US President Joe Biden’s son Hunter has pleaded not guilty to two tax crimes after a plea deal with United States federal prosecutors fell apart during a court hearing after a judge raised concerns over the agreement.
Hunter Biden was charged last month with two misdemeanor tax crimes of failure to pay more than $100,000 in taxes from over $1.5m in income in both 2017 and 2018.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
He had made an agreement with prosecutors, who were planning to recommend two years of probation. That deal is now on hold.
But during the hearing on Wednesday, there was a dispute in court over whether the initial agreement gave him protection against any future charges.
US District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, raised concerns about the language of the deal. Noreika gave defence lawyers and prosecutors 30 days to explain why she should accept the initial deal.
That collapsed the proceedings, a surprising development because the plea had been carefully negotiated over weeks and included a lengthy back-and-forth between US Department of Justice prosecutors and Biden’s attorneys.
The plea deal, announced last month, came after a years-long Department of Justice investigation into the taxes and foreign business dealings of the Democratic president’s second son, who has acknowledged struggling with addiction following the 2015 death of his brother, Beau Biden.
It was meant to clear the air for Hunter Biden and avert a trial that would have generated weeks or months of distracting headlines. Prosecutors said in court on Wednesday that he remained under federal investigation.
Republicans had insisted Hunter Biden got a sweetheart deal and accused the Department of Justice, which is pressing ahead with investigations into Trump, the Republican 2024 presidential primary frontrunner, of double standards.
But last week, a target letter was sent to Trump from Special Counsel Jack Smith that suggests the former president may soon be indicted on new federal charges, this time involving his struggle to cling to power after his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.
Republicans claimed favouritism, saying the US president’s son was getting off easy while Trump has been unfairly castigated.
For his part, President Biden has said very little publicly, except to note, “I’m very proud of my son.”
On Wednesday afternoon, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre referred specific questions about the case to the US Department of Justice and Hunter Biden’s legal counsel.
“Hunter Biden is a private citizen, and this was a personal matter for him,” Jean-Pierre told reporters.
“As we have said, the president, the first lady, they love their son and they support him as he continues to rebuild his life. This case was handled independently, as all of you know, by the Justice Department under the leadership of a prosecutor appointed by a former president, President Trump.”