Today Hunter Biden Pleads ‘Not Guilty’ After Plea Agreement Hits Roadblock in court hearing on Wednesday.
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Hunter Biden’s Tax Case Takes Unexpected Turn as He Pleads Not Guilty
Hunter Biden‘s plea deal hit a halt during an unexpectedly contentious federal court hearing on Wednesday as prosecutors, and Biden’s attorneys initially disagreed about the scope of the agreement. Then the judge refused to approve the deal, which would have required Hunter Biden to plead guilty to federal tax charges. Tensions escalated after a prosecutor said a federal investigation into the president’s son was ongoing.
After pressing both sides for details about the plea agreement, US District Judge Maryellen Norica adjourned the hearing so the two sides could refine and clarify the agreement – under which Biden plans to plead guilty to two misdemeanor offenses and possibly avoid sentencing to Felony gun charge.
At the end of a stormy three-hour hearing, Biden pleaded not guilty to all three charges, and the judge adjourned further proceedings, possibly for a month or more.
The proposed deal between Biden and the Justice Department — the outlines of which were announced last month — is not panned. But prosecutors and Biden’s lawyers must now satisfy Norica’s concerns about the deal’s technical aspects and his role in implementing a so-called pretrial diversion agreement. Biden would avoid going to jail on a gun charge if convicted of drug abuse. Stay free from drugs. Two years and doesn’t break any other laws.
If Noreika approves the deal, Biden can withdraw the not-guilty pleas he entered on Wednesday. He would then replace them with guilty pleas on the tax charges, and DOJ would defer prosecution on the gun charge.
The judge clarified that she viewed the proposed deal as outside the norm.
“These agreements are not straightforward, and they contain some atypical provisions,” Noreika said as the hearing reached a close.
Biden faces criminal charges for willfully failing to file or pay his income taxes in 2017 and 2018 and for owning a handgun in 2018 when he admitted he regularly used cocaine. Federal law prohibits drug users from possessing firearms.
Biden’s lawyers and federal prosecutors reached the plea agreement after a nearly five-year investigation by US Attorney David Weiss, appointed by former President Donald Trump. Trump, who has repeatedly accused Hunter Biden of corruption, called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to release details on Hunter Biden‘s business dealings in Ukraine.
But early in the hearing, it became clear that Norica, also a Trump appointee, found the deal concerning, describing some of the provisions as “not standard” and “different from what I normally see.” It consisted of a plea agreement to resolve the tax charge and a diversionary agreement to resolve the gun charge. However, in the diversion agreement, the Justice Department also committed not to press charges against Biden for actions related to the tax plea deal.
The judge noted that he had found no other example of a diversionary agreement so broad that it would protect a defendant from charges in a separate case. Leo Wise, the prosecutor who worked for Weiss, told the judge that he was unaware of any such precedent.
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Beyond the tax issues and the gun allegation, Biden, 53, has faced multiple allegations from Republicans that he traded under his father’s influence and acted as an unregistered foreign agent. Prosecutors have looked into some of his business dealings. Wise told the court that the Hunter Biden investigation is still ongoing, and he said that the diversionary agreement would not prevent the Justice Department from making a hypothetical allegation of Biden illegally lobbying for a foreign government.
About an hour into the hearing, the judge pressed lawyers on whether Biden would accept a tax-related plea agreement if the gun-related pretrial diversion agreement failed. The prosecutor, Wise, said the plea bargain was the only one. But Biden’s lawyer Christopher Clark said Biden would only accept the two agreements as a package.
When that conflict arose, the judge left the room so that both legal teams could deliberate. The attorneys huddled in the space between their tables, and a powerful microphone beamed portions of their conversation throughout the courtroom. It was clear that the conversation was tense. A voice said, “It was all through conversation.” “We misunderstood what we were doing.” “We’re going to break it.”
But the two sides eventually resolved the disagreement, and the hearing moved forward.
Later, the judge asked Wise point-blank if there was still an investigation into the first son.
“There is,” Wise replied.
The judge then asked prosecutors why the pretrial diversion agreement contained a waiver provision — which prosecutors said did not require his sign-off — rather than a plea deal. She said that if the immunity provision had been in the plea deal, court rules would have given him a greater role in accepting, rejecting, or postponing that plea.
She also pressed prosecutors on the scope of his agreement to not bring further criminal charges against Hunter Biden. Wise said the agreement means they won’t charge Biden with more serious crimes related to his 2017 and 2018 taxes, and they won’t charge him with the gun-related crimes mentioned in the diversion agreement.
The judge then asked Wise whether the settlement would prevent charges against Biden for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which bars Americans from secretly lobbying for foreign governments. Wise said the agreement did not prevent such allegations.
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But Clark again said he disagreed with Wise’s interpretation of the deal’s scope.
“No deal then,” replied Wise.
“As far as I’m concerned, the plea agreement is null and void,” Clark said.
Additionally, the plea deal hearing appeared to stretch over 90 minutes. But then Clark asked for a brief recess so two legal teams could try to save it.
The lawyers got together, and shortly after noon, the deal was on track. Clark said Biden’s team has now agreed with prosecutors that the settlement covers gun, tax issues, and allegations of drug use.
But later in the hearing, the deal hit another snag when the judge clarified that she had concerns about her role in the unusual agreement.
She expressed discomfort with both the prosecution and defense asserting she had no role in deciding whether to accept the diversion agreement.
Noreika suggested she was being asked to “rubber stamp” the deal.
“We’re not asking the court to rubber stamp anything,” Wise insisted.
“Well, it certainly sounds like it,” Noreika replied.
At the same time, he added, the diversion agreement also requires court involvement if Biden has violated its terms. The conditions include a two-year ban on consuming alcohol and a requirement that he notify the authorities before international travel. If lawyers believe Biden violated the agreement, the deal would require them to go to court and ask a judge to make an official finding that he did. Only after that step could the prosecution file charges against him.
The judge worried this could make her a “gatekeeper” to criminal charges — possibly violating the Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine.
“You plop me right in there,” she added.
She asked the lawyers to brief her on why the plea deal should be classified under “subsection B” — a provision of the Federal Rules of Court that covers general plea deals. And she asked them to consider possibly working out a pretrial diversion agreement that would not require court involvement before Biden could be charged with a crime for any possible deal violation.
“I cannot accept the plea agreement today,” she concluded.
Given that the plea agreement was temporarily off the table, she asked the president’s son how he would plead.
“Not guilty, your honor,” said Biden, who is an attorney.
No members of Biden’s family were in the courtroom, but he was accompanied by a group of lawyers, including prominent white-collar defender Abbey Lowell. Hollywood attorney Kevin Morris, who has reportedly provided significant financial support to Hunter, sat in the audience with members of his legal team.
Since the plea agreement was announced last month, Republicans have alleged that the president’s son got a sweetheart deal. And two IRS whistleblowers who worked on the Biden investigation have testified to Congress that they faced obstruction and interference.
Weiss, the US attorney appointed by Trump to oversee the investigation, has defended the investigation’s independence. President Joe Biden‘s Justice Department allowed Weiss to remain the top federal prosecutor in Delaware to continue overseeing the investigation. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Weiss had “absolute authority” to pursue charges against the president’s son without political interference. Weiss was present for the hearing.
The day before the hearing, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee filed a motion aimed at drawing the judge’s attention to the Biden investigation. But when a clerk removed the filing from the public docket, a brief furor erupted, including an allegation of impersonation and threats of sanctions. Lawyers representing Ways and Means were in the audience in the courtroom for the hearing.
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