Court torpedoes Hunter Biden’s criminal plea deal
Hunter Biden’s bid to resolve the criminal case against him is in tatters after a US judge raised concern over the plea agreement that he struck with federal prosecutors and threatened to sanction his legal team for trying to deceive the court into blocking a congressman’s challenge to the deal.
US District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika pushed back on the settlement with prosecutors during a hearing on Wednesday in Wilmington, Delaware, where President Joe Biden’s son was expected to enter his guilty plea under a deal that would spare him jail time on two tax charges. When pressed by the judge on whether the agreement would give Hunter Biden legal immunity for other possible crimes, US Attorney David Weiss said an investigation of his business dealings was still ongoing and could lead to separate charges.
Leo Wise, a lawyer representing Biden, responded by saying that the plea bargain was “null and void.” When news of the plea agreement broke last month, Biden’s lawyers said the deal would resolve the US Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into their client’s conduct.
The charges stem from Biden’s failure to pay taxes on more than $1.5 million in income in 2017 and 2018. He was indicted in a separate case over an illegal gun purchase, a felony that carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. He entered into a diversion agreement last month, under which the gun case would be expunged from his record if he adheres to the requirements of the program.
Noreika reportedly raised concern that the diversion deal contained language that could prevent Biden from being prosecuted for tax crimes in the future. According to the Associated Press, she told prosecutors and Biden’s lawyers, “I think having you guys talk more makes sense.” Reuters reported that the two legal teams then agreed to a more limited plea deal that would include conduct related to tax offenses, drug use and gun possession from 2014 to 2019.
Biden entered a plea of not guilty to buy time for his lawyers and prosecutors to prepare legal briefs explaining the structure of their revised agreement to the judge.
The legal drama came one day after the judge threatened to sanction Los Angeles-based Latham & Watkins, the law firm representing Biden, for allegedly lying to the court concerning a congressman’s legal challenge to the plea agreement. Noreika said a staffer for the firm pretended to be calling the court clerk’s office on behalf of the congressman, US House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith (R-Missouri), to get his filing removed from the case docket.
Latham & Watkins denied the allegation on Tuesday night, saying in a court filing that the staffer never misrepresented her identity and that the confusion stemmed from “an unfortunate and unintentional miscommunication.” Smith’s filing urged the judge to consider recent whistleblower testimony to Congress about the alleged corruption of the Biden tax investigation before approving the plea agreement.
Republican lawmakers have accused the Biden administration of giving the president’s son a sweetheart deal and failing to properly investigate the criminal allegations against the Biden family, including solicitation of foreign bribes in exchange for political favors.