US President Joe Biden’s son Hunter has been charged with three criminal counts related to firearms possession, an indictment showed, in a case that is likely to figure prominently in the 2024 election campaign.
Prosecutors on Thursday accused Hunter of making false statements related to drug use in order to acquire a firearm in 2018, according to the indictment filed in United States federal court in Delaware.
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The indictment, which was brought by US Special Counsel David Weiss, comes after a deal for Hunter to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and enroll in a programme to avoid prosecution on a gun-related charge collapsed in July.
A White House spokesman referred questions on Thursday to the US Department of Justice and Hunter’s legal team, saying the charges stem from an independent investigation.
Hunter’s legal troubles will no doubt play an outsized role in the 2024 US presidential campaign as President Biden seeks re-election in a likely rematch with his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, who leads the GOP’s nomination race.
The indictment also was made public just days after Republicans announced they would open an impeachment inquiry into the Democratic president – in large part over his son’s business dealings.
For years, Hunter, 53, has been the focus of attacks by Trump and his Republican allies, who have accused him of wrongdoing relating to dealings with Ukrainian and Chinese firms, among other issues.
Biden’s critics also have seized on Hunter’s personal issues, including a long struggle with drug addiction, to hit out at the US president.
Prosecutors said in Thursday’s indictment that in an effort to procure a firearm in 2018, Hunter made a statement “certifying he was not an unlawful user of, addicted to, any stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance”.
They said, however, that he knew the “statement was false and fictitious”.
Hunter’s lawyers said on Thursday that the charges should not have been filed, citing the plea deal they had reached with prosecutors earlier this year.
“We believe these charges are barred by the agreement the prosecutors made with Mr Biden, the recent rulings by several federal courts that this statute is unconstitutional, and the facts that he did not violate that law, and we plan to demonstrate all of that in court,” lawyer Abbe Lowell said after the indictment.
The younger Biden – who never held a position in the White House or on his father’s campaign, but previously worked as a lobbyist – would have been spared the gun charges had the plea agreement materialised.
A federal judge put the deal on hold on July 26 after voicing concerns about its scope.
Republicans had denounced the plea agreement, which would have seen Hunter serve probation rather than jail time for tax violations, as too lax.
On Thursday afternoon, right-wing Congressman Andy Biggs suggested that the gun charges are a trick intended to make the Justice Department appear fair. “Don’t fall for it,” he wrote in a social media post.
The Hunter Biden indictment on federal gun charges is a move to make you think that the DOJ is fair.
Don’t fall for it.
They’re trying to protect him from way more serious charges coming his way!
— Rep Andy Biggs (@RepAndyBiggsAZ) September 14, 2023
James Comer, the Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee, welcomed the charges as a “very small start” but called for more scrutiny of Hunter’s involvement with foreign companies.
“The Justice Department’s sweetheart plea deal fell apart after a federal judge refused to rubber stamp it,” Comer said in a statement.
“Mountains of evidence revealed that Hunter Biden likely committed several felonies and Americans expect the Justice Department to apply the law equally.”
Democrats often stress that President Biden was not involved in his son’s business dealings and should not be penalised for his conduct.
They also accuse GOP lawmakers of seeking to use investigations into the Biden family as a way to distract from Trump’s legal woes.
The former Republican president has been charged in four separate criminal indictments so far this year, two of which involve his efforts to overturn the 2020 US election that he lost to Biden.
Trump has denied wrongdoing in all the cases, which he says are part of an attempt to derail his 2024 campaign.