Hunter Biden Reaches Deal to Plead Guilty to Misdemeanor Tax Charges

Hunter Biden agreed with the Justice Department on Tuesday to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and accept terms that would allow him to avoid prosecution on a separate gun charge, a big step toward ending a long-running and politically explosive investigation into the finances, drug use and international business dealings of President Biden’s troubled son.

Under a deal hashed out with a federal prosecutor who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Biden agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor counts of failing to pay his 2017 and 2018 taxes on time and be sentenced to probation.

The Justice Department also charged Mr. Biden but, under what is known as a pretrial diversion agreement, said it would not prosecute him in connection with his purchase of a handgun in 2018 during a period when he was using drugs. The deal is contingent on Mr. Biden remaining drug-free for 24 months and agreeing never to own a firearm again.

The agreement must still be approved by a federal judge. Mr. Biden is expected to appear in court in Delaware in the coming days to be arraigned on the misdemeanor tax charges and plead guilty.

“With the announcement of two agreements between my client, Hunter Biden, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, it is my understanding that the five-year investigation into Hunter is resolved,” Mr. Biden’s lawyer, Christopher Clark, said in a statement.

Assuming there are no last-minute changes or complications, the deal would most likely resolve the investigation without Mr. Biden facing a federal prison sentence.

Even though years of investigation by a Republican-appointed prosecutor found evidence to charge Mr. Biden only on the narrow tax and gun issues rather than the broader international conspiracies promoted by Mr. Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill, the agreement was assailed by the right as too lenient.

The agreement came less than two weeks after the Justice Department indicted Mr. Trump on charges that he risked exposing national security secrets and obstructed efforts by the government to reclaim classified documents from him. On Tuesday, Republicans argued that the deal demonstrated a partisan double standard, despite the clear differences in the nature and scope of the cases.

“The corrupt Biden DOJ just cleared up hundreds of years of criminal liability by giving Hunter Biden a mere ‘traffic ticket,’” Mr. Trump proclaimed on his website, Truth Social.

The federal prosecutor who oversaw the inquiry and signed off on the agreement, David C. Weiss, the U.S. attorney in Delaware, set out the terms in a terse public statement that concluded, without elaboration, “The investigation is ongoing.”

A White House spokesman, Ian Sams, said in a statement: “The president and first lady love their son and support him as he continues to rebuild his life. We will have no further comment.”

The crimes to which Mr. Biden is pleading guilty, said Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University and a sentencing expert, are ones that the average person is rarely prosecuted for because they are usually only brought along with more serious offenses.

“If these are the only offenses, most prosecutors are going to say it’s not worth a federal case,” Mr. Berman said. “They would say: Let’s not make a federal case of it for the average person because it’s not worth it to bring a case unless there’s reason to be concerned that there’s a public safety issue or the trust that everyone is treated equally under the law is at stake.”

Mr. Berman said that in this case, federal prosecutors were in a unique situation because the very high-profile defendant was the subject of investigations for a variety of activities. The failure to bring some charges when there is no factual dispute, he said, could create the impression of a two-tiered system of justice.

“Everyone is paying attention, and the facts are not in dispute, so a failure to bring charges would create the perception that there was some sort of special treatment or leniency being given to the president’s son,” Mr. Berman said.

No one questions that Mr. Biden, a 53-year-old Yale-educated lawyer, has had significant personal troubles and pursued a professional path that has intersected with his father’s in ways that have raised ethical issues.

After his father became vice president in 2009, he built relationships with wealthy foreigners that brought in millions of dollars, surfacing concerns inside the Obama administration and among government watchdog groups that he was cashing in on his family name.

He went into a downward spiral after his brother, Beau, died in 2015, becoming addicted to crack cocaine and engaging in tawdry, self-destructive behavior.

As president, Mr. Trump had long sought to tie Hunter Biden’s business deals and personal troubles to his father. Mr. Trump’s first impeachment had its roots in his efforts to persuade the Ukrainian government to help him show wrongdoing in Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, and while in the White House he pressured the Justice Department to investigate.

