Republicans wasted no time Tuesday calling into question the plea agreement Hunter Biden reached with the Justice Department over two tax charges and a felony gun charge, claiming President Joe Biden’s son received special treatment in a long-running probe that had been a cause célèbre on the right.
But tax and criminal law experts stress that, based on publicly available information on the case, the resolution reached does not represent a two-tiered justice system in which Hunter Biden benefited from his name.
The opposite may be true, in fact, especially since he later repaid the taxes he owed.
“If Hunter Biden’s name was John or Jane Doe, no criminal tax prosecution would have ever been contemplated and he would have almost certainly been slotted into a pre-trial diversion program, saving the government the time and expense of a trial,” said Martin Sheil, a former supervisory special agent in the IRS Criminal Investigation.
“So if Hunter has paid all of his taxes, albeit delinquently, arguably Uncle Sam has suffered no harm and justice was done,” Sheil said.
As part of the agreement, Hunter Biden will plead guilty to two tax misdemeanors and struck a deal with prosecutors to resolve a felony gun charge. The DOJ has agreed to recommend a sentence of probation for the two counts of failing to pay taxes in a timely matter for the years 2017 and 2018, according to sources.
Federal district Judge Maryellen Noreika, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, will preside over the case and likely have the final say on any sentence. Noreika, a former patent lawyer in Delaware, had the support of both Democratic senators from the state when she was nominated in 2017.
A hearing is scheduled for July 26.
Hunter Biden owed at least $100,000 in federal taxes for 2017, and at least $100,000 in 2018, but did not pay what was due to the Internal Revenue Service by the deadlines. Part of the argument included that he paid back taxes owed, including penalties.
“If his last name was not Biden I don’t think he would have been charged,” Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor and CNN contributor, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on “CNN News Central.” “Typically in tax cases where the person has paid back the taxes, appetite for going after them criminally is low.”
Among those criticizing the deal is House Oversight Chairman James Comer, who has made Hunter Biden a fixture of his committee’s investigations. The Kentucky Republican on Tuesday called out the DOJ for giving Hunter Biden a “sweetheart plea deal,” and said it amounted to “a slap on the wrist.”
Trump also blasted the agreement, saying on Truth Social that the “corrupt Biden DOJ just cleared up hundreds of years of criminal liability by giving Hunter Biden a mere ‘traffic ticket.’”
Prosecutors had also been examining a 2018 incident in which a firearm owned by Hunter Biden ended up tossed by his then-girlfriend into a dumpster in Wilmington, Delaware, a person briefed on the matter said. Hunter Biden described in media interviews in 2021 that he was addicted to drugs, which raised the possibility he broke federal law when he bought the firearm.
Federal law prohibits firearms purchases by anyone who uses or is addicted to illegal drugs and CNN previously reported that federal prosecutors were weighing possible charges connected to making a false statement related to the gun purchase.
“If we look at the gun charge, it is exceedingly rare for somebody to be charged with a federal gun crime and given pre-trial diversion as Hunter Biden has been given – meaning he doesn’t even have to plead guilty as long as he behaves himself the charge will go away,” CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” Tuesday. “On the other hand, the vast majority of federal gun crimes involve somebody who either used the gun in some sort of violent crime or somebody who’s a prior convicted felon.”
He continued: “So it’s rare to even see someone prosecuted at all under the law that Hunter Biden was prosecuted for, which is possession of a gun by an addict.”
Hunter Biden was repeatedly warned about his tax obligations, according to a cache of emails related to his finances that CNN hired a cyber forensics expert to help authenticate. But his attorney told CNN in July 2022 that those years were difficult times for Biden, given struggles with drug and alcohol addiction.
Negotiations to reach a plea deal intensified in recent weeks between Hunter Biden’s attorneys and US Attorney David Weiss, a Trump-appointed prosecutor handling the case.
“There’s nothing to this and they’re just trying to make much ado about nothing. He was probably more severely looked at. And remember this was a Trump-appointed prosecutor who remained in place to finish this case,” Michael Moore, a former US attorney, told Bolduan on “CNN News Central.”
“You know, he was treated differently,” Moore said. “But he was treated differently to his detriment.”