Hunter Biden pleads not guilty after plea deal derailed

WILMINGTON, Del. — A plea deal struck by Hunter Biden for failing to pay his taxes fell apart on Wednesday after a disagreement arose about a separate gun charge. Biden pleaded not guilty.

As the lawyers continued to go back and forth nearly three hours after the hearing began, it wasn’t clear if a deal could still be reached on Wednesday, as lawyers huddled during an extended break to see if a delay until early September would be needed.

U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika, appointed by Donald Trump, pressed about the terms of the deal that was struck with U.S. Attorney David Weiss of Delaware, another Trump appointee who was kept on by President Joe Biden to oversee the case.

There were questions about whether the gun charge was tied to the plea deal.

Noreika asked if there were more serious charges that could still be brought and the prosecutors and Hunter Biden’s lawyer both said there were not.

Noreika later asked if the investigation was ongoing, to which Weiss responded that it was, but said he could not share any further details.

In outlining the charges, Weiss’s office said in an earlier statement that “Hunter Biden received taxable income in excess of $1,500,000 annually in calendar years 2017 and 2018. Despite owing in excess of $100,000 in federal income taxes each year, he did not pay the income tax due for either year.” 

The original deal included that prosecutors would recommend probation for the tax violations, while a separate felony gun charge would be dropped if Biden met certain conditions laid out in court. The terms of Hunter Biden’s sentencing will be decided at a later date.  

Biden faced a separate gun charge, for illegally owning a Colt Cobra .38 Special handgun. The Justice Department, however, said he had reached a pretrial agreement that most likely means that, under certain conditions, the case may be wiped from his record. 

But during the trial, there was some confusion about the gun charge, prompting the judge to pause the proceedings so a resolution could be reached.

It is the first time the Justice Department, which falls under the executive branch, has brought charges against the child of a sitting president. 

“I know Hunter believes it is important to take responsibility for these mistakes he made during a period of turmoil and addiction in his life,” his lawyer Christopher Clark said last month. “He looks forward to continuing his recovery and moving forward.”

The affair has consumed the U.S. political world, particularly Republicans. They have argued Biden has received preferential treatment because of his father, saying he should have been charged for some of his other business dealings. Trump, members of his family and his political allies have weighed in regularly with numerous allegations about his actions. While the deal brought an end to a sweeping five-year investigation that involved federal prosecutors, FBI agents and IRS officials, it is unlikely to hinder the deluge of political commentary.

Hugh Hewitt, a conservative commentator, argued in The Washington Post on Tuesday that “Hunter Biden’s doozy of a plea deal over tax and gun charges is ripe for rejection” by U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika, as it does not involve jail time. His argument runs parallel with that of many Republicans who criticized the plea deal as a slap on the wrist. 

Republicans have questioned the investigation and threatened to impeach Attorney General Merrick Garland over how the Justice Department has handled the case. Their ire has grown steadily since two IRS whistleblowers involved in the investigation testified before Congress that there was meddling to benefit the president’s son. 

“At every stage, decisions were made that benefited the subject of this investigation,” said Greg Shapley, one of the whistleblowers. 

In response, Weiss offered Monday to testify publicly before Congress in a letter sent to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. He has disputed the claims by Jordan, writing to the chairman in late June that he was granted “ultimate authority” in terms of “where, when and whether to file charges.”

“The Department believes it is strongly in the public interest for the American people and for Congress to hear directly from U.S. Attorney Weiss on these assertions and questions about his authority at a public hearing,” Assistant Attorney General Carlos Felipe Uriarte wrote in the letter, obtained by NBC News, which offered a handful of potential dates.

The FBI also shared a memo with Republican oversight leaders in the House and the Senate that included unverified claims about Biden’s time on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father was vice president. The allegations, which remain uncorroborated, were part of a Justice Department review that Trump’s then-attorney general, William Barr, launched in 2020. The probe was closed later that year. 

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dismissed the allegations, which Republicans have raised regularly during the Biden administration, at a briefing Monday. 

“I’ve been asked this question a million times,” she said. “The answer remains the same: The president was never in business with his son.”