June 21st, 2024

Defense begins calling witnesses in Hunter Biden’s federal gun trial after prosecution rests case


By Randall Chase, Michael Kunzelman, Colleen Long And Claudia Lauer, The Associated Press on June 7, 2024.

Hunter Biden departs from federal court, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) – Federal prosecutors wrapped up their gun case against Hunter Biden on Friday with two final witnesses in their effort to prove that the president’s son lied on a mandatory gun-purchase form when he said he was not illegally using or addicted to drugs.

Prosecutors called an FBI forensic chemist, Jason Brewer, who tested a residue found on the leather pouch that contained Hunter Biden’s gun. It came back positive for cocaine, though the amount was minimal, he told jurors. A Drug Enforcement Administration agent testified about text messages Hunter Biden sent to alleged dealers.

Their testimony capped a week that has been largely dedicated to highlighting the seriousness of Hunter Biden’s drug problem through highly personal and often revealing testimony. Defense attorney Abbe Lowell said he would ask the judge for an acquittal, a common request during trials but one not often granted.

Lowell began his defense by calling another gun store clerk who was there when Hunter Biden bought the gun. Prosecutors only called one of the clerks. The president’s brother James and Hunter Biden’s daughter Naomi were also in court.

Jurors heard Thursday from Hunter Biden’s his ex-wife and a former girlfriend who testified about his habitual crack use and their failed efforts to help him get clean. They saw images of the president’s son bare-chested and disheveled in a filthy room, and half-naked holding crack pipes. And they watched video of his crack cocaine weighed on a scale.

Prosecutor say the evidence is necessary to prove that Hunter, 54, was in the throes of addiction when he bought the gun and therefore lied when he checked “no” on the form that asked whether he was “an unlawful user of, or addicted to” drugs.

Lowell, has argued Hunter did not think of himself as an “addict” when he bought the gun and did not intend to deceive anyone.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden worked to walk the line between president and father, telling ABC in an interview that he would accept the jury’s verdict and ruling out a pardon for his son. Earlier this week, he issued a statement saying: “I am the President, but I am also a Dad. Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today.”

Biden is in France this week for D-Day anniversary events. First lady Jill Biden, who attended court most of the week, flew back from France on Thursday to be at the trial again Friday. She will return to France for a state dinner.

Hunter Biden has been charged with three felonies: 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.

He has pleaded not guilty. He had hoped to resolve the gun case and another separate tax case in California with a plea deal last year, the result of a yearslong investigation into his business dealings. The deal had him pleading guilty to lower-level charges that would have resolved both cases and spared him the spectacle of a trial so close to the 2024 election. It fell apart after Judge Maryellen Noreika questioned unusual aspects of the proposed agreement and the lawyers couldn’t resolve them.

Hunter Biden said he got charged because the Justice Department bowed to pressure from Republicans who argued the Democratic president’s son was getting special treatment, and who have escalated their attacks on the criminal justice system since Donald Trump’s recent conviction in New York City in a hush money case.

It’s unclear yet whether Hunter Biden will testify. But jurors have already heard his voice. Prosecutors have played lengthy audio excerpts in court of his 2021 memoir “Beautiful Things,” in which he writes about his lifelong addiction issues and spiraling descent after death of his brother Beau in 2015. The book, written after he got sober, covers the period he had the gun but doesn’t mention it specifically.

Lowell has said Hunter Biden’s state of mind was different when he wrote the book than when he purchased the gun, when he didn’t believe he had an addiction. He pointed out to jurors that some of the questions on the firearms transaction record are in the present tense, such as “are you an unlawful user of or addicted to” drugs.

And he’s suggested Hunter Biden might have felt he had a drinking problem at the time, but not a drug problem. Alcohol abuse doesn’t preclude a gun purchase.

The reason law enforcement raised any questions about the revolver is because Hallie Biden, Beau’s widow, found it unloaded in Hunter’s truck on Oct. 23, 2018, panicked and tossed it into a garbage can at a nearby market. She testified about the episode Thursday.

She told jurors she considered hiding the gun but thought her kids might find it, so she decided to throw it away.

“I realize it was a stupid idea now, but I was panicking,” she said. “I didn’t want him to hurt himself, and I didn’t want my kids to find it and hurt themselves.”

Hallie Biden, who had a brief romantic relationship with Hunter after Beau died, testified that from the time Hunter returned to Delaware from a 2018 trip to California until she threw his gun away, she did not see him using drugs. That time period included the day he bought the weapon.

But much of her testimony focused on Oct. 23, 2018 – 11 days after he bought it. Hunter was staying with her and seemed exhausted. Asked by the prosecutor if it appeared that Hunter was using drugs around then, she said, “He could have been.”

As Hunter slept in her home, Hallie Biden went to check his car. She said she was hoping to help him get or stay sober, free of both alcohol and cocaine. She said she found the remnants of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia. She also found the gun Hunter purchased in a box with a broken lock that kept it from fully closing. There was ammunition too.

She put it in a leather pouch put the pouch in a bag and tossed it into in the trash can at Janssen’s Market. He noticed it missing and asked her whether she had taken it.

“Are you insane?” he texted. He told her to go back to the market to look for it.

Surveillance footage played for jurors showed her digging around in the trash can for the gun, but it wasn’t there. She asked store officials if someone had taken out the trash. Hallie testified Hunter told her to file a police report because the gun was registered in his name. She called the police while she was still at the store.

Officers located the man who inadvertently took the gun along with other recyclables from the trash and retrieved it. The case was eventually closed because of lack of cooperation from Hunter Biden, who was considered the victim.

Jurors also heard from the officers who handled the case, from the man who found the gun and from the store clerk who sold Hunter the revolver.

If convicted, Hunter Biden faces 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.

He also faces a separate trial in September on charges of failing to pay $1.4 million in taxes.

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Long reported from Washington.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of Hunter Biden at https://apnews.com/hub/hunter-biden.

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