President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden was criminally charged on Thursday, after efforts to reach a plea deal failed, leading to the first ever prosecution of a sitting president’s child.
The indictment filed on Thursday U.S. District Court in Delaware with three criminal counts related to gun possession.
The indictment brought by recently elevated U.S. Special Counsel David Weiss comes after a deal for Hunter Biden, 53, to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and enroll in a program to avoid prosecution on a gun-related charge collapsed in a stunning turn in a July hearing.
The charges ensure that courtroom drama will play an outsized role in the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign as Biden, 80, seeks reelection in a likely rematch with his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, 77, who faces four upcoming criminal trials.
Weiss was elevated to special counsel status in August after investigating Hunter Biden’s business dealings for years as the U.S. attorney in the Democratic president’s home state of Delaware. Weiss was originally nominated by Trump.
The younger Biden for years has been the focus of unrelenting attacks by Trump and his Republican allies who have accused him of wrongdoing relating to Ukraine and China, among other matters.
Committees in the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives for months have been probing Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings. Some party hardliners are pushing for an impeachment inquiry into President Biden.
While Republican lawmakers have collected testimony that Joe Biden at times joined calls with his son’s business associates, they have yet to produce evidence that the president personally benefited.
Hunter Biden disclosed in December 2020 that Weiss’s office was investigating his tax affairs. He has denied wrongdoing.
While most U.S. attorneys appointed by Trump were asked to step down when Biden took office in January 2021, as is routine, the Justice Department asked Weiss to stay on.
The Justice Department’s inquiry has itself come under scrutiny from Republicans after whistle-blowers from the Internal Revenue Service assigned to the investigation told Congress that the department slow-walked the probe and limited Weiss’s ability to bring charges. Weiss has denied the claims.
Hunter Biden never held a position in the White House or on his father’s campaign. The president has said he has not discussed foreign business dealings with his son and has said his Justice Department would have independence in any investigation of a member of his family.
Trump and other Republicans have alleged what they called conflicts of interest from Hunter Biden’s position on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma at the time his father was vice president to Democratic President Barack Obama. Trump in a July 2020 phone call with Ukraine’s president asked him to have his government open an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden in the lead-up to that year’s U.S. presidential election.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives later voted to impeach Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from these efforts, though the Senate ultimately voted to keep Trump in office.
Trump during the 2020 election campaign called for China to investigate Hunter Biden’s involvement in a fund that sought to raise Chinese capital. Trump accused Hunter Biden of using his position of influence to secure China’s financial backing for his investments, though never provided evidence to support this claim. Hunter Biden has denied wrongdoing.
Hunter Biden described in a 2021 memoir dealing with substance abuse issues in his life including crack cocaine use and alcoholism. He was discharged from the U.S. Navy reserve in 2014 after, sources said at the time, testing positive for cocaine.
The Weiss inquiry initially examined potential violations of tax and money laundering laws in foreign business dealings, principally in China, sources told Reuters. The investigation headed by Weiss began as early as 2018, according to U.S. media reports.
Hunter Biden initially agreed to plead guilty to charges that he failed to pay more than $100,000 in income taxes in 2017 and 2018. The deal collapsed after a federal judge questioned whether the agreement would bar prosecutors from bringing charges on other issues.
The president has two surviving children, Hunter Biden and daughter Ashley Biden. His son Beau Biden died in 2015 of cancer and his daughter Naomi Biden died as an infant after a car accident that also killed Joe Biden’s first wife.
Hunter Biden appears to be the first child of a sitting president to be indicted, according to Aaron Crawford, who specializes in presidential history at the University of Tennessee.
Crawford said the family of several presidents were ensnared in scandals, including George H.W. Bush’s son Neil, who directed a failed savings and loan, and Richard Nixon’s brother Don, who was rescued from business failures by wealthy businessman Howard Hughes.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Jarrett Renshaw and Andrew Goudsward in Washington and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; editing by Scott Malone)