In stunning reversal, Hunter Biden pleads guilty to tax evasion as House Republicans eye impeachment

In stunning reversal, Hunter Biden pleads guilty to tax evasion as House Republicans eye impeachment

July 26, 2023

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

Washington: Joe Biden’s son has unexpectedly pleaded not guilty to tax evasion after a deal he entered last month to avoid jail time unravelled, adding pressure on the president as Republicans weigh up an impeachment inquiry over the Biden family’s business dealings.

In what was meant to be a swift hearing, Hunter Biden arrived at federal court on Wednesday morning (local time) expecting to plead guilty to two misdemeanours for failing to pay his 2017 and 2018 taxes on time, in exchange for probation rather than a criminal sentence.

President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.Credit: AP

Under the same Justice Department plea deal, he was also going to admit to purchasing a handgun in 2018 during a period when he was using crack cocaine, but the matter would be treated as a diversion case. This would allow him to avoid prosecution provided he remains drug-free for 24 months and agrees never to own a firearm again.

But in a dramatic twist, the agreement fell over at the eleventh hour after the judge raised concerns about its scope – and whether it included ongoing investigations, such as potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

According to prosecutors, the deal did not include ongoing investigations, suggesting authorities are still probing whether Hunter breached federal laws that required him to register as a foreign agent while working in China and Ukraine during his father’s vice-presidency.

Amid questions over whether the plea deal would give Hunter immunity from crimes he could be found liable for in the future – and concerns that it was not entirely clear what kind of agreement the president’s son was entering into – District Judge Maryellen Noreika decided to delay the matter for 30 days so that defence and prosecution lawyers could refine the terms.

“It seems to me like you are saying ‘just rubber stamp the agreement, Your Honour’,” the judge told both sides. “This seems to me to be form over substance.”

After a chaotic four hours, Hunter, in turn, ended the pleading not guilty to the allegations against him.

The dramatic developments are a blow for the White House, which had been hoping today would have marked the end of a five-year investigation that began when Donald Trump was still in office.

Hunter Biden (right) talks with guests during a state dinner for India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House.Credit: AP

For years, Republicans have accused Hunter of leveraging his father’s political power for personal and financial gain, but have not been able to prove this. The plea deal, which was made last month as Donald Trump faced his own legal woes, was particularly contentious because critics viewed it as yet another example of a “two-tiered” justice system under the Biden administration.

But as the case has become increasingly politicised, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy this week floated the idea of an impeachment inquiry – something Trump loyalists have wanted for months – saying it “allows Congress to get the information to be able to know the truth,” Hunter’s business dealings and whether his father was connected to them.

Tensions intensified in recent weeks, after whistleblowers came forward claiming that the Justice Department, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service interfered in the tax evasion probe against Hunter Biden.

Among them was IRS agent Gary Shapley who told Congress and conservative news stations that decisions in the case appeared to be “influenced by politics”, from “slow-walking investigative steps” to “limiting investigators’ line of questioning for key witnesses”.

In a particularly explosive allegation, Shapley also said the IRS obtained a WhatsApp message dated July 30, 2017, from Hunter Biden to Henry Zhao – a Chinese Communist Party official and chief executive of Beijing-based firm Harvest Fund Management.

“I am sitting here with my father and we would like to understand why the commitment made has not been fulfiled,” the text message purportedly said. “Tell the director that I would like to resolve this now before it gets out of hand, and now means tonight.”

To Republicans, the WhatsApp message looked like a shakedown and gave weight to their claim that the Biden family is engaged in influence peddling and corruption. Hunter Biden’s lawyers, however, dismissed it as a fake.

Speaking on Capitol Hill, McCarthy told reporters: “The more this continues to unravel, it rises to the level of an impeachment inquiry. What that simply provides is that the American public has a right to know, and it allows Congress to get to the information to be able to know the truth.”

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthyCredit: Bloomberg

An impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives would be a first step toward bringing articles of impeachment against Joe Biden, just as Trump faced two impeachments during his four years in office.

Such a probe could be as lengthy as the House determines, potentially stretching into the 2024 campaigning season, which is shaping up to be a rematch between Trump and Biden.

Trump, however, faces a myriad of legal problems of his own, including looming court cases for alleged hush money payments, mishandling of classified documents, and another civil trial against writer E. Jean Carroll, who he was recently found to have sexually abused and defamed.

President Biden did not have any public engagements today and has not commented on his son’s case. But the 80-year-old is fiercely protective of Hunter, a recovering drug addict, and often keeps him close.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted that “this case was handled independently, as all of you know, by the Justice Department under the leadership of a prosecutor appointed by the former president, President Trump”.

“Hunter Biden is a private citizen, and this was a personal matter for him,” she said.

“As we have said, the president, the first lady, they love their son, and they support him as he continues to rebuild his life.”

Get a note directly from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.

Most Viewed in World

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article