Hunter Biden indicted on gun charges after plea deal falls apart

Federal prosecutors on Thursday indicted Hunter Biden on gun charges after a plea deal with the president’s son fell apart in July. His lawyer said special counsel David Weiss was “bending to political pressure” by filing the indictment.

A court filing in the US district court in Delaware alleged Biden, 53, illegally obtained and possessed a Colt revolver in October 2018 after falsely declaring that he was not a user of, or addicted to, narcotic drugs.

Related: Hunter Biden: the moments that pushed president’s son into spotlight

The surprise indictment filed on Thursday was brought by Weiss, a Donald Trump appointee as US attorney for Delaware, who was named by the attorney general, Merrick Garland, as a special counsel last month after the collapse of the plea deal that included two misdemeanor tax charges.

This is the first time the son of a sitting US president has been indicted on federal criminal charges. He faces up to 10 years in prison on each of two counts of making false statements to a Delaware gun dealer who sold him the gun, and five for possessing it as someone with drug addiction.

It also has significant political implications following the announcement on Tuesday by House speaker Kevin McCarthy that Republicans were to pursue an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden for business dealings involving his son.

Three House committees will be seeking bank papers and other documents attempting to prove thus far unsubstantiated claims the president illegally profited from the business relationship with his son.

Abbe Lowell, Hunter Biden’s lawyer, condemned the indictment as politically motivated. “As expected, prosecutors filed charges today that they deemed were not warranted just six weeks ago following a five-year investigation into this case,” he said in a statement.

“The evidence in this matter has not changed in the last six weeks, but the law has, and so has Maga [Make America great again] Republicans’ improper and partisan interference in this process.

“Hunter Biden possessing an unloaded gun for 11 days was not a threat to public safety, but a prosecutor, with all the power imaginable, bending to political pressure, presents a grave threat to our system of justice.”

Lowell was referring to the striking down by a federal appeals court in New Orleans last month of a law denying weapons to sober citizens based on past drug usage. The decision affects only Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, but Biden’s lawyers could choose to test it in Delaware.

James Comer, the Republican chair of the House oversight committee, reportedly called the development “a small start”, according to CNN. Previously, the Kentucky congressman said the failed plea agreement, which would have allowed Biden to avoid prison time, was “a sweetheart deal that belongs in the trash”.

Democrats, meanwhile, insist the impeachment inquiry is a distraction by McCarthy to appease hardliners in his party amid a fight over government funding. “The best I can tell, they want to impeach me because they want to shut down the government,” Joe Biden said on Wednesday.

Biden’s supporters have also criticized what they see as a heavy-handed political prosecution of a person with no previous criminal record.

Biden’s lawyers said last month they expected that felony gun charges would be dropped in exchange for him abiding by the terms of a diversion agreement, which they considered separate to the tax issues and therefore still valid.

The White House, in keeping with its longtime stance, referred reporters’ questions to the Department of Justice, and Hunter Biden’s private lawyers.

Weiss led a five-year investigation into Biden before being named special counsel, and presented a plea deal to end the case to the US district judge Maryellen Noreika, another Trump appointee, in July. It included two years of probation in exchange for Biden pleading guilty to tax evasion, and pre-trial diversion for the weapons charges.

But Noreika said at a 27 July plea hearing she was concerned about her role in enforcing the terms of the agreement. Biden changed his plea to not guilty and Noreika gave the parties 30 days to renegotiate.

It was not immediately clear on Thursday what would happen to the tax evasion charges against him. Weiss reported to the court that with no plea agreement in place, any trial might have to be switched to Washington DC or California, where Biden lives, and where the tax offenses allegedly took place.

Weiss also hinted that additional charges could yet be leveled.

According to court papers, Hunter Biden admitted to being addicted to alcohol and drugs, but got sober in May of 2019 and paid off about $2m in back taxes, with the help of an unspecified third party, over the next five months.

“I’m 100% certain that at the end of the investigation I will be cleared of any wrongdoing,” he told CBS News in a May 2021 interview.

Court filings showed that a summons has been issued to Biden on the new gun charges, but no date has yet been set for a hearing.

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