World

Hunter Biden pleads not guilty to three federal gun charges

Joe and Jill Biden (Jacob King/PA)
Joe and Jill Biden (Jacob King/PA) Joe and Jill Biden (Jacob King/PA)

Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty to three federal firearms charges filed after a plea deal collapsed, putting the case on track for a possible trial as the 2024 presidential election looms.

President Joe Biden’s son is facing charges that he lied about his drug use in October 2018 on a form to buy a gun that he kept for about 11 days.

When asked by Magistrate Judge Christopher Burke if he understood the charges against him, Biden said: “Yes, your honour.”

His lawyer Abbe Lowell said in court that he plans to file a motion to dismiss the charges, challenging their constitutionality.

“Mr Biden pleads not guilty to the three counts that have been brought against him,” Mr Lowell said to the judge.

Hunter Biden
Hunter Biden Hunter Biden arrives at court (Matt Rourke/AP)

He has acknowledged struggling with an addiction to crack cocaine during that period, but his lawyers have said he did not break the law.

Gun charges like these are rare, and an appeals court has found the ban on drug users having guns violates the Second Amendment under new Supreme Court standards.

On Tuesday, the judge noted Biden had been repeatedly tested for drugs and is negative.

His lawyers are suggesting that prosecutors bowed to pressure from Republicans who have insisted the Democratic president’s son got a sweetheart deal, and that the charges were the result of political pressure.

He was indicted after the collapse this summer of his plea agreement with federal prosecutors on tax and gun charges, after the judge who was supposed to sign off on the agreement instead raised a series of questions about the deal.

Federal prosecutors had been looking into his business dealings for five years, and the agreement would have dispensed with criminal proceedings before his father was actively campaigning for president in 2024.

Now a special counsel has been appointed to handle the case, and there appears no easy end in sight. No new tax charges have yet been filed but the special counsel has indicated they could come in Washington or in California, where Hunter Biden lives.

Joe and Jill Biden
Joe and Jill Biden Joe and Jill Biden (Jacob King/PA)

In Congress, House Republicans are seeking to link his dealings to his father through an impeachment inquiry. Republicans have been investigating Hunter Biden for years, since his father was Barack Obama’s vice president.

While questions have arisen about the ethics surrounding the Biden family’s international business, no evidence has emerged to prove that Joe Biden, in his current or previous office, abused his role or accepted bribes.

The legal wrangling could spill into 2024, with Republicans eager to divert attention from the multiple criminal indictments faced by Republican primary front-runner Donald Trump, whose trials could be unfolding at the same time.

After remaining silent for years, Hunter Biden has taken a more aggressive legal stance in recent weeks, filing a series of lawsuits over the dissemination of personal information purportedly from his laptop and his tax data by Internal Revenue Service whistleblowers who gave evidence to Congress as part of the Republican investigation.

The president’s son, who has not held public office, is charged with two counts of making false statements and one of illegal gun possession, punishable by up to 25 years in prison on conviction.

Under the failed deal, he would have pleaded guilty and served probation rather than jail time on misdemeanour tax charges and avoided prosecution on a gun count if he stayed out of trouble for two years.

Defence lawyers have argued that he remains protected by an immunity provision that was part of the scuttled plea agreement, but prosecutors overseen by special counsel David Weiss disagree. Mr Weiss also serves as US attorney for Delaware and was originally appointed by Mr Trump.

Hunter Biden had asked for Tuesday’s hearing to be conducted remotely over video feed, but Judge Burke sided with prosecutors, saying there would be no “special treatment”.