President Joe Biden’s son Hunter will plead guilty to federal tax offenses but 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 avoid prosecution on a felony charge of illegally possessing a firearm as a drug user, as long as he 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 not 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 of 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 by name and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
He is to plead guilty to failing to pay more than $100,0000 in taxes on over $1.5 million in income in both 2017 and 2018.
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 against former President Trump in relation to accusations of mishandling classified documents on his Florida estate, a case with even more significant political implications.
That indictment has brought an onslaught of Republican criticism 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.
Republicans on Tuesday called the federal charges an 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 investigations in Congress that GOP lawmakers say show — but have not yet provided evidence of — a pattern of corruption involving the family’s financial ties.
Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee called the charges “low-hanging fruit” and vowed not let “full accountability fall by the wayside.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, on the other hand, called the five-year investigation originating in his home state “thorough” and said he was encouraged “that Hunter is taking responsibility for his actions, paying the taxes that he owes, and preparing to move on with his life.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was scheduled to campaign with the president Tuesday evening, reaffirmed his support for Biden’s reelection after the plea deal was announced. Over the weekend, Newsom told The AP “not on God’s green earth” would he launch a primary challenge against Biden.
“Hunter changes nothing,” Newsom told The AP on Tuesday
The Trump charges came from a special counsel, appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland to conduct an independent investigation to avoid any potential conflict of interest in the Justice Department. 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 advisers.”
Since then, a federal grand jury in Delaware has heard testimony related to his taxes and foreign business transactions.
In February 2021, the department sought the resignation of most 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.
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 East European nation.
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 of any Russian connection to the laptop or to he will emails found on the advice.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Farnoush Amiri, Seung Min Kim and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington and Steve Peoples and Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.
Get daily updates from WHYY News!