Hunter Biden to Go on Trial in Gun Case, Days After Trump Was Convicted


Hunter Biden will go on trial on gun charges on Monday in Delaware within walking distance of his father’s campaign headquarters in Wilmington, less than a week after former President Donald J. Trump’s felony conviction in New York.

A year ago, the younger Mr. Biden seemed unlikely to face trial on the weapons charges he was facing over a firearms application that prosecutors say was falsified, or from more serious charges of failing to pay taxes from overseas business activities at a time when he was using drugs and alcohol heavily and spending lavishly.

But a plea deal, which offered him some immunity from prosecution and did not include prison time, imploded in July. The judge in the case punched holes in the agreement, to the delight of Mr. Trump’s allies in Congress who tried to scuttle that deal and have portrayed Hunter Biden’s legal problems as equivalent to those of their party’s 2024 presidential candidate in an effort to impeach President Biden.

Still, it is the son — not the father — who will be on trial twice during an election year. On Monday, he is set to report to the fourth-floor courtroom of Judge Maryellen Noreika when jury selection begins at 9 a.m. in a trial expected to last three to five days. The other, set to begin in September, involves a series of tax offenses related to his failure to file returns for a number of years.

Last September, a federal grand jury charged Mr. Biden with three felonies: lying to a federally licensed gun dealer, making a false claim on the federal firearms application used to screen applicants and possessing an illegally obtained gun for 11 days, from Oct. 12 to Oct. 23, 2018.

“Hunter Biden possessed a firearm while knowing he was an unlawful user of or addicted to any stimulant, narcotic drug or any other controlled substance, in violation of federal law,” prosecutors said.

If convicted, Mr. Biden could face up to 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. But nonviolent first-time offenders who have not been accused of using the weapon in another crime rarely get serious prison time for the charges. In fact, legal experts say it is more likely a sentence could include a central element of the original plea deal — mandatory enrollment in a firearms diversion program intended to reduce incarceration rates for the least serious gun crimes.

It is also possible that the parties could reach another plea agreement, much narrower than the first, though Mr. Biden’s legal team believes prosecutors are determined to bring the case to trial to avoid accusations that they are showing preferential treatment.

After intense digging and unfounded accusations, Republicans in Congress have yet to prove that President Biden profited from his troubled son’s dealings with a Ukrainian energy company. For now, they have abandoned their stated objective of impeaching the president, who they claim, without evidence, is the leader of the “Biden crime family.”

But the spectacle of Hunter Biden’s trial, and its timing, creates significant headaches for President Biden’s campaign, as it seeks to maximize the effect of Mr. Trump’s conviction without the distraction of having a family member on trial days after Mr. Trump was officially designated a felon.

It also promises to be an excruciating personal ordeal for the president. The special counsel overseeing the prosecution, David C. Weiss, has signaled that he will air some of the Biden family’s most embarrassing secrets by calling Hunter Biden’s former wife, Kathleen Buhle, who is locked in a long legal battle with him over unpaid alimony, according to prosecutors.

A top deputy to Mr. Weiss, Leo P. Wise, has filed court papers indicating that he also plans to call Hallie Biden, the widow of Hunter Biden’s brother, Beau. Ms. Biden was dating Hunter Biden when he bought a handgun in 2018 while he was in the throes of drug addiction.

The gun charges are related to whether Mr. Biden had lied on a standard form issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, when he bought a .38 pistol. Prosecutors said he falsely claimed he was not taking drugs at the time.

Mr. Biden had the gun for under two weeks, he has said, before Hallie tossed it in a dumpster, fearful that he would use it to harm himself.

It is relatively rare for such gun charges to be brought against a first-time, nonviolent offender like Mr. Biden, unless it is being used as leverage for a confession on other crimes, such as drug trafficking, current and former prosecutors have said.

The A.T.F. officials who initially reviewed Mr. Biden’s form believed the case would not have been prosecuted had it involved someone other than a Biden, particularly because Mr. Biden had taken steps to address his addiction, according to a former official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the investigation.

Mr. Biden has been sober for years and has written about his struggles with crack addiction and alcohol dependency in his memoir, which is likely to be used as evidence in both of his trials. Since the plea agreement fell apart, he has submitted to drug testing and passed, according to his lawyer Abbe Lowell.

How Mr. Biden plans to pay for his high-powered, high-priced legal representation in both trials remains an open question.

His main benefactor, who has already shelled out nearly $7 million in loans to the president’s son, has told associates he is running out of liquid assets. That has deepened a chronic cash crunch that has already left Mr. Biden’s lawyers working for little or no compensation. Efforts to create a legal-defense fund have gone nowhere.

Judge Noreika, a Trump appointee, has indicated in preliminary judgments that she wants the proceeding to move quickly and be narrowly focused on Mr. Biden’s actions at the time he completed the firearms application.

She has also ruled that Mr. Biden’s lawyers cannot refer to the fact that the local authorities declined to prosecute him when the gun was recovered. She also blocked Mr. Weiss from making any reference to the tax case when presenting evidence in Delaware.

Last month, the federal judge in Los Angeles who is presiding over the tax case agreed to push the start of that trial from later this month to Sept. 5, giving Mr. Biden’s lawyers room to prepare.

While the move came as a relief to President Biden’s son, it thrusts a trial that is likely to highlight Hunter’s Biden’s efforts to leverage his family’s name into profit into the homestretch of the campaign season.

Mr. Biden has pleaded not guilty to charges of evading a tax assessment, failing to file and pay taxes, and filing a false or fraudulent tax return.

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