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Hunter Biden, son of US President Joe Biden, faces federal gun charges for a 2018 firearm purchase and potential tax prosecution, injecting political intrigue into the 2024 presidential campaign. Amidst Republican efforts to link him to his father’s influence, Hunter’s legal battles intensify, including a collapsed plea deal and allegations of tax evasion. The charges carry the prospect of significant prison time, but solid evidence connecting Joe Biden’s political actions to his son’s troubles remains elusive. As the drama unfolds, the political landscape becomes ever more complex, with Republicans seeking to portray the Biden family as corrupt.
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What Hunter Biden’s Criminal Charges Mean for Impeachment Inquiry Into President
By David Voreacos and Greg Farrell
(Bloomberg) — The troubled life of US President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, took a turn for the worse with his Sept. 14 indictment on federal gun charges. He could soon face prosecution over unpaid taxes as well. Congressional Republicans and conservative media have long tried to tie Hunter Biden’s activities to his father, so the timing of the criminal case — just as the 2024 presidential campaign starts to heat up — is a potential political gift. But no solid evidence has turned up tying the father’s political influence to the son’s misdeeds.
1. What are the criminal charges against Hunter Biden?
He was charged in Delaware federal court with three counts relating to his October 2018 purchase of a Colt Cobra .38 caliber revolver while he was a drug addict. To a question on a federal handgun purchase form about whether he was “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance,” he answered “no.” Biden’s lawyer says he plans to argue that laws barring gun ownership by drug users were rendered unconstitutional by recent federal court rulings. Biden, 53, is also likely to face criminal charges for failing to pay taxes on some $4.4 million in income in 2017 and 2018. All this follows the collapse of a deal under which Biden would have pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges, had the gun case set aside, and received no jail time.
2. What happened to that deal?
It fell apart after a July 26 hearing at which a federal judge questioned the extent to which it granted him immunity from further prosecution. Republicans had complained that the proposed punishment was too light and was evidence of a two-tiered justice system, especially when contrasted with the criminal charges former President Donald Trump is facing. After the deal collapsed, US Attorney General Merrick Garland made the prosecutor in the case, US Attorney David Weiss in Delaware, a special counsel, removing him from direct Justice Department oversight. Hunter Biden has sued the Internal Revenue Service, alleging that some of its employees, while urging Congress and the public to object to his plea deal, illegally disclosed information about his taxes.
3. What kind of prison time is Hunter Biden facing?
Two of the gun counts carry maximum prison time of 10 years; the third is punishable by up to five years. Judges rarely impose maximum sentences, though. It’s still unclear if Biden will face the same tax charges to which he originally planned to plead guilty. Those counts, failure to pay taxes, are punishable by up to one year in prison. If prosecutors have evidence Biden took active steps to conceal his income, they could charge him with felony tax fraud crimes, which carry a maximum sentence of five years.
4. What are Republicans in Congress investigating?
As part of an effort to portray the Biden family as corrupt, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer has said they “sold access for profit around the world to the detriment of American interests.” Republicans say millions of dollars paid by foreign companies to Hunter Biden and his uncle James, the president’s brother, can only be explained as bribes. So far they haven’t advanced any proof to support such claims. That didn’t stop House Speaker Kevin McCarthy from launching an impeachment probe into Joe Biden for what the Republican leader called a “culture of corruption.” Democrats say the impeachment inquiry is merely political payback for Trump’s two impeachments.
5. Why did foreign companies pay Hunter Biden?
He was involved in consulting and attempted corporate deal-making during and after the eight-year span when his father was Barack Obama’s vice president. In 2017 and 2018, Biden made millions of dollars from ventures backed by Chinese energy companies and from Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy company where he served as a director, according to the plea deal that fell apart; that’s some of the income he was prepared to admit he failed to pay taxes on. Congressional Republicans have long pushed the idea that Joe Biden sold favors as vice president. A frequent claim is that he engineered the 2016 removal of Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin to shut down a corruption probe of Burisma, which had put his son on its board in 2014. That story gained traction in right-wing circles after Trump was accused of using a 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to “look into” the Bidens — the call that became the basis for the first impeachment of Trump by congressional Democrats.
6. What evidence is there against Joe Biden?
Even some Republican members of Congress say they know of little evidence to justify impeaching the president. A onetime Hunter Biden business partner, Devon Archer, told Comer’s committee that Hunter Biden sometimes put his father on the phone while in the company of associates. But he said no business was discussed and that Hunter Biden was mostly “selling the illusion of access” to his father. Then there’s Hunter Biden’s damaged MacBook Pro, dropped off at a repair shop but never reclaimed. In addition to explicit photos and videos of Hunter Biden taking drugs and engaging in sex acts, the laptop’s contents include some emails suggesting that he may have arranged for Ukrainian business associates to meet his father when he was vice president, according to the New York Post. A September 2020 report released by Republican members of the Senate Homeland Security committee concluded that Hunter Biden’s foreign work created a potential conflict of interest for his father — especially as it related to US policy toward Ukraine — but didn’t allege that any laws had been broken.
7. What has the president said about all this?
Joe Biden has denied knowledge or involvement in his son’s business dealings and said he is proud of his son’s recovery from addiction. “I love him and he’s on the straight and narrow, and he has been for a couple of years now,” Biden told CNN in October. He’s also denied ever discussing his son’s case with Garland, the attorney general he appointed.
–With assistance from Billy House and Justin Sink.
- Alec Hogg: US gets its own ‘Gupta Leaks’ – Biden’s pain has just begun
- Bidens and Beijing – With insights from The Wall Street Journal
- Democracy expert Larry Diamond: Trump’s re-election would be a catastrophe for US and global democracy
The Reference Shelf
- The House Oversight Committee’s “Biden Family Investigation” home page.
- The Justice Department’s Hunter Biden charging documents.
- New York magazine delved into “the sordid saga of Hunter Biden’s laptop.”
- The New Yorker’s 2019 profile of Hunter Biden.
- The 2019 Trump-Zelenskiy call, annotated.
© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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