Hunter Biden, the US president’s son, was arraigned in federal court on Tuesday on charges stemming from his purchase of a handgun in 2018 and pleaded not guilty in a brisk proceeding that lacked the drama and tumult of his previous court appearance.
Appearing in Wilmington, Del., before a federal magistrate, Christopher Burke, Mr. Biden, 53, entered not guilty pleas on the three charges brought against him last month by the Justice Department: falsifying a federal firearms application, lying to a federally licensed gun dealer and possessing an illegally obtained gun for 11 days, from Oct. 12 to Oct. 23, 2018.
The charges are related to his statement on a federal form he filled out to purchase a Colt pistol five years ago that he was not a drug user. Mr. Biden has acknowledged long-running addictions to crack cocaine and alcohol.
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 other crimes rarely receive serious prison time.
In late July, Mr. Biden arrived at the same courthouse with high hopes of putting his legal problems behind him after reaching a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that would have ended a five-year investigation into both the weapons charges and separate allegations that he had failed to pay his income taxes on time.
But the plea agreement imploded under questioning from a federal judge about a provision that would have provided him a degree of immunity from further charges. Last month, federal prosecutors brought an indictment on the gun charges. Mr. Biden still faces the possibility of the Justice Department charging him in the tax investigation.
He was released without any cash bond on Tuesday after a 20-minute hearing. Judge Burke said Mr. Biden has continued to pass drug tests administered to him. No trial date was set.
Mr. Biden’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said he intended to file a motion seeking to have the gun charges dismissed on procedural and constitutional grounds.
During the hearing in July on the original agreement, Judge Maryellen Noreika stunned Mr. Biden and federal prosecutors with her scouring skepticism as she accused both parties of asking her to “rubber stamp” a deal she considered legally and constitutionally questionable. The agreement fell apart minutes later, after Mr. Biden’s lawyers and prosecutors could not hastily hash out a compromise that satisfied the judge.
The decision to file criminal charges against President Biden’s troubled son in mid-September, while expected, was nonetheless an extraordinary move by the Justice Department and David C. Weiss, whom Attorney General Merrick B. Garland named as a special counsel in August.
Republicans have sought to make the case that Mr. Biden’s business dealings are linked to his father, and have based their preliminary impeachment inquiry of the president on his son’s activities. The first hearing on the matter, held last week, yielded no new information about the president’s conduct — or any support for Republicans’ accusations that he had been directly involved with his son’s business deals.
The original deal between Hunter Biden and the Justice Department would also have resolved an investigation into his late filing of his tax returns for several years — in exchange for his guilty plea on misdemeanor charges.
Mr. Weiss’s team has also signaled that it continues to investigate other elements of Mr. Biden’s business activities. Those most likely include whether his lucrative consulting work with companies based in Ukraine, China and Romania violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires disclosing lobbying activities for other countries.
Mr. Lowell has argued that the indictment should be thrown out. Mr. Weiss is still legally bound by the previous diversion agreement, Mr. Lowell has said, accusing him of caving to pressure from supporters of Donald J. Trump who called the plea agreement a sweetheart deal.
Mr. Biden’s lawyers have also asserted that the gun charges will ultimately be thrown out because Supreme Court and appeals court decisions have cast doubt on the constitutionality of federal limits on firearms purchases.
Mr. Biden had asked to appear at Tuesday’s hearing by video conference, but federal magistrate judges rejected that request. That forced him to fly from California, where he lives, back to his home state.
Courtesy of New York Times