WILMINGTON, Del. — (AP) — President Joe Biden’s son Hunter pleaded not guilty Wednesday to two tax crimes after a deal with federal prosecutors unraveled during a court hearing following the judge’s concerns over the agreement.
Hunter Biden was charged last month with two misdemeanor tax crimes of failure to pay more than $100,000 in taxes from over $1.5 million in income in both 2017 and 2018, and he was expected to plead guilty after he made an agreement with prosecutors, who were planning to recommend two years of probation. That deal is now on hold.
But during the hearing Wednesday, there was a dispute in court over whether the initial agreement gave him protection against any future charges. U.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, raised concerns about the language of the deal.
Biden had also been charged with possession of a firearm by a person who is a known drug user, a felony. He had a Colt Cobra .38 Special for 11 days in October 2018. He had agreed to enter into a diversion agreement, which means that he would not technically plead guilty to the crime. As long as he adhered to the terms of his agreement, the case would be wiped from his record. If not, the deal would be withdrawn. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
The overlapping agreements created confusion for the judge, who said the lawyers needed to untangle the issues before moving forward.
“It seems to me like you are saying ‘just rubber stamp the agreement, Your Honor.' … This seems to me to be form over substance," she said. She gave defense lawyers and prosecutors 30 days to explain why she should accept the deal.
The collapsed proceedings were a surprising development because the plea had been carefully negotiated over weeks and included a lengthy back-and-forth between Justice Department prosecutors and Biden's attorneys.
It was meant to clear the air for Hunter Biden and avert a trial that would have generated weeks or months of distracting headlines. But the politics remain as messy as ever, with Republicans insisting he got a sweetheart deal and the Justice Department pressing ahead on investigations into Trump, the GOP's 2024 presidential primary front-runner.
Trump is already facing a state criminal case in New York and a federal indictment in Florida. But last week, a target letter was sent to Trump from special counsel Jack Smith that suggests the former president may soon be indicted on new federal charges, this time involving his struggle to cling to power after his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.
Republicans claim a double standard, in which the Democratic president's son got off easy while the president's rival has been unfairly castigated. Congressional Republicans are pursuing their own investigations into nearly every facet of Hunter Biden's dealings, including foreign payments.
On Tuesday, a dustup arose after Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee filed court documents urging Noreika to consider testimony from IRS whistleblowers who alleged Justice Department interference in the investigation.
Shortly after their motion was filed, a court clerk received a call requesting that "sensitive grand jury, taxpayer and Social Security information" be kept under seal, according to an oral order from the judge. The clerk said the lawyer gave her name and said she worked with an attorney from the Ways and Means Committee but was in fact a lawyer with the defense team.
Noreika demanded the defense team show why she should not consider sanctioning them for “misrepresentations to the court.” Defense attorneys responded that their lawyer had represented herself truthfully from the start and called the matter a misunderstanding.
President Biden, meanwhile, has said very little publicly, except to note, “I’m very proud of my son.”
___ Long reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this report.
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