Prosecutors say “the law makes no distinction for Hunter Biden” in gun trial

The jury has been seated in Hunter Biden’s federal gun trial, and in opening statements Tuesday, the prosecution began, “No one is above the law,” and “the law makes no distinction for Hunter Biden,” the son of the president of the United States. 

Prosecutor Derek Hines acknowledged Hunter Biden’s addiction, saying, “addiction may not be a choice, but lying to buy a gun is.” Defense attorney Abbe Lowell, meanwhile, argued that drug addicts often have a “deep state of denial about their drug use.” 

After roughly 90 minutes of opening statements, prosecutors called their first witness,  FBI special agent Erika Jensen, and played several audio excerpts from Hunter Biden’s memoir, “Beautiful Things,” that detail the times he said he used drugs. 

Hunter Biden’s sister, Ashley Biden, and first lady Jill Biden are in the courtroom on Tuesday, as they were on Monday. Hunter Biden’s wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, and Hollywood lawyer Kevin Morris are also in court. While the excerpts were being played, some of the jurors grimaced while Ashley Biden and Jill Biden reacted emotionally, with Melissa Cohen Biden offering support to the first lady and the first lady putting her arm around Ashley Biden’s shoulder. Ashley Biden eventually left the courtroom.

William J. Hennessy

President Biden is not at the trial. He gave remarks Tuesday afternoon about executive action on immigration, and he’s scheduled to leave soon for France in order to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day Thursday. 

The president’s son was indicted by a federal grand jury in September after a diversion agreement for a felony gun offense and a plea deal related to misdemeanor tax charges unraveled when Judge Noreika questioned whether the agreement would enable Hunter Biden to avoid potential future charges.

He now faces three felony charges stemming from his alleged illegal purchase and possession of a firearm in 2018 while he was a drug user. He has pleaded not guilty. 

Opening Statements Begin In Hunter Biden Gun Trial
Hunter Biden, son of U.S. President Joe Biden, arrives with his wife Melissa Cohen Biden, to the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building on June 04, 2024 in Wilmington, Delaware. Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Opening statements

In a roughly 23-minute opening statement, Hines spoke about the firearms permit form that Hunter Biden filled out to purchase the Colt Cobra .38 Special revolver in 2018, accusing Hunter of lying on the form about whether he was a drug user when he bought the gun. 

William J. Hennessy

“No one is allowed to lie on a form like that,” Hines said in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware.

Hines outlined sensitive personal details about Hunter’s addiction, introducing text messages where Hunter asked for drugs and called himself “delusional,” a “user” and an “addict.” Hunter Biden’s sister, Ashley Biden, was seated behind the defense table and looked up at the courtroom ceiling as she wiped away tears with a tissue.

In a nearly hourlong defense opening statement, Lowell said Hunter Biden had been in rehab and was trying to be sober. He argued that to a drug addict, there’s a difference on a form between the question “are you a drug user” and “have you been a drug user?”

William J. Hennessy

Lowell spent a considerable amount of his opening statement talking about a leather pouch recovered with the firearm, which prosecutors say had traces of cocaine residue. Lowell said that Hallie Biden, who had at times a contentious relationship with Hunter Biden, selected the pouch herself when she discarded the weapon. Lowell said the pouch was never fingerprinted and its origins and handling were never investigated.

Witness testimony

After Jensen took the stand, the government submitted a paper copy of Hunter Biden’s memoir, “Beautiful Things,” into evidence, and played excerpts from the audio book. The excerpts were about Memorial Day weekend 2016, when he visited the Burisma board with his daughter Naomi, and also detailed his relapse into crack/cocaine use, which then led to a longer span of use and apparently ended in the spring of 2018. 

In her testimony in the afternoon, Jensen authenticated the text messages recovered from Hunter Biden’s devices that were obtained through a search warrant and showed exchanges about drugs. 

She also reviewed bank records that apparently show large cash withdrawals in the months before the gun purchase, with a focus on a $5,000 bank withdrawal the same day. Prosecutors also cross-referenced texts and cash withdrawal dates with excerpts from Hunter Biden’s memoir about the timeline of his drug use. 

In addition to Jensen, the prosecution is expected to call Hunter Biden’s ex-wife Kathleen Buhle; a woman Hunter Biden was romantically involved with from 2017-2018; his brother Beau Biden’s widow, Hallie Biden, with whom he was romantically involved, and five other witnesses, including FBI and DEA agents.

Jury selection

Twelve jurors and four alternates were sworn in Monday, 10 women and six men, on the first day of the trial. 

During the jury selection process, all but one of the potential jurors knew of the case due to news reports, and many said they had an immediate connection to someone struggling with drug or alcohol abuse.

By 11:45 a.m. on Monday, a dozen potential jurors out of 30 were excused for cause, including scheduling conflicts and political views. One person asserted gun ownership was a “God-given right,” while another said her opinion of the Bidens was “not a good one.” 

The defense struck another potential juror — who said he is a Fox News viewer — a former Wilmington police officer and then worked with Jill Biden at the college where she taught. He also said he’d met President Biden at multiple events and donated to a challenger to Beau Biden in his race to be Delaware attorney general. The potential juror also told the judge he believes prosecutors file cases for political reasons, mentioning the criminal case against former President Donald Trump in New York and, when asked if “political prosecutions” ever target Democrats, he offered an emphatic “no” in response. 

Other potential jurors also answered “yes” when the judge asked “are some Department of Justice and law enforcement probes politically motivated?” Several cited Trump’s New York case. 

Before the trial began, Hunter Biden suffered a couple of setbacks: Norieka declined to allow his lawyers to admit into evidence a second version of the firearms purchase form he filled out to buy the gun, and she granted the government’s motion to exclude one of the defense’s expert witnesses, Dr. Elie Aoun, who was to testify on the nature of Hunter Biden’s drug abuse and whether he understood himself to be an addict.

What are the federal gun charges against Hunter Biden?

In the three-count indictment, the president’s son is charged with making false statements on a federal gun form about his drug use, certifying he was not a user of or addicted to any controlled substance during a period when prosecutors allege he was addicted to crack cocaine. Hunter Biden purchased a Colt Cobra .38 Special revolver, and it remained in his possession for 11 days before it was discarded in an outdoor receptacle by Hallie Biden, his romantic partner at the time. 

The president’s son faces up to 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if convicted on all counts.

Separately, he faces nine federal tax charges in the central district of California in a second indictment brought by Weiss’ office where federal prosecutors allege Hunter Biden engaged in a “four-year scheme” to avoid paying at least $1.4 million in federal taxes. References to the tax charges are not admissible in his gun trial in Delaware. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Robert Legare contributed to this report.

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