Hunter Biden, son of U.S. President Joe Biden, is due to appear in court July 26 and formally strike a plea agreement on three federal tax and firearm charges.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday rebuffed sweeping claims by Republicans that Biden had been given “a sweetheart deal” when the Justice Department agreed to allow the younger Biden to plead guilty to three federal tax and firearm charges without the prospect of being imprisoned.
Representative James Comer, who has been investigating Biden family finances, said the deal with Hunter Biden was a “slap on the wrist.” In a social media post, former President Donald Trump called the no-prison deal “a mere ‘traffic ticket’” compared with the 37-count indictment the Justice Department filed against him two weeks ago for allegedly mishandling highly classified documents when his presidency ended in January 2021.
Trump and other Republicans said the disparate treatment of the two politically sensitive cases amounted to a dual system of justice in the U.S., with the Justice Department favoring leniency for Democrats while pursuing stiff criminal charges against the former Republican president. National polls show Trump is far and away the party’s leading contender to take on Biden in the 2024 national election.
Garland, a Biden appointee as the country’s top law enforcement official, has often said that the Justice Department he heads operates independently of political considerations and said that was the case in deciding the outcome of the five-year Hunter Biden investigation.
“As I said from the moment of my appointment as attorney general,” Garland told reporters at a news conference while on a trip to Sweden, “I would leave this matter in the hands of the United States attorney who was appointed by [Trump], and assigned to this matter by the previous administration, that he would be given full authority to decide the matter as he decided was appropriate. And that’s what he’s done.”
David Weiss, the chief federal prosecutor in the eastern state of Delaware, where the Biden family lives when they are not in Washington, told House Judiciary Committee Chairman Representative Jim Jordan in a recent letter that he had full autonomy over any decision-making in the Hunter Biden case.
“I have been granted ultimate authority over this matter, including responsibility for deciding where, when, and whether to file charges and for making decisions necessary to preserve the integrity of the prosecution, consistent with federal law, the Principles of Federal Prosecution, and [Justice] departmental regulations,” Weiss wrote in the letter.
According to a court filing on Tuesday, the 53-year-old son of the president, long troubled by crack cocaine addiction and the focus of investigations of his overseas business transactions, will plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges for failing to pay his 2017 and 2018 taxes on time, and agree to probation.
In addition, the court filing said the Justice Department would charge Biden but agree not to prosecute him in connection with his purchase of a handgun in 2018 when he was using drugs, even though he claimed on a purchase document that he was not using drugs. The deal calls for Biden to remain drug-free for two years and agree to never again own a firearm.
The agreement was hashed out over several months between lawyers for Hunter Biden and Weiss, who was appointed by Trump and retained after Trump’s reelection defeat to the elder Biden in 2020 to continue to handle the politically sensitive case.
In a statement Tuesday, Hunter Biden’s lawyer, Christopher Clark, said, “With the announcement of two agreements between my client, Hunter Biden, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, it is my understanding that the five-year investigation into Hunter is resolved.”
Weiss later said the investigation was “ongoing.”
“I know Hunter believes it is important to take responsibility for these mistakes he made during a period of turmoil and addiction in his life,” Clark said. “He looks forward to continuing his recovery and moving forward.”
The agreement must still be approved by a federal judge. Hunter Biden is expected to appear soon in a federal court in Delaware and plead guilty to the misdemeanor tax charges. If there are no last-minute complications, he is unlikely to be sentenced to prison.
“The president and first lady love their son and support him as he continues to rebuild his life. We will have no further comment,” White House spokesman Ian Sams said in a statement.
Comer, leading a Republican-controlled panel of lawmakers investigating Biden family finances, assailed the plea deal.
“Hunter Biden is getting away with a slap on the wrist when growing evidence uncovered by the House Oversight Committee reveals the Bidens engaged in a pattern of corruption, influence peddling, and possibly bribery,” he said.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, also running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, called the Hunter Biden plea agreement “a sweetheart deal.” Senator Tom Cotton said that “if anyone without the Biden last name engaged in even a fraction of Hunter’s misconduct, they’d face real consequences.”
Republicans have alleged that Hunter Biden was able to secure lucrative overseas business deals only by trading on the importance of his father’s vice presidency and ascension to the Oval Office.
Hunter Biden’s work for the Ukrainian energy company Burisma from 2014 to 2019, for which U.S. media outlets say he was paid tens of thousands of dollars a month, played a role in the first impeachment case against then-President Trump.
In July 2019, with Biden looming as a possible Democratic presidential opponent, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to “look into” the business and political activities of both Bidens in Ukraine. A week before the call, Trump had withheld millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine.
The U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump over the phone call, but the Senate acquitted him.