what happened with his plea deal and why?

<span>Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA</span>

Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, arrived in a Delaware courtroom on Wednesday morning expecting to finalize a plea agreement with federal prosecutors over two misdemeanor tax charges.

Hours later, Hunter Biden unexpectedly pleaded not guilty to the charges after the judge overseeing the case expressed skepticism about the specifics of the proposed deal.

The court adjourned on Wednesday afternoon without a clear path forward, and prosecutors plan to continue to hammer out the details of a potential deal in the coming weeks. Here’s where the case stands so far:

What has Hunter Biden been charged with?

The office of the US attorney of Delaware, David Weiss, has been investigating Hunter Biden since 2018 over potential violations of tax and gun laws. Weiss, who was appointed by Donald Trump, announced last month that his office had reached an agreement with Hunter Biden in which the president’s son would plead guilty to two federal misdemeanor tax violations while entering a pre-trial diversion program on a separate felony gun charge.

Related: Hunter Biden pleads not guilty as judge says she needs more time to review deal

Would the deal have allowed Hunter Biden to avoid jail?

Yes, prosecutors were expected to recommend two years of probation for Hunter Biden’s tax violations. The pre-trial diversion program would have ultimately resulted in the gun charge being dropped, assuming Hunter Biden met certain terms laid out by prosecutors. The felony charge is otherwise punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Republicans had attacked the plea agreement as a “sweetheart deal” that reflected a double standard of justice, but legal experts note the charges brought against the president’s son are rarely prosecuted.

What questions did the judge raise on Wednesday?

The US district judge Maryellen Noreika, a Trump appointee, expressed concern about her role in enforcing the terms of the plea agreement struck between prosecutors and Hunter Biden’s lawyers.

“It seems to me like you are saying ‘just rubber stamp the agreement, Your Honor,’” Noreika said. “This seems to me to be form over substance.”

Prosecutors and Hunter Biden’s attorneys also clashed over whether the agreement would protect the president’s son from additional charges in the future. At one point, Weiss said the investigation into Hunter Biden was ongoing, but he would not share details on the inquiry.

What happens next?

Noreika gave prosecutors and Hunter Biden’s defense team 30 days to further hash out the details of the agreement, and the court is expected to reconvene in the coming weeks to re-examine the case. It remains possible that Noreika will accept the plea deal at a future hearing, but she made clear she would not do so without more clarification about the details of the agreement.

Has the White House weighed in on the news?

The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said on Wednesday afternoon that she had not yet spoken to the president about the latest news on his son’s case.

“Hunter Biden is a private citizen, and this was a personal matter for him,” Jean-Pierre said. “As we have said, the president [and] the first lady, they love their son, and they support him as he continues to rebuild his life. This case was handled independently, as all of you know, by the justice department under the leadership of a prosecutor appointed by the former president.”

Jean-Pierre referred additional questions about the case to the Department of Justice and Hunter Biden’s defense team.

How did Republicans react to the development?

Republicans celebrated the unexpected complication in Hunter Biden’s case, and they called on Noreika to throw out the plea deal entirely.

“Today District Judge Noreika did the right thing by refusing to rubber-stamp Hunter Biden’s sweetheart plea deal,” said Congressman James Comer, the Republican chair of the House oversight committee. “But let’s be clear: Hunter’s sweetheart plea deal belongs in the trash.”

Comer pledged that the oversight committee would continue examining Hunter Biden and his business dealings, which have become a central focus of Republicans’ investigative work since they regained control of the House in January.

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