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Judge Puts Hunter Biden Plea Deal on Hold as Republicans Ramp Up Attacks on President & Son

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Image Credit: Courtroom sketch by Bill Hennesy

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Delaware halted a plea deal reached between Hunter Biden and federal prosecutors in which the president’s son would avoid facing prosecution on a separate gun charge by pleading guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges. Trump-appointed Judge Maryellen Noreika said the deal lacked legal precedent, and identified several sections of the agreement that were interpreted differently by the prosecution and defense. A new plea deal could be reached within the next six weeks. This comes as Republicans have been intensifying their attacks on the Biden family in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential election. “They’re very much trying to move beyond Hunter Biden, which they understand they’ve beaten that issue to death, and trying to move to Joe Biden,” says Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for The Intercept.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Hunter Biden’s legal problems continue to mount, after a judge suspends a plea deal in a stunning move. The judge put the plea deal on hold, reached between Hunter Biden and federal prosecutors. The president’s son had agreed in June to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges as part of a deal that would have allowed him to avoid facing prosecution on a separate gun charge. But on Wednesday, the Trump-appointed federal judge questioned the constitutionality of the agreement, saying the deal lacked legal precedent and was not possibly, quote, “worth the paper it’s written on.” During a stunning court session, the judge, Maryellen Noreika, also questioned the broad scope of the immunity deal, which Biden’s lawyers say would have protected him from facing charges on other unrelated issues. By the end of the day, Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty to three tax and gun charges. He’s expected to withdraw the plea if a new deal can be reached.

Ahead of next year’s election, Republicans have been intensifying their attacks on Hunter Biden, from his personal life to his multimillion-dollar overseas business deals related to Ukraine and China. Last week, the Republican-led Oversight Committee held a hearing where two former IRS officials alleged Hunter Biden had received preferential treatment. During the hearing, Republican Congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene displayed nude pictures of Hunter Biden engaged in sex acts. Hunter Biden’s lawyer has since filed an ethics complaint against Greene for displaying the photos during a televised hearing.

Coverage of Hunter Biden continues to dominate right-wing news outlets. As of this morning, Fox News had 12 separate articles about Hunter Biden on its homepage. On Breitbart.com, Hunter’s name appears 15 times on the site’s homepage.

We’re joined now by Ryan Grim, Washington, D.C., bureau chief for The Intercept. He recently co-wrote the article, “What Does the FBI Have on Hunter and Joe Biden?”

Ryan, let’s begin with what happened in court yesterday. All the news in the morning was a deal was about to be sealed, and then this hours-long hearing that ended up in the deal being, well, let’s say, stayed for 30 days. What happened? And who’s the judge?

RYAN GRIM: This is Judge Noreika, who is an appointee of the Trump administration but had the approval, you know, the sign-off, of both Democratic senators from Delaware.

And this is a case where you can say that, I think, everybody from all sides can say that the judge actually identified problems with the plea deal that do need — that did need to be resolved and worked out. The most obvious one was that the sides didn’t actually agree on what their interpretation of the deal was. Hunter Biden’s side said that this plea deal meant that anything that the prosecutors had remotely looked into, including whether or not he had violated FARA, which is not registering as a foreign agent, meant that no future prosecutors could ever bring a case against him for those things. That was Hunter Biden’s interpretation, and the judge kind of drew that out of his legal team. She then asked the prosecutors, “Is that your interpretation of this plea agreement?” And the prosecutors said, “No, that is not our interpretation of the agreement, that if we can find FARA violations, particularly representing this kind of Chinese energy company, for instance, or, perhaps, Burisma, that we can bring that case in the future.” So, that is an irreconcilable difference. Like, so, she ordered the sides to work that part out.

The other one is — the unprecedented and potentially unconstitutional part is that they had come to an agreement that rather than the Department of Justice monitoring whether or not Hunter Biden complies with his kind of two years of nonprosecution for his gun charge, that they wanted the judge to oversee it, because their argument was, if Trump comes back into office, Trump would be reckless and unbiased — reckless and biased, and would bring cases against Hunter Biden in an unfair way, and so it would be better to have the judge overseeing this process. And the judge said, “You might have legitimate concerns here, but that’s not my role.” You know, if you think back to the case of the attorney Steven Donziger, who took on Chevron, there are a lot of problems when a judge starts acting as a prosecutor. And the judge seemed to not want to take that present, so she told them to go back, figure out — figure out the part about FARA, which they actually did sort out in the courtroom, and they agreed that they would not — and Hunter Biden agreed that he could be prosecuted in the future around FARA violations, and said, “Go back and figure out who’s going to oversee this.” So, it’s actually a pretty narrow question. And so, if Hunter Biden agrees to let the Justice Department kind of monitor his kind of prerelease situation, then, unless something major happens in the next 30 days, it seems like the judge is going to sign off on this.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go to the charges that he pleaded not guilty to yesterday but was going to plead guilty to when the deal was going to be sealed. Can you explain what the tax charges are and what the gun charge is?

RYAN GRIM: Right, so, not paying his taxes. And he is — yeah, everybody is — let’s say everybody is innocent until proven guilty, but we know he had huge amounts of income, and he didn’t pay any taxes. So —

AMY GOODMAN: And this was in 2017 and ’18?

