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(CNN) — President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, has been indicted by special counsel David Weiss in connection with a gun he purchased in 2018, the first time in US history the Justice Department has charged the child of a sitting president.
The three charges include making false statements on a federal firearms form and possession of a firearm as a prohibited person.
It’s an extraordinary turn of events after his original plea deal collapsed and potentially sets up a dramatic trial in the middle of his father’s 2024 reelection bid.
The White House thought the Hunter Biden legal drama would end this summer, but a plea deal reached with Weiss to resolve the matter without charges collapsed over the summer amid scrutiny from a federal judge. House Republicans have also announced an impeachment inquiry into the president in relation to Hunter Biden’s business ventures.
Court filings show that a summons was issued Thursday for him to appear in court for an initial appearance on the charges, though it is unclear when and where the initial appearance would take place.
Hunter Biden is currently in California, a source familiar with the matter told CNN, adding that any plan for a self-surrender or initial appearance, including the date and location, still needs be worked out.
In an exclusive interview with CNN Thursday evening, Hunter Biden’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, claimed the indictment was a result of political pressure.
Republican politicians, Lowell told CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront,” “have been pressuring this US attorney to do something to vindicate their political position.”
“And guess what? They succeeded,” he added.
Lowell defended his client in a statement earlier in the day, saying, “Hunter Biden possessing an unloaded gun for 11 days was not a threat to public safety, but a prosecutor, with all the power imaginable, bending to political pressure presents a grave threat to our system of justice.”
Former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination who has been indicted four times himself, described Hunter Biden’s indictment as a “sad situation.”
“It’s a sad situation, I mean, nobody should be happy about this,” Trump told NBC News in his first public comments on the development.
Gun purchase in 2018
Hunter Biden’s gun-related legal troubles involve a firearm he purchased in October 2018. While buying a revolver at Delaware gun shop, he lied on a federal form when he swore that he was not using, and was not addicted to, any illegal drugs – even though he was struggling with crack cocaine addiction at the time of the purchase.
Hunter Biden “provided a written statement on Form 4473 certifying he was not an unlawful user of, and addicted to, any stimulant, narcotic drug, and any other controlled substance, when in fact, as he knew, that statement was false and fictitious,” according to the indictment.
It’s a federal crime to lie on the ATF form or to possess a firearm as a drug user. (Hunter Biden possessed the gun for about 11 days in 2018.) Prosecutors have previously said the statute of limitations for some of these offenses is set to expire in October.
Lowell on Thursday said the earlier deal means the gun charges should not be allowed.
“We believe these charges are barred by the agreement the prosecutors made with Mr. Biden,” Lowell said in his statement, “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.”
Prosecutors say that deal never went into force.
Weiss has been leading the Hunter Biden investigation since late 2018. Over the years, his team investigated potential felony tax evasion, illegal foreign lobbying, money laundering and other matters, largely tied to Hunter Biden’s overseas business deals.
The probe appeared to be winding down in June, when Weiss announced a two-pronged agreement where Hunter Biden would plead guilty to two federal tax misdemeanors, and enter into a “diversion agreement” where the gun charge would be dropped in two years if Hunter Biden passed regular drug tests and stayed out of legal trouble.
But at a stunning court hearing in July, the deals collapsed under scrutiny from the federal judge overseeing the case. The two sides tried to renegotiate an agreement, but talks reached an impasse and Attorney General Merrick Garland elevated Weiss to special counsel status in August – a major escalation in the probe.
In addition to the gun case, Weiss is still weighing whether to charge Hunter Biden with tax crimes. He said in a court filing last month that “a trial is now in order” on the tax offenses ad that he “may bring tax charges” possibly in California or Washington, DC.
If convicted on all counts, Hunter Biden could theoretically face as much as 25 years in prison and fines of up to $750,000, according to court filings.
However, defendants very rarely get the maximum penalty, especially in cases like these, involving non-violent crimes and an alleged first-time offender.
The three-count indictment was handed up Thursday by a federal grand jury in Delaware, according to court filings.
- Count One accuses Hunter Biden of lying on an ATF form when he bought the gun, by falsely swearing that he wasn’t addicted to illegal drugs or using illegal drugs.
- Count Two accuses Hunter Biden of lying to the federally licensed gun dealer in Wilmington where he bought the gun. The alleged lie was related to the same sworn statement on the ATF form.
- Count Three accuses Hunter Biden of illegally possessing the gun while using drugs or being addicted to drugs, which is a federal crime. He possessed the gun for 11 days in 2018.
One charge is facing serious constitutional jeopardy
The gun possession law Hunter Biden is accused of breaking is already on shaky legal ground after an August ruling by an appeals court covering three southern states that declared the statute unconstitutional.
Last month, a New Orleans-based federal appeals court struck down the decades-old law, saying it violated the Second Amendment in a case concerning a man who was convicted under it in 2022.
“In short, our history and tradition may support some limits on an intoxicated person’s right to carry a weapon, but it does not justify disarming a sober citizen based exclusively on his past drug usage,” Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, a Ronald Reagan appointee, wrote for the three-judge panel. “Nor do more generalized traditions of disarming dangerous persons support this restriction on nonviolent drug users.”
The ruling by the 5th Circuit, which oversees Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, means that other defendants convicted under the law in those states could seek to bring new challenges to their convictions, but it has no legal bearing in Biden’s case, which was brought in Delaware.
This story has been updated with additional developments.The-CNN-Wire
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