Biden expresses love for son Hunter who faces difficult week in court

A previous plea deal, brokered last summer and believed to be settled, imploded in dramatic circumstances

Hunter Biden, son of US president Joe Biden, with his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, arrives for his trial. Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Joe Biden has expressed his pride and love for his son, Hunter, “as a dad” on the day that the 54-year old’s criminal trial began in Delaware.

Jill Biden, the first lady of the US, attended court in Wilmington on Monday morning for the opening day of the prosecution of Hunter Biden, the first son, on federal charges relating to the illegal possession of a firearm, theoretically punishable by a prison term extending to 10 years. He is the first child of a sitting president to face a criminal trial.

“I am the president but I am also a dad,” read the statement issued on Monday. “Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today. Hunter’s resilience in the face of adversity and the strength he has brought to his recovery are inspiring to us. As the president, I don’t and won’t comment on pending federal cases but as dad, I have boundless love for my son, confidence in him and respect for his strength.”

President Biden is scheduled to travel to France for a state visit on Wednesday, in the midst of what will be a difficult week for his son. Hunter Biden does not deny having bought the handgun in October 2018, but the prosecution will attempt to show that he knowingly lied on the gun-purchase forms, which require the buyer to attest that they are not addicted to drugs.

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He was in possession of the gun for a mere 11 days and never used it. Biden has pleaded not guilty to the charges and his legal defence will attempt to argue on medical and even philosophical grounds: that the defendant did not believe himself to be addicted when he signed the purchase documents.

However, it is expected that the prosecution will use a passage from Biden’s memoir, Beautiful Things, to demonstrate to an awareness of his struggles at the time when he bought the Colt Cobra handgun: “I had returned that fall in 2018 after my most recent relapse in California, with the hope of getting clean through a new therapy and reconciling with Hallie. Neither happened.”

Furthermore, they will show text messages in which Biden wrote that he was “waiting for a dealer” and “sleeping on a car smoking crack in mid-October 2018”.

The possibility, albeit remote, of an 11th hour plea deal between the parties, hangs over this case. A previous plea deal, brokered last summer and believed to be settled, imploded in dramatic circumstances.

Biden had agreed with the justice department that he would plead guilty to misdemeanour tax charges under terms which would see him avoid prosecution on the gun charge. However, the US district judge in Delaware, Maryellen Noreika, declined to sign off on the deal and when the legal teams failed to reach an agreement about the extent of the immunity from future prosecutions, the negotiations broke down.

Merrick Garland, the attorney general selected by president Biden, appointed David Weiss as special counsel in August of last year at Weiss’s request, announcing that after considering “the extraordinary circumstances relating to this matter” it was in “the public interest to appoint him”.

The trial, coming immediately after the historic Manhattan court verdict against former president Donald Trump, is just as contentious and appears to divide opinion along political lines. Many former law enforcement officials have claimed that bringing forward the charges against Biden are out of the ordinary and the legal basis of the entire prosecution is under constitutional challenge.

The trial is expected to last no longer than a week and will involve deeply personal and painful testimony from the extended Biden family. Among those expected to take the stand are three women with whom the defendant has had a romantic involvement.

The key witness is likely to be Hallie Biden, widow of president Biden’s other son, Beau, who died of cancer in 2015. The prosecution has indicated that Hallie Biden will confirm Hunter Biden stayed at her home in the autumn of 2018 when both she and her children repeatedly found him with drug-related paraphernalia. Kathleen Buhle, who was married to Biden from 1993 until 2017, is expected to take the stand to answer questions on her former husband’s addictions, and another woman is expected to say that she repeatedly saw the defendant using crack cocaine

On Sunday night, there was a further setback for the embattled first son when Judge Noreika denied permission to enter into evidence a version of the firearms application his defence team had hoped to demonstrate had been changed or altered. The Biden team is expected to appeal this case if their client is found guilty. Hunter Biden faces a separate trial on charges of failing to pay $1.4 million (€1.28 million) in taxes, due to begin in California in September.

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times