RYAN GRIM: Right, this is — and this is a time that he has written about in his own memoir as being on a long drug-fueled bender, and so not in a situation where he’s keeping kind of diligent books. Money is coming in, and money is going right back out. And the right has argued that the charge — I think it’s more than $100,000 — is way too small, that there’s enough evidence in the public that the amount of money that he was bringing in was over $10 million, which ought to lead to a prison sentence. And there’s plenty of precedent, and there are plenty of people who have gone to prison for that amount of unpaid taxes, to say that, “Wait, this doesn’t seem fair here.”

The gun charge is pretty straightforward. And I would wonder if most people on the right would find it actually unconstitutional in violation of the Second Amendment. But, basically, he bought a gun, and there was a form that he had to fill out that said, you know, “Are you a current drug user?” And he checked “no.” And we know from his memoir, from videos that he took of himself constantly, that that was not true, so that, like I said, everybody innocent until proven guilty, but he’s also guilty of that. So, we know he did those things. But I wouldn’t find it, you know, surprising if you had Republicans say, “Well, you know what? Actually, your Second Amendment rights should not be abridged by whether or not you’re a drug user.” That’s beside the point there. So, that, in the plea deal, was a — it could be a felony, but is — you know, he got — as long as he’s on good behavior for two years, it wouldn’t — he wouldn’t get a conviction.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaking Wednesday.

PRESS SECRETARY KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Hunter Biden is a private citizen, and this was a personal matter for him. As we have said, the president, the first lady, they love their son, and they support him as he continues to rebuild his life. This case was handled independently, as all of you know, by the Justice Department under the leadership of a prosecutor appointed by the former president, President Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this is the first time for a president’s son. And obviously now, this is of major political interest, what’s going on, so much so that there was a hearing last week, the House Oversight Committee. Can you talk about the significance of that hearing? Many people, like Jim Jordan, are saying — who chaired that committee — are saying that this proves that that was a successful hearing, because that’s what weighed in in the judge’s decision. Your thoughts on that, Ryan Grim?

RYAN GRIM: I don’t think that that’s necessarily the case, because they still have the fundamental problem that KJP mentioned there, that the prosecutor was appointed by Trump. And even if you have IRS agents who come forward and say, “We don’t think that this case was brought with the fervor that it ought to have been brought with, and we think that there was political interference,” the fact that Biden left in place the Trump prosecutor kind of really undermines their case.

Now, that hearing did come up, and the Republican congressional investigations did come up, in this long sentencing hearing — or what didn’t become a sentencing hearing — because you had this bizarre situation where the prosecutors accused Hunter Biden’s defense team of having somebody on their staff call and say they were from a law firm representing the Republicans and asked to have a letter from the Ways and Means chairman taken off of the docket. The staffer swears up and down that she did not do that, that she accurately said that she was from this particular firm and she only wanted kind of publicly identifying information, maybe some tax information, some private information of Hunter Biden’s that was in the documents, to be taken off of the public docket, not the entire thing to be taken off the docket. The right has kind of gone nuts with this and is calling for the attorneys to be disbarred and is making a huge deal of this. The judge may kind of, you know, do some type of independent investigation into this. So, in that sense, it did get caught up in this, but the fact that the prosecutor is a Trump prosecutor and is still on the case and is still standing behind this plea agreement despite all of the pressure from the right, I think, suggests that they haven’t quite penetrated yet.

But they’re not done. You know, they are saying that they’re going bring former Hunter Biden business partner Devon Archer to Congress, who the New York Post is reporting is going to testify that he knows that Joe Biden, the president — or, who wasn’t president at the time, but former vice president at the time, you know, spoke to a number of Hunter Biden clients, which would undermine the Bidens’ claim that Joe Biden was never involved in any business dealings. So, they’re very much trying to move beyond Hunter Biden, which they understand they’ve kind of beaten that issue to death, and trying to move to Joe Biden and trying to link him to some of his deals, because they think that maybe that’s the thing that can get this to break out of the right-wing cul-de-sac, which it’s been stuck in.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan, last question, and that is, well, the headline of the piece you co-wrote: “What Does the FBI Have on Hunter and Joe Biden?”

RYAN GRIM: That was about this 1023 document, that was all the rage on the right and that Chuck Grassley has since released publicly. This is a document that the FBI produces when somebody comes to them with information. You could produce a 1023 later today, if you called up the FBI and said you had information. It doesn’t mean that the information is verified, and it doesn’t include any analysis or anything else. So, what it was was a confidential human source saying that they had met with a senior official at Burisma, and that senior official said that Hunter Biden was basically shaking them down for extra money, claiming that he was splitting his fee with Joe Biden.

Now, the problem, you know, you could — even if you believe the confidential human source, which the FBI says has been a credible source in the past, you would have to also believe the Ukrainian oligarch. And a lot of Republicans, including even, say, Ron Johnson, have said, “We’re not sure that this oligarch is telling the truth. We’re not sure the oligarch is credible.” And then you’d also have to believe Hunter Biden was telling the truth to that oligarch, because Hunter Biden could also just be telling them that, to use his father’s name to get more money out of them. So, it’s a very interesting detail and part of this whole mosaic, but the FBI ultimately found it not a credible tip that they could kind of prosecute on.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, we want to thank you for being with us, Washington, D.C., bureau chief for The Intercept. He writes the newsletter Bad News on Substack. And we’ll link to your piece for The Intercept.

This is Democracy Now! Coming up, a police officer has been fired in Ohio for siccing an attack dog on an unarmed Black man during a traffic stop when the man had his hands up in the air. We’ll look at the use of attack dogs by police and prison guards. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Black Boys on Mopeds” by Sinéad O’Connor. She has died at the age of 56.

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