Hunter Bidens criminal trial begins in aftermath of Trump conviction
Hunter Bidens criminal trial begins in aftermath of Trump conviction

Hunter Biden’s criminal trial begins in aftermath of Trump conviction

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) -The criminal trial of Hunter Biden kicked off on Monday in federal court in Delaware as President Joe Biden’s son faces gun charges in a historic case that begins four days after Donald Trump became the first former U.S. president to be convicted.

Hunter Biden, 54, arrived at the courthouse for the first trial of the child of a sitting president, in which he will face three felony charges stemming from his purchase and possession of a revolver in 2018. He has pleaded not guilty. It is one of two criminal cases he faces, with federal tax charges brought separately in California.

First Lady Jill Biden, Hunter Biden’s wife Melissa Cohen Biden and his half-sister Ashley Biden were in attendance at the trial in Wilmington, before U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika.

“Jill and I love our son and we are so proud of the man he is today,” Joe Biden said in a statement, adding that a lot of families have loved ones who have overcome addiction.

Trump was convicted by a jury in state court in New York on Thursday of 34 felony counts of falsifying documents to cover up hush money paid to a porn star to avoid a sex scandal shortly before the 2016 U.S. election that put him in the White House. Trump is the Republican candidate challenging Joe Biden, a Democrat, in the Nov. 5 U.S. election.

Hunter Biden’s trial gives Republicans a chance to shift attention away from Trump’s legal troubles. Trump is due to be sentenced on July 11. He has pleaded not guilty in three other pending criminal cases.

In the case brought by U.S. Special Counsel David Weiss, a Trump appointee, last September Hunter Biden was charged with lying about his use of illegal drugs when he bought a Colt Cobra .38-caliber revolver and with illegally possessing the weapon for 11 days in October 2018. Weiss, who has investigated Hunter Biden since at least 2019, also brought the tax charges.

If convicted on all charges in the Delaware case, Hunter Biden faces up to 25 years in prison, though defendants generally receive shorter sentences, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Hunter Biden spent the weekend with his father in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, with the pair biking and attending church together on Saturday. The president, who had been expected to depart Rehoboth Beach on Monday, traveled on Sunday evening to his home in Wilmington.

POTENTIAL JURORS

Noreika began screening potential jurors for their ability to commit to serving the length of the trial, which is expected to run through the end of next week.

“Do you think you can put aside your views on gun ownership,” she asked a potential juror, who responded that she could be impartial.

Other potential jurors were asked about addiction, convictions and run-ins with law enforcement.

All 12 jurors must agree he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to convict.

The case is expected to center on Hunter Biden’s years-long crack cocaine use and addiction, which he has discussed publicly and which was a prominent part of his 2021 autobiography, “Beautiful Things.” He told Noreika at a hearing last year that he has been sober since the middle of 2019.

Prosecutors will seek to prove that Hunter Biden knew he was lying when he ticked the box for “no” next to a question on a federal gun purchase form asking if he was an unlawful user of a controlled substance.

Prosecution lawyers revealed in court filings that they may use details gleaned from Hunter Biden’s phone and iCloud account, including photos of him smoking crack and messages with drug dealers. They said they may call as a witness his former wife Kathleen Buhle, who accused Hunter Biden in their 2017 divorce proceedings of squandering money on drugs, alcohol and prostitutes.

Hunter Biden’s lawyers have indicated they may try to show he had completed a drug rehabilitation program before purchasing the gun and may have considered his answer on the gun purchase form to be truthful.

A plea agreement that would have resolved the gun and tax charges without prison time collapsed last year after Noreika questioned the extent of the immunity it extended to Biden. Hunter Biden’s lawyers blamed Republican pressure for the failure of the plea agreement.

Noreika entered multiple orders over the weekend that were requested by prosecutors and that appeared to undercut Biden’s legal strategy.

The judge said Biden’s legal team could not introduce expert testimony that people suffering from substance abuse disorder might not consider themselves an addict.

That testimony could have helped Biden show that he did not know he was lying on the background check form. The government is required to prove that Biden knowingly lied.

Congressional Republicans spent years in vain trying to find evidence of a corrupt link between Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings, including work for Ukrainian energy company Burisma, and his father’s political power.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; additional reporting by Stephanie Kelly in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; editing by Amy Stevens, Will Dunham, Michael Perry, Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)

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