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Politics

Lawyers Begin Opening Statements in Hunter Biden’s Federal Firearms Case

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Lawyers began making opening statements Tuesday in the federal gun case against President Joe Biden’s son Hunter in a trial that is expected to feature testimony from his exes and highly personal details about his struggle with addiction.

Hunter Biden has been charged with three felonies stemming from a 2018 firearm purchase when he was, according to his memoir, in the throes of a crack addiction. He has been accused of lying to a federally licensed gun dealer, making a false claim on the application by saying he was not a drug user and illegally having the gun for 11 days.

Prosecutors told the jury that Hunter Biden was clearly an addict when he bought the gun, and that he told his brother’s widow he was waiting for a drug dealer just days after he lied on the form.

“No one is allowed to lie on a federal form like that, even Hunter Biden,” federal prosecutor Derek Hines said.

The proceedings come after the collapse of a deal with prosecutors that would have avoided the spectacle of a trial so close to the 2024 election. Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty and has argued he’s being unfairly targeted by the Justice Department after Republicans decried the now-defunct plea deal as special treatment for the Democratic president’s son.

First lady Jill Biden and his sister Ashley Biden joined him again in the courtroom as openings began.

The trial is unfolding just days after Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was convicted of 34 felonies in New York City. The two criminal cases are unrelated, but their proximity underscores how the courts have taken center stage during the 2024 campaign.

Jury selection moved at a clip Monday in the president’s home state, where Hunter Biden grew up and where the family is deeply established. Joe Biden spent 36 years as a senator in Delaware, commuting daily to Washington.

People there are familiar with how Biden’s two young sons, Hunter and Beau, were injured in the car accident that killed his wife and baby girl in the early 1970s. And Beau Biden was the former state attorney general before he died at age 46 from cancer.

Some prospective jurors were dismissed because they knew the family personally, others because they held both positive and negative political views about the Bidens and couldn’t be impartial. Still, it took only a day to find the jury of six men and six women, plus four women serving as alternates, who will decide the case.

Much of the questioning focused on drug use, addiction and gun ownership, as attorneys sought to test prospective jurors’ knowledge of the case. They dismissed those with strong thoughts on drug use or who might want to tighten regulations on firearms.

The panel of 12 was chosen out of roughly 65 people. Their names were not made public.

Hunter Biden also faces a trial in California in September on charges of failing to pay $1.4 million in taxes. Both cases were to have been resolved through the deal with prosecutors last July, the culmination of a yearslong investigation into his business dealings.

But Judge Maryellen Noreika, who was nominated to the bench by Trump, questioned some unusual aspects of the deal, which included a proposed guilty plea to misdemeanor offenses to resolve the tax crimes and a diversion agreement on the gun charge, which meant as long as he stayed out of trouble for two years the case would be dismissed.

The lawyers could not come to a resolution on her questions, and the deal fell apart. Attorney General Merrick Garland then appointed the top investigator, a former U.S. attorney for Delaware, David Weiss, as a special counsel in August, and a month later Hunter Biden was indicted.

Opening statements come as Garland faces members of the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee in Washington, which has been investigating the president and his family and whose chairman has been at the forefront of a stalled impeachment inquiry stemming from Hunter Biden’s business dealings.

The Delaware trial isn’t about Hunter Biden’s foreign business affairs, though the proceedings are likely to dredge up dark, embarrassing and painful memories.

The president’s allies are worried about the toll the trial may take on the elder Biden, who’s long been concerned about his only living son and his sobriety and who must now watch as his son’s past mistakes are publicly scrutinized. And the president must do so while he’s campaigning under anemic poll numbers and preparing for an upcoming presidential debate with Trump.

Aboard Air Force One on Monday night, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked if the case might affect the president’s ability to do his job, and she replied, “Absolutely not.”

“He always puts the American people first and is capable of doing his job,” said Jean-Pierre, who declined to say if Biden got updates on the trial throughout the day or spoke to his son after the proceedings concluded.

Biden was scheduled to travel to France on Tuesday evening and will be gone the rest of the week. The first lady is scheduled to join him later this week.

The case against Hunter Biden stems from a period when, by his own public admission, he was addicted to crack. His descent followed the 2015 death of his brother from cancer.

If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison, though first-time offenders do not get anywhere near the maximum, and it’s unclear whether the judge would give him time behind bars.

Trump is set to be sentenced on July 11 by Judge Juan M. Merchan, who raised the specter of jail time during the trial after the former president racked up thousands of dollars in fines for violating a gag order.

___
By CLAUDIA LAUER, MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, COLLEEN LONG and RANDALL CHASE Associated Press

Long reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer in Washington and Fatima Hussein aboard Air Force One contributed to this report.

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