A planned tax case guilty plea by Hunter Biden, the son of U.S. President Joe Biden, unraveled Wednesday after a federal judge questioned the terms of the deal his lawyers had reached with prosecutors, with the younger Biden then changing course and pleading not guilty.
Hunter Biden was in federal court in the eastern city of Wilmington, Delaware, to plead guilty to charges that he failed to pay more than $100,000 in taxes in 2017 and 2018 on more than $1.5 million income in both years, and, in a separate case, admit to illegally possessing a gun while he was addicted to cocaine. The deal would likely have spared him prison time.
But U.S. Judge Maryellen Noreika balked at the agreement.
She questioned the scope of the pact his defense lawyers had reached with prosecutors, especially whether it was a blanket immunity clearing him from future prosecution stemming from other investigations, including Hunter Biden’s overseas business deals that Republicans allege involved his father and benefited him financially before he was elected president.
Hunter Biden’s defense lawyers huddled quickly with prosecutors in the courtroom and seemingly reached a revised deal covering Hunter Biden’s tax issues from 2014 to 2019, admitted cocaine use and the gun possession, while agreeing that it did not give him immunity from any other potential prosecution.
But that, too, fell apart, and Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty to the tax charges.
Noreika put the case on hold but said she could still later approve an agreement between Hunter Biden’s lawyers and prosecutors once pending language in a deal is clarified.
Terms of the initial plea deal reached between Hunter Biden’s attorneys and a federal prosecutor were announced last month in connection with the charges that he failed to pay his in taxes in 2017 and 2018.
But Noreika had to approve the plea agreement. Most times, U.S. judges accept plea deals worked out ahead of time between prosecutors and defense attorneys but not always and judges have discretion to review the terms and impose their own sentences.
Republican lawmakers, looking to derail President Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign, sought to get Noreika to reject Hunter Biden’s plea agreement, describing it as a “sweetheart deal” negotiated by the Justice Department overseen by his father’s administration.
The initial plea deal, however, was agreed to by federal prosecutor David Weiss in the Bidens’ home state of Delaware. Weiss was appointed by former president Donald Trump, now the leading Republican 2024 presidential contender, and kept on specifically in the Biden administration so that he could continue oversight of the politically sensitive case.
The Republican lawmakers filed a statement with Noreika, also appointed by Trump, on Tuesday that included recent congressional testimony from two federal tax collection agents contending that the younger Biden had been afforded leniency from higher-up officials at the Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department in settling the tax charges against him, instead of facing more serious tax evasion charges.
Hunter Biden is a long-admitted cocaine user in his recent past. He has engaged in a string of questionable foreign business deals in Ukraine and China that Republicans have claimed, with little evidence, that he used to funnel millions of dollars in cash payments to his father after his vice-presidential term ended in 2017 and before he ran for the presidency in 2020.
President Biden has scoffed at the allegations, recently saying, “Where’s the money?” or simply refusing to answer reporters’ questions about the Republican allegations.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday suggested that the Republican majority in the House of Representatives could open an impeachment investigation of President Biden over the allegations involving his son and whether the president benefited financially.
Hunter Biden, who has publicly discussed his struggles with alcoholism and crack cocaine use, was also charged in a separate case with possession of a firearm by a known drug user. He agreed to a pretrial diversion program that will allow the charge to be cleared from his record if he complies with the terms of the deal, such as never again owning a firearm.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.