Hunter Biden pleads not guilty after plea deal is derailed

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26 Jul 2023, 9:36 pm

The judge raised concerns over two separate agreements the president's son reached with prosecutors, but the agreement could ultimately be accepted.

Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty to federal tax charges Wednesday after a plea deal he struck with the government unraveled when the judge raised questions about the terms of the agreement.

The surprise development came at a hearing in federal court here at which Biden had been expected to plead guilty to two charges of failure to pay taxes under a deal he struck with the government last month. Far from signing off on a done deal, he pleaded "not guilty" to those charges instead until the two sides can meet and address the questions posed by U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika.

At times, Noreika appeared almost upset that she believed she was being asked to act as a "rubber stamp" for the deal. The parties will reconvene later to hammer out the terms and provide Noreika more information, which could be within the next six weeks.

"Without me saying I'll agree to the plea agreement, how do you plead?" Noreika asked Biden.

"Not guilty, your honor," he responded.

Biden is expected to reverse his plea if a new agreement or the new information eventually satisfies Noreika.

Noreika, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, pressed both sides about the terms of the agreement struck with U.S. Attorney David Weiss of Delaware, another Trump appointee, whom President Joe Biden kept on to oversee the case. She expressed clear concern about how two separate deals, one regarding the unpaid taxes and the other about a gun possession charge, potentially intersected, as well as her purview over them.

Noreika quizzed the lawyers about whether the gun charge would be diverted until Biden fulfilled certain terms. The agreement would have her act as an arbiter if he violated the deal over 24 months. She said that she did not believe that the judiciary would normally oversee such an agreement and that it was the responsibility of the executive branch to bring charges.

Biden's lawyer, Chris Clark, said that because of tremendous political "Sturm and Drang" surrounding the case, that element of the agreement would help ensure it "wouldn't become more politicized" if the government targeted Biden again in the future.

While Noreika said she understood his argument, she said she worried that there was no case law to necessarily support the terms of the agreement.

Noreika also said she worried that the agreement on the tax charges did not give her the authority to reject or modify the deal and that the gun charge agreement could shield Biden against further prosecution over his financial and tax issues.

Though Noreika said it was possible all of those terms could be adopted, she wanted both sides to give her more information about their reasoning for her to study further.

There were numerous points of disagreement and requests for clarification throughout the hearing, which had been expected to take a little over an hour but lasted well over three hours.

At one point, Noreika asked whether the investigation was ongoing, to which Weiss responded that it was but said he could not share any further details.

Noreika also raised a hypothetical, asking whether Biden could face charges of failing to register as a foreign agent and whether the agreement blocks his prosecution on such a charge. The defense said it believed the agreement would prohibit him from being charged, and the prosecution then disagreed.

Clark was overheard telling a prosecutor, "Then we'll rip it up," most likely in a reference to the plea deal, as they discussed the disagreement during a brief break before he eventually relented.

In outlining the charges, Weiss’ office said in an earlier statement that “Hunter Biden received taxable income in excess of $1,500,000 annually in calendar years 2017 and 2018. Despite owing in excess of $100,000 in federal income taxes each year, he did not pay the income tax due for either year.”

The original deal included provisions that prosecutors would recommend probation for the tax violations, while a separate felony gun charge would be dropped if Biden met certain conditions laid out in court. It appears that now, the terms of his sentencing will be decided later.

Biden faced a separate gun charge, for illegally owning a Colt Cobra .38 Special handgun. He had conceivably reached a pretrial agreement about the issue that would delay the charges for 24 months, assuming he did not violate certain terms during that period — which included being added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, no use of controlled substances or alcohol and no violations of local, state or federal laws. If he followed the agreement, the charge would be dropped,

But there was some confusion about the gun charge, prompting the judge to pause Wednesday's proceedings so a resolution could be reached.

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