Hunter Biden pleads not guilty to three federal gun charges filed after his plea deal collapsed

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President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden departs after a court appearance, in Wilmington, Del, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

WILMINGTON, Del.Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to three federal firearms charges filed after his earlier deal imploded, setting the case on a track toward a possible trial in 2024 while his father is campaigning for reelection.

President Joe Biden’s son has been charged with lying about his drug use in October 2018 on a form to buy a gun that he kept for about 11 days. He could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted. When asked by Magistrate Judge Christopher Burke if he understood the charges against him, he said, “Yes, Your Honor.”

His lawyer Abbe Lowell said in court he plans to file a motion to dismiss the charges, challenging their constitutionality.

“Mr. Biden pleads not guilty to the three counts that have been brought against him,” Lowell said to the judge.

Hunter Biden has acknowledged struggling with an addiction to crack cocaine during that period in 2018, but his lawyers have said he didn’t break the law. Cases like this, against drug users accused of having guns, are rare, and an appeals court has found the underlying statute violates the Second Amendment under new Supreme Court standards.

On Tuesday, the judge noted Hunter Biden had been repeatedly tested for drugs and is negative.

Hunter Biden’s attorneys are suggesting that prosecutors bowed to pressure by Republicans, who have insisted the Democratic president’s son got a sweetheart deal, and that the charges were the result of political pressure.

“President Trump and his MAGA allies” have forced “the Justice Department to ignore the law and deviate from its policies in cases like this one,” Lowell said in a statement after the brief hearing, referring to Donald Trump's Make America Great Again slogan.

Hunter Biden left the courthouse shortly after the hearing, getting into a black SUV and pulling away. The deadline for pretrial motions in the case is Nov 3. The pretrial release conditions include no alcohol or drugs; drug testing or substance abuse counseling if needed; and continuing or seeking employment.

Earlier this summer, Hunter Biden agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor tax charges and would have also avoided prosecution on the gun charges had he stayed out of trouble for two years. It was the culmination of a yearslong investigation by federal prosecutors into the business dealings of the president's son, and the agreement would have dispensed with criminal proceedings and spared the Bidens weeks of headlines as the election loomed.

The deal broke down after the judge who was supposed to sign off on the agreement instead raised a series of questions about the deal.

Now, a special counsel has been appointed to handle the case, and there appears no easy end in sight. Hunter Biden was indicted on the three gun charges, and no new tax charges have yet been filed — but the special counsel has indicated those charges could come in Washington or in California, where Hunter Biden lives.

Defense attorneys have argued that he remains protected by an immunity provision that was part of the scuttled agreement, but prosecutors overseen by special counsel David Weiss disagree. Weiss also serves as U.S. attorney for Delaware and was originally appointed by Trump.

Lowell on Tuesday said he planned to file “a number of motions,” including a push to dismiss the case based on an immunity agreement in the now-scuttled plea deal and the constitutionality of the law against drug users having guns.

Lowell also said the defense plans to ask for an evidentiary hearing.

In Congress, House Republicans are seeking to link Hunter Biden’s dealings to his father’s through an impeachment inquiry. Republicans have been investigating Hunter Biden for years, since his father was Barack Obama’s vice president. While questions have arisen about the ethics surrounding the Biden family’s international business, no evidence has emerged so far to prove that Joe Biden, in his current or previous office, abused his role or accepted bribes.

The legal wrangling is likely to spill into 2024, with Republicans eager to divert attention from the multiple criminal indictments faced by Trump, the GOP primary front-runner, whose trials could be unfolding at the same time.

After remaining silent for years, Hunter Biden has taken a more aggressive legal stance in recent weeks, filing a series of lawsuits over the dissemination of personal information purportedly from his laptop and his tax data by whistleblower IRS agents who testified before Congress as part of the GOP probe.

Hunter Biden, who lives in the Los Angeles area, had asked for Tuesday’s hearing to be conducted remotely over video feed, but Burke sided with prosecutors, saying there would be no “special treatment.”

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AP video journalist Tassanee Vejpongsa contributed to this report.