The Justice Department of the US (DoJ) has reached a plea deal with Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, regarding tax and gun charges. While Republicans criticize the agency for allegedly going easy on the president’s son, legal experts argue that the two cases—Hunter Biden’s and the classified document probe involving former President Donald Trump—are not necessarily alike. Moreover, experts note that Biden’s deal actually imposes stricter terms than usual, suggesting that he has not received preferential treatment.
Charges Hunter Biden Faces and the Plea Deal
Hunter Biden faced charges of violating a provision of 18 US Code 922, which forbids the possession of a firearm by anyone “who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance”. This charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a fine, or both. However, under the plea deal, this charge will be expunged from his record following his participation in a diversion program. The program requires him to remain drug-free for two years and prohibits him from owning firearms in the future.
Additionally, Biden agreed to plead guilty to two violations of 26 US Code 7203 for failing to pay over 100,000 USD in taxes on time for income exceeding 1.5 million USD in both 2017 and 2018. These charges carry a sentence of up to one year in prison, a 25,000 USD fine, or both. However, sources familiar with the deal have indicated that prosecutors will recommend two years of probation instead.
Hunter Biden, a Yale-educated lawyer, has faced personal, financial, and substance abuse challenges throughout his father’s political career. His international business ventures initially sparked an investigation in 2018, which later expanded to include tax and gun-related matters. In his 2021 memoir, he admitted to regularly using crack cocaine but claimed to have since become sober and worked toward improving his public image. However, he remains under scrutiny with ongoing investigations by the House, as well as a child support dispute in Arkansas regarding a child he fathered during his struggle with drug and alcohol addiction.
Republicans Criticize DoJ’s Handling of Investigation
House Republicans have pledged to persist in their investigations into Hunter Biden and allegations of his father’s involvement in leveraging his position for his son’s business interests, following the recent plea deal. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy expressed that the agreement strengthens the GOP’s contention that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is favoring President Joe Biden by unjustly targeting Trump. McCarthy emphasized that this situation reinforces the perception of a two-tiered justice system in the United States, aligning with Trump’s narrative regarding his own legal challenges.
In line with these sentiments, Trump took to Truth Social, a social media platform he recently launched, to express his perspective on the Hunter Biden plea deal. He described it as a significant cover-up and a comprehensive election interference scam. Trump further criticized what he views as a biased DOJ, state and city prosecutors, and alleged political opponents, using strong language to describe the challenges he faced during his presidency.
These statements by House Republicans and Trump underscore their belief that the Hunter Biden case exemplifies selective enforcement and raises concerns about political motivations within the DOJ. They argue that the plea deal supports their narrative of biased treatment by authorities and further strengthens their resolve to continue investigating matters related to the Biden family.
Difference with Donald Trump’s Case
Republicans drawing comparisons between the Justice Department’s case against Trump and the plea deal reached by Hunter Biden face criticism from attorneys, who argue that the two situations are not comparable. Trump was indicted on multiple counts related to classified document handling after leaving office, including violations of the Espionage Act and charges of making false statements and conspiring to obstruct the Justice Department investigation. The charges against Trump could result in a lengthy prison sentence, but it remains unclear whether prosecutors will request imprisonment.
Although Biden’s legal team believes the agreement marks the end of the five-year investigation, former federal prosecutor Andrew Weiss maintains that the probe is still ongoing. Furthermore, legal challenges may arise due to the federal statute used for the gun charge. A recent ruling by a federal court in Texas declared that preventing drug users from possessing firearms violates the Second Amendment. While some cases involving similar charges have resulted in significant prison sentences, it remains to be seen how the federal statute will fare under scrutiny.
Former prosecutor Renato Mariotti expresses his disagreement with the comparison between misdemeanor tax charges and a scheme involving the theft of Top Secret documents and obstruction of justice. Mariotti argues that making such a comparison undermines the intelligence of the American people. He believes that circumstances surrounding the two cases are fundamentally distinct and should not be compared in a way that diminishes the significance of one or exaggerates the severity of the other.
Is the Plea Deal Lenient or Harsh?
Legal experts note that it is rare for first-time offenders to be prosecuted for both gun and tax charges simultaneously, emphasizing the uniqueness of Biden’s case. Justice Department data obtained by The Washington Post supports this observation, revealing that in the 2019 fiscal year, out of approximately 27 million background checks conducted, federal prosecutors filed only 298 prosecutions for lying on the federal form required for gun purchases, despite receiving 478 referrals. The charges Biden faced are typically attached to more serious offenses.
Legal professionals, including former federal prosecutors and law professors, contend that Biden’s penalties in both cases are actually strict, challenging claims of leniency. They emphasize that first-time tax offenders and individuals charged with false applications for gun purchases rarely face imprisonment or even prosecution. However, experts argue that failing to bring some charges, where there is no factual dispute, could create the perception of a two-tiered system of justice.