The Justice Department investigation continued after President Biden took office, under the oversight of Mr. Weiss, the Trump appointee, who was kept on and allowed to finish the inquiry. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has testified to Congress that Mr. Weiss had full authority and independence to decide whether to bring a case against Mr. Biden.

In a letter last month to Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Weiss said that he had been “granted ultimate authority over this matter, including responsibility for deciding where, when and whether to file charges.”

While the outcome of the investigation appeared fairly straightforward in the five pages of documents made public on Tuesday, it was the result of a lengthy back-and-forth between Mr. Biden’s lawyers and the Justice Department. The exchange was more akin to the interactions between the government and a major corporation facing a complex investigation.

The discussions started several years ago when Mr. Biden’s lawyers responded to grand jury subpoenas as prosecutors were examining an array of matters, including his dealings with Chinese investors and his work for Burisma, whose board he served on while his father, as vice president, was overseeing the Obama administration’s policy toward Ukraine.

After it was clear that the investigation had narrowed to just the tax and gun issues, slow-moving negotiations ensued. Legal experts said that the use of the diversion agreement to resolve the gun charge was creative, fairly unusual and likely the product of Mr. Weiss wanting to show that the government was refusing to look the other way on behavior that was likely criminal but is rarely prosecuted.

“Hunter will take responsibility for two instances of misdemeanor failure to file tax payments when due pursuant to a plea agreement,” Mr. Clark said in his statement. “A firearm charge, which will be subject to a pretrial diversion agreement and will not be the subject of the plea agreement, will also be filed by the government.”

Mr. Clark continued: “I know Hunter believes it is important to take responsibility for these mistakes he made during a period of turmoil and addiction in his life. He looks forward to continuing his recovery and moving forward.”

The investigation focused on a particularly chaotic and unseemly period in Hunter Biden’s life when he was addicted to crack cocaine. But the Justice Department went through nearly every major aspect of his life over the past 15 years — a period in which he also struggled to control his alcoholism and engaged in international business deals, which he got into at least in part because of his father’s prominence in politics.

But in the end, the investigation came down to two issues.

One was his taxes. Prosecutors had been considering whether to indict him in connection with his failure to meet filing deadlines for his 2017 and 2018 taxes, and whether he had improperly claimed $30,000 in deductions for business expenses.

In his statement on Tuesday, Mr. Weiss said Mr. Biden had earned more than $1.5 million in each of 2017 and 2018 but failed to file income tax returns despite owing the government more than $100,000 each year. (Mr. Biden paid the overdue tax bill in 2021.)

The second issue was whether Mr. Biden lied on a United States government form that he filled out when he purchased the handgun in 2018. In response to a question on the form about whether he was using drugs, Mr. Biden had said he was not — an assertion that prosecutors suspected might be false based on his erratic behavior at the time and accounts from people who interacted with him.

Under the agreement announced on Tuesday, Mr. Biden will acknowledge that he “possessed a firearm despite knowing he was an unlawful user of and addicted to a controlled substance,” Mr. Weiss’s statement said.

Not long after the purchase of the gun, Beau’s widow, Hallie Biden, with whom Hunter had a romantic relationship at the time, found the weapon in his truck. Fearing he might use the gun to take his own life, Ms. Biden tossed it in a dumpster.

Republicans’ allegations that the elder President Biden’s Justice Department went easy on his son are unlikely to fade away.

In April, an I.R.S. supervisor who had been overseeing the investigation into Hunter Biden hired a lawyer and went to Congress, alleging political favoritism in how the investigation had been handled. Congressional Republicans have pledged to investigate the claims, which have also been referred to inspectors general at the Justice Department and I.R.S.

Reporting was contributed by Seamus Hughes, Reid J. Epstein, Luke Broadwater, Glenn Thrush, Kayla Guo and Jonathan Weisman.

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