WASHINGTON (AP) - President Joe Biden’s son pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal tax charges filed after the collapse of a plea deal that could have spared him the spectacle of a criminal trial during the 2024 campaign.
Hunter Biden has been accused of nine felony and misdemeanor tax offenses. The charges stem from what federal prosecutors say was a four-year scheme to skip out on paying the $1.4 million he owed to the IRS and instead use the money to fund an extravagant lifestyle that by his own admission included drugs and alcohol.
"We’re here today because you’ve been accused by the United States of a criminal offense," Judge Mark Scarsi said to Biden, who entered the not guilty plea himself.
The judge set a tentative trial date of June 20 during the half-hour-long hearing.
Meanwhile, Hunter Biden has also been charged in Delaware with lying in October 2018 on a federal form for gun purchasers when he swore he wasn’t using or addicted to illegal drugs. He was addicted to crack cocaine at the time. He’s also accused of possessing the gun illegally and has pleaded not guilty in that case.
The accusations all come from a yearslong federal investigation into Hunter Biden’s tax and business dealings that had been expected to wind down over the summer with a plea deal in which he would have gotten two years’ probation after pleading guilty to misdemeanor tax charges. He also would have avoided prosecution on the gun charge if he stayed out of trouble.
The deal unraveled when a federal judge who had been expected to approve the deal instead began to question it. Now, the tax and gun cases are moving ahead as part of an unprecedented confluence of political and legal drama: As the 2024 election draws closer, the Justice Department is actively prosecuting both the president’s son and Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner.
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Hunter Biden. (Photo by Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images for World Food Program USA)
Hunter Biden’s original proposed plea deal with prosecutors had been pilloried as a "sweetheart deal" by Republicans, including Trump. The former president is facing his own criminal problems — 91 charges across four separate cases, including that he plotted to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to Biden, a Democrat. He too appeared in court Thursday, in New York for closing arguments in his civil fraud trial.
Hunter Biden’s attorney Abbe Lowell referenced the failed deal to the judge on Thursday, suggesting there had been Congressional interference. Lowell had previously accused special counsel David Weiss of "bowing to Republican pressure."
"We had a resolution of this case in the summer of 2023, and then things happened," Lowell told the judge.
Hunter Biden (Photographer: Tierney L. Cross/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Weiss told the judge there was no need for additional hearings on the failed deal.
"Pleas fall apart all the time," Weiss said.
Hunter Biden’s criminal proceedings are also happening in parallel to so far unsuccessful efforts by congressional Republicans to link his business dealings to his father. Republicans are pursuing an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, claiming he was engaged in an influence-peddling scheme with his son. Hunter Biden defied a congressional subpoena to appear for closed-door testimony, insisting he wanted to testify in public. He made a surprise appearance at a congressional hearing Wednesday as House Republicans took steps to file contempt of Congress charges.
No evidence has emerged so far to prove that Joe Biden, in his current or previous office, abused his role or accepted bribes, though questions have arisen about the ethics surrounding the Biden family’s international business dealings.
In an interview that aired Thursday on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," first lady Jill Biden said she thought the GOP’s treatment of her son was "cruel."
"And I’m really proud of how Hunter has rebuilt his life after addiction. You know, I love my son," she said. "And it’s had — it’s hurt my grandchildren. And that’s what I’m so concerned about, that it’s affecting their lives as well."
If convicted of the tax charges, Hunter Biden, 53, could receive a maximum of 17 years in prison. Following the collapse of the plea deal, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to handle the matter. A special counsel is tapped to handle cases in which the Justice Department perceives itself as having a conflict or where it’s deemed to be in the public interest to have someone outside the government step in.