May 21, 2024

US President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, has been indicted on three criminal charges.

Back in July, a five-year federal probe appeared near its end, with Mr Biden, 53, agreeing to resolve tax and gun offences and avoid prison time.

But the plea agreement unravelled in court and David Weiss, the man overseeing the investigation, was elevated to special counsel, giving him greater prosecutorial authority.

Last week, prosecutors announced they were indicting Mr Biden for lying on the application form he used to purchase a handgun in 2018.

And all the while congressional Republicans, who have forged ahead with inquiries into Mr Biden’s foreign business dealings, have opened an impeachment inquiry into the president.

Here is a guide to the first son’s legal troubles.

The plea deal

In June, prosecutors with the US Department of Justice struck a two-part plea agreement with Mr Biden’s legal team.

Under the deal, he was to be charged with two misdemeanour counts for failing to pay his taxes on time in 2017 and 2018.

He was also to admit that he had illegally possessed a gun while being a drug user, and agree to drug treatment and monitoring in lieu of a more serious felony charge and possible jail time.

Republicans argued the president’s son was receiving “a sweetheart deal”.

That claim was bolstered by two tax investigators, who testified to Congress that they believed political considerations had hampered the probe and benefited Mr Biden.

At a hearing in Delaware last month, the deal crafted over several months dissolved under scrutiny from the federal judge overseeing the case.

Both sides negotiated unsuccessfully in full view of reporters, before District Judge Maryellen Noreika refused to “rubber stamp” what she called an “atypical” agreement.

The indictment

David Weiss, the US attorney in Delaware, began investigating allegations of Mr Biden’s criminal conduct in 2019.

On 11 August, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Mr Weiss as special counsel, providing him with extra resources and the power to bring charges in other jurisdictions.

Republicans had previously advocated for the appointment of a special counsel, but criticised the choice of Mr Weiss even though he is a Trump appointee.

They pointed to Mr Weiss’ role in brokering the controversial plea deal, as well as the justice department’s delay in appointing a special counsel, to argue that he would “protect” Mr Biden from further prosecution and slow down their own inquiries.

On 14 September, prosecutors said they had indicted Mr Biden on three gun charges related to his purchase of a Colt Cobra revolver handgun in October 2018, two months after a stint in rehab.

Two of the counts allege Mr Biden lied that he was not a drug user on the federal application form he filled out to buy the weapon. They each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

A third count relating to firearm possession while using narcotics carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.

In an earlier court filing, prosecutors also called separately for the tax-related offences against Mr Biden to be dismissed so that future charges can be brought in California or Washington DC.

Those two jurisdictions may have more scope to charge Hunter Biden’s tax violations, although Republicans contend that is a ploy to get the case before friendlier judges.

The new legal strategy

The continuing legal battle is proceeding without Christopher Clark, who has been Mr Biden’s lead attorney for the past five years.

Mr Clark withdrew from the case on 15 August, writing in a court notice that he could be called as a witness in any potential trial to discuss the plea agreement.

Taking the baton from him is Abbe Lowell, a legal fixture of scandal-ridden Washington who has previously represented Bill Clinton, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

Since Mr Lowell began providing counsel to Mr Biden last December, his legal team have taken on a more aggressive posture.

On Monday, Mr Biden sued the Internal Revenue Service over the congressional testimony of its two tax investigators earlier in the year.

The suit, which seeks $1,000 (£807) per unauthorised tax disclosure it alleges, argues the two agents “targeted and sought to embarrass” Mr Biden by publicly sharing his confidential tax information.

The impeachment inquiry

Questions have been raised over the past two decades about Hunter Biden’s business practices, and whether he had leveraged his name and access to his powerful father to make money and land clients.

Particular attention has been paid to what he was doing in China and Ukraine during Joe Biden’s vice-presidency.

In 2013, the younger Mr Biden became a founding board member at BHR, a private equity firm backed by some of China’s local governments and largest state banks.

He went on to a hold a 10% equity stake, although attorney George Mesires has claimed that Mr Biden did not acquire the stake until after his father’s tenure as vice-president ended in 2017. He remained with the board until 2020.

In 2014, Mr Biden joined the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company where he made about $1.2m per year.

His father was at the time engaged in anti-corruption work as the Obama administration’s point man on US-Ukraine relations.

The elder Mr Biden argued the country’s top prosecutor Viktor Shokin was blocking corruption investigations and he rallied the international community to push for his ouster.

But Republicans allege Mr Shokin, who was removed by parliament in 2016, was fired because he was investigating Burisma.

The Bidens at his inauguration in January 2021

President Biden says he has never discussed his son’s business interests with him

The president has long maintained he never discussed business with his son or his associates.

But Devon Archer, a long-time business partner, testified behind closed-doors to lawmakers that Mr Biden frequently put his father on speakerphone during calls with various contacts.

Congressman James Comer, who is leading the probe in the House of Representatives oversight committee, has alleged that the then-VP was “the brand” sold to enrich the Biden family.

On 9 August, Mr Comer cited bank records obtained by his panel that he said showed the Biden family and its associates had earned $20m from oligarchs in Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine during his vice-presidency.

On 13 September, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced the launch of a formal impeachment inquiry into the president, alleging a “culture of corruption” within his family.

Mr McCarthy said the inquiry would focus on “allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption” by Joe Biden, though several Republicans questioned whether there was enough evidence to seek the president’s removal.

The White House has said it is an “inquiry based on lies”.

The child in Arkansas

Separately, Hunter Biden’s alcohol and drug abuse, and relationship strife have provided ample fodder for the tabloids – and at least some measure of pain to his family.

In 2019, a DNA test confirmed that, despite his repeated denials, Hunter Biden had fathered a child with an Arkansas woman who filed a paternity suit against him.

Lunden Alexis Roberts has since settled that suit, with her child – Navy, now 4 – receiving an undisclosed amount in monetary child support as well as some of Mr Biden’s paintings.

Ms Roberts also agreed to drop a previous effort to have her daughter’s last name changed to Biden.

Amid pressure from US media, President Biden was forced to acknowledge his seventh grandchild for the first time late last month.

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