WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s son Hunter will plead guilty to federal tax offenses and avoid prosecution on a separate gun charge in a deal with the Justice Department that likely spares him time behind bars.
Hunter Biden, 52, will plead guilty to the misdemeanor tax offenses as part of an agreement made public Tuesday. The agreement will also spare him prosecution on a charge of illegally possessing a firearm as a drug user, as long as adheres to conditions set by prosecutors. It’s somewhat unusual to resolve a federal criminal case at the same time charges are filed in court, but it’s not totally unheard of.
The deal ends a long-running Justice Department investigation into Biden’s second son, who has acknowledged struggling with addiction following the 2015 death of his brother Beau Biden. It also averts a trial that would have generated days or weeks or distracting headlines for a White House that has strenuously sought to keep its distance from the Justice Department.
While it requires the younger Biden to admit guilt, the deal is narrowly focused on tax and weapons violations rather than anything broader or tied to the Democratic president. Nonetheless, former President Donald Trump and other Republicans are likely to continue to try to use the case to shine an unflattering spotlight on Joe Biden and his family business dealings and to raise questions about the independence of the Biden Justice Department.
Trump, in a post on his social media platform, likened the Hunter Biden deal to a “mere traffic ticket,” adding, “Our system is BROKEN!”
The White House counsel’s office said in a statement that the president and first lady Jill Biden “love their son and support him as he continues to rebuild his life.”
Two people familiar with the investigation said the Justice Department would recommend probation for the tax charges, meaning Hunter Biden will not face time behind bars. But the decision to go along with any deal is up to the judge. The people were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
The gun charge states that Hunter Biden possessed a handgun, a Colt Cobra 38 special, for 11 days in October 2018 despite knowing he was a drug user. The count carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison, but the Justice Department said Hunter Biden had reached a pretrial agreement. This likely means as long as he adheres to the terms of the agreement, the case will be wiped from his record.
Christopher Clark, a lawyer for Hunter Biden, said in a statement that it was his understanding that the five-year investigation had now been resolved.
“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 comes as the Justice Department pursues perhaps the most consequential case in its history against Trump, the first former president to face federal criminal charges. The resolution of Hunter Biden’s case comes just days after a 37-count indictment came down against former Trump for mishandling classified documents on his Florida estate, another case with even more dramatic political implications.
That indictment had already brought an onslaught of criticism from Republicans, accusations of “politicization” of the Justice Department and a renewed crescendo of questions about Hunter Biden’s business dealings. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans continue to pursue their own investigations into nearly every facet of Hunter Biden’s business dealings, including examining foreign payments and other aspects of his finances.
Republicans on Tuesday called the federal charges another example of “a two-tiered justice system.”
Rep. James Comer, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said the younger Biden is “getting away with a slap on the wrist,” despite ongoing investigations in Congress that they say show — but have not yet provided evidence of — a pattern of corruption within the family’s financial ties.
“These charges against Hunter Biden and sweetheart plea deal have no impact on the Oversight Committee’s investigation,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has said the Trump charges came from a special counsel he appointed specifically so the investigation would remain independent. The Hunter Biden charges, meanwhile, were filed by the U.S. attorney for Delaware, Trump appointee David Weiss.
The Justice Department investigation into the president’s son burst into public view in December 2020, one month after the 2020 election, when Hunter Biden revealed that he had received a subpoena as part of the department’s scrutiny of his taxes. The subpoena sought information on the younger Biden’s business dealings with a number of entities, including Burisma, a Ukraine gas company on whose board he sat.
Hunter Biden said in a statement at the time that he was “confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisors.”
Since then, a federal grand jury in Delaware has heard testimony related to his taxes and foreign business transactions, including payments and income he received while on Burisma’s board.
Justice Department officials, per protocol, have generally avoided discussing the status of the inquiry in public, and the White House has assiduously steered clear of any questions about it. Still, there have been periodic reminders of its activity.
In February 2021, for instance, the department sought the resignation of Trump-era U.S. attorneys but made a point of noting that it was leaving Weiss in place as a way to ensure continuity in the probe.
And at a congressional hearing last August, FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed that the investigation remained active out of the bureau’s Baltimore field office and said it was a matter that “I expect our folks to pursue aggressively.”
Garland pledged not to interfere in the probe at another hearing in March. An unnamed IRS special agent, though, later alleged mishandling of the investigation in a letter to Congress in which he sought whistleblower protection.
The younger Biden joined the board of Burisma in 2014, around the time his father, then Barack Obama’s vice president, was helping conduct the Obama administration’s foreign policy with Ukraine. Trump and his allies have long argued, without evidence, that Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine influenced the Obama administration’s policies toward the Eastern European nation.
Senate Republicans said in a 2020 report that the appointment may have posed a conflict of interest but did not provide evidence that any policies were directly affected by Hunter Biden’s work.
Years before the case was brought, Hunter Biden surfaced as a central character in the first impeachment case against Trump, who in an apparent bid to boost his own reelection bid had asked Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a telephone call to announce an investigation into the younger Biden.
Republicans later sought to make Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine a prominent issue during the 2020 presidential election.
In October of that year, the New York Post reported that it had received from Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani a copy of a hard drive of a laptop that Hunter Biden had dropped off 18 months earlier at a Delaware computer repair shop and never retrieved.
The story was greeted with skepticism due to questions about the laptop’s origins, including Giuliani’s involvement, and because top officials in the Trump administration had already warned that Russia was working to denigrate Joe Biden ahead of the November election. No evidence has emerged since of any Russian connections to the laptop or the emails, and several news organizations have said they have substantiated many of the emails on the device.
Hunter Biden later asked the Justice Department in a letter from his lawyer to investigate Trump allies who accessed and disseminated personal data from the laptop.