In a stunning reversal that puts the president’s son on a crash course with the nation’s Department of Justice, Hunter Biden’s plea deal over tax and gun crimes completely unraveled in a Delaware courtroom on Wednesday—and resulted in him pleading not guilty to charges to which he was about to admit.
The sudden change of course puts the case on a path toward a possible federal trial after the judge overseeing the case unexpectedly rejected the agreement.
Biden arrived in court Wednesday morning expecting to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of failure to pay income tax—part of a plea deal with prosecutors that would have spared him from prosecution on a firearms charge.
But the deal fell apart when U.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, raised questions over provisions in the gun charge agreement and whether it was separate from the tax plea deal.
According to CNN, the deal faltered due to ongoing investigations into Biden potentially violating the Foreign Agents Registration (FARA) Act. There appeared to be a disagreement between prosecutors and Biden’s lawyer Christopher Clark, who said he understood the investigation to be over, while the U.S. Attorney’s office indicated that it was “ongoing.”
Biden’s lawyer declared the agreement would be “null and void” after prosecutors revealed that the deal wouldn’t give Biden immunity from prosecution for other crimes. The court then took a recess as the two sides fiercely tried to piece the agreement back together. While they later determined that the tax plea deal and a pre-trial diversion agreement related to the gun charge were, in fact, separate, it didn’t resolve questions over immunity and other provisions.
It was a strange deal from the start, underscored by Noreika asking the prosecution if there was any precedent for the proposed agreement.
“No, your honor,” federal prosecutor Leo Wise responded.
If the judge had approved the deal, Biden likely would have avoided prison time. The prosecution was expected to recommend probation, despite the fact he could face up to a year in prison for each charge. He would have pleaded guilty to skirting more than $100,000 in taxes in both 2017 and 2018 after receiving $1.5 million in taxable income both years.
As for the gun charge that caused such a headache on Wednesday, Biden was accused of lying about being a drug user on a form when buying a gun in 2018—a felony offense that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. That charge would have been wiped from his record if he abided by a pre-trial diversion agreement.
But both sides are now back to the drawing board and are expected to negotiate a new deal—one that limits Biden’s immunity on the way he conducted business abroad. Biden’s lawyers said that crafting that agreement could take another two weeks, according to The New York Times.
Like any other person facing criminal charges, Biden will be under pressure to cop to some crimes to avoid a closely scrutinized public trial, which could harm his father’s re-election bid in 2024.
However, unlike typical criminal cases, prosecutors have avoided seeking a grand jury indictment of the 53-year-old attorney, relying instead on a mere one-page criminal information. As a result, the public hasn’t been able to see a detailed account of what exactly investigators discovered.
At the very moment that Biden was walking out of the Wilmington courthouse, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was speaking to journalists at her daily briefing, where she refused to answer questions about the matter. She stressed that the younger Biden’s legal problems are a personal matter that doesn’t involve his father, President Joe Biden. She also noted that the Justice Department is not coordinating with the White House on the case.
“As we’ve been very clear, they are independent,” Jean-Pierre said.
She also refused to answer a reporter’s broad question about the president’s stance on the need to fully prosecute those who illegally possess firearms.
Wednesday’s chaos injected more uncertainty into an already complex issue. While prosecutors are trying to narrowly define and try this particular case, they’re doing so while Republicans in Congress keep clamoring about unproven allegations that Hunter Biden also abused his proximity to then-Vice President Biden nearly a decade ago to score a position on the Ukrainian energy company Burisma in a bid to scuttle a corruption investigation there.