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President Biden's son Hunter to go on trial on gun charges

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Today in federal court in Delaware, jury selection begins in the Hunter Biden trial on gun charges.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This case against the President's son was brought by Justice Department special counsel David Weiss. Just last week, former President Trump was in the spotlight, denouncing the jury verdict against him in a Democratic state. Now trial begins for a Biden as part of an investigation that dates back to President Trump's administration.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is joining us now. Ryan, a gun case against Hunter Biden here - but what are the charges he's facing?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: So there are three charges against Hunter here that all relate to a Colt Cobra revolver that he bought in October of 2018. He faces two counts of making false statements when purchasing the weapon. Prosecutors say that Hunter lied on a federal background check form he had to fill out when buying the gun. That form has a boilerplate question that asks whether you use illegal drugs or are addicted to drugs. Prosecutors say that Hunter lied on that form by checking the no box, in other words, saying that he wasn't using illegal drugs when prosecutors say he was. And then there's, of course, also the third count, and that is for the unlawful possession of a firearm by a drug user or addict.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, how do prosecutors intend to prove their case?

LUCAS: Well, they've said in filings and in open court that they expect to call around a dozen witnesses. That includes Hunter's ex-wife, Kathleen Buhle, as well as the widow of his brother, Beau, Hallie Biden. Hunter had a romantic relationship with her after Beau died. Prosecutors say that Hallie Biden will testify that Hunter had the gun in question, that she threw it into a dumpster outside a market in Wilmington less than two weeks after he bought it. That gun was later found by a man collecting recyclables. He's the one who turned it over to law enforcement.

Prosecutors also intend to use parts of Hunter's own memoir as evidence, as well as Hunter's own text messages related to his drug use. But to be clear, Hunter has been very open, including in his memoir, about his addiction to crack cocaine, to alcohol. But this trial looks like it's going to put that struggle and the toll that it took on the Biden family very much in the national spotlight.

MARTÍNEZ: Alright, now, how will Hunter Biden's attorneys plan to counter the government's case?

LUCAS: Well, they think they can challenge some of the evidence. There has been, though, it has to be said, a lot of legal wrangling in the lead-up to this trial. Hunter's attorneys have tried to get this case dismissed on a bunch of different grounds. The judge has denied those.

But this time last year, it looked like Hunter was going to be able to avoid trial entirely. He had a tentative deal to plead guilty to misdemeanor tax charges and avoid prosecution entirely on the gun charges. But that deal fell apart dramatically in court.

Weeks later, Weiss was appointed special counsel. He then indicted Hunter on these gun charges. A few months after that, Weiss separately brought tax charges against Hunter in California. That case is scheduled to go to trial in September.

Now, Hunter's attorney, Abbe Lowell, has argued that these gun offenses are usually not charged, and he's argued that the special counsel has folded essentially to Republican pressure on the hill and that this whole prosecution is politically motivated.

MARTÍNEZ: There is quite the political backdrop for this trial - a son of a president going on trial as his father runs for reelection. I mean, could this possibly hurt President Biden?

LUCAS: Well, look, it comes at a tricky time for the president, politically, of course. We're just - what? - five months out from the election. Republicans have certainly, in the past, tried to play up Hunter's legal troubles, his international business dealings, in an effort to muddy his father, and there's every reason to believe that they're going to try to do that with this trial again.

But Hunter, of course, is the one on trial, not President Biden. Hunter is not running for president. And, of course, the man who is running against Biden for the presidency, former President Trump, was just found guilty by a jury in New York of falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments to an adult film star.

But Trump is still leading Biden in many polls, so it's hard to say what the political impact, if any, Hunter's legal troubles will have on his father's political fortunes. We're going to have to wait and see. Hunter's trial, though, opens today with jury selection, and this trial could last up to two weeks.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thanks.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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