. President Joe Biden, was indicted Thursday, with prosecutors alleging that he illegally bought a gun at a time when he admittedly was using cocaine and lied about his drug use so he could buy the firearm.
The indictment of the 53-year-old presidential offspring immediately injected a new element into the 2024 U.S. presidential election campaign. Joe Biden is seeking reelection and his leading Republican opponent, former President Donald Trump, is facing an unprecedented four criminal indictments encompassing 91 charges.
The younger Biden could face trial on three gun-related charges in the coming months.
Two charges stem from Biden's completion of a form required for gun purchases; when he bought a Colt Cobra Special at a Wilmington, Delaware, gun shop in October 2018, he is alleged to have lied when he checked a box saying he was not a user of or addicted to drugs. The third charge alleges that he illegally possessed the gun as a drug user.
The indictment of the younger Biden was not unexpected, with special counsel David Weiss announcing days ago that charges would be filed by the end of September.
Lawyer cites political pressure
Hunter Biden’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, accused Weiss of bowing to political pressure from Republicans in charging the president’s son.
“Hunter Biden possessing an unloaded gun for 11 days was not a threat to public safety, but a prosecutor, with all the power imaginable, bending to political pressure presents a grave threat to our system of justice,” Lowell said.
The prosecutor's announcement of the indictment came after the collapse in July of a plea deal in which Hunter Biden would have pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges, likely without being imprisoned, and been spared prosecution on the gun charge by staying out of trouble and agreeing to never again own a gun.
But the plea deal unraveled when the younger Biden's attorneys and prosecutors disagreed in court about whether Biden, as part of the plea deal, was being granted permanent immunity from any prosecution linked to an ongoing Weiss investigation into millions of dollars Biden has been paid in recent years from business deals in Ukraine and China.
Lawyers for the younger Biden argued at the July hearing that their understanding of the plea deal was that he would no longer face possible prosecution for his overseas earnings and business deals, while prosecutors said that was not the case. U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika ended the proceeding, with Weiss pledging to continue his probe.
Defense attorneys have argued that a provision of the original plea deal that would have allowed Biden to avoid prison time by participating in a special training program remains in effect. Prosecutors have maintained that the provision, known as a gun diversion, never took effect.
Aside from the gun purchase charges, Hunter Biden could still face prosecution on the tax charges and his overseas business deals.
The Hunter Biden case has quickly become an integral part of the 2024 political landscape in the U.S.
Republican political opponents of President Biden called the negotiated plea agreement "a sweetheart deal."
More broadly, Trump and his political supporters in Congress have alleged, without evidence, that President Biden reaped millions of dollars from Hunter Biden's overseas business deals. Some Republicans are characterizing the president and his relatives as "the Biden crime family."
President Biden has denied collecting any such largesse through his son, at one point laughing it off with a pointed rejoinder, "Where's the money?" The U.S. leader has also denied being involved in his son's businesses.
One Hunter Biden business associate, Devon Archer, testified to Congress that the younger Biden would often call his father while he was dining in restaurants with his business associates, perhaps to impress his friends about his access to the family's power in Washington.
But Archer also told a House of Representative committee, "I think you have to understand that there was no business conversation about a cap table or a fee or anything like that. It was, you know, just general niceties and, you know, conversation in general about the geography, about the weather, whatever it may be."
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy this week ordered three congressional committees to open an impeachment inquiry into any links the president had with his son's businesses and the millions of dollars he was paid.
House Republicans, McCarthy said, "uncovered serious and credible allegations into President Biden's conduct."
"These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption," he said. "They warrant further investigation by the House of Representatives."
Republicans are expected to subpoena the president's bank account information to see if the younger Biden sent him money while Joe Biden was vice president from 2009 to 2017 or perhaps paid some of the elder Biden's personal expenses, as has been alleged by Biden family critics.
The White House and congressional Democrats have assailed the impeachment inquiry and said the House Republicans carrying it out have shown no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden.