UNITED STATES NEWS

Takeaways from Hunter Biden’s gun trial: His family turns out as his own words are used against him

Jun 8, 2024, 7:42 AM

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Pictures of President Joe Biden’s son with drug paraphernalia and bare-chested in a bubble bath. Text messages between Hunter Biden and drug dealers. Testimony from Hunter’s exes about relationships destroyed by his drug use.

Hunter Biden’s trial on gun charges brought by his father’s Justice Department has put on full display tawdry and embarrassing details about the president’s son, all while first lady Jill Biden watches from the courtroom in Wilmington, Delaware.

Prosecutors on Friday rested their case accusing Hunter Biden of lying when he swore that he was not a drug user on a federal form to buy a gun in October 2018. The defense could call at least one more witness when the trial resumes on Monday before lawyers make their closing arguments.

Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty and has accused the Justice Department of bending to political pressure from former President Donald Trump and other Republicans to bring the case and separate tax charges after a deal with prosecutors fell apart last year. Hunter Biden has said he has been sober since 2019.

Here are some key takeaways from the first week of the trial:

BIDEN FAMILY TURNS OUT IN COURT

Jill Biden sat through the proceedings at the federal courthouse almost every day since the trial began June 3. She missed Thursday’s testimony because she was in France attending D-Day anniversary events with the president. She flew back to be in court on Friday.

She sat quietly in the first row of the courtroom behind Hunter Biden and listened intently without showing emotion as prosecutors painted him as deceptive and driven by addiction. During breaks in testimony, Jill Biden occasionally spoke briefly with Hunter, leaning over a railing in the courtroom to hug and kiss him on the cheek.

Other family members who showed up throughout the week to show support included Hunter Biden’s sister Ashley, the president’s sister Valerie Biden and Jill Biden’s sister Bonny Jacobs.

HUNTER’S OWN WORDS

Hunter Biden hasn’t taken the witness stand and it is not clear whether he will. Jurors have already heard his own words about the depths of his drug and alcohol addiction after his brother, Beau, died in 2015.

A central piece of the prosecution’s case is Hunter Biden’s memoir “Beautiful Things,” in which the president’s son opened up about his crack cocaine addiction, stints in rehab and struggles to get sober.

Jurors have heard Hunter Biden detail at length seeking out crack in different places and learning how to smoke it. In one long excerpt played in the courtroom, he described driving to a treatment center and seeing an enormous barn owl, which may have been a hallucination, swoop over his windshield.

In another excerpt played in court, Hunter Biden described at one point accidently leaving in a rental car his wallet, which contained his late brother’s Delaware attorney general badge and a Secret Service business card. A rental car employee found that, along with paraphernalia and white-powder residue on the armrest. A manager called police, who called the Secret Service, who called Joe Biden, Hunter wrote.

No charges were brought over that. In his book, Hunter Biden wrote: “Despite the speculation in the right-wing media to the contrary, the cops weren’t strong-armed into dropping the case.”

THREE EXES

Hunter Biden’s ex-wife and two other former romantic partners, including his brother’s widow, took the witness stand for prosecutors to detail their knowledge of his drug use.

His ex-wife, Kathleen Buhle, recounted learning that her husband was using drugs when she found a pipe used to smoke crack cocaine in an ashtray on their porch in July 2015, a day after their anniversary.

Beau’s widow, Hallie, described beginning to use drugs herself during her short and troubled romantic relationship with Hunter Biden, telling jurors: “I regret that period of my life.” Hallie Biden testified about finding the remnants of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia in his car, along with the gun that is at the center of the case.

“I panicked and I wanted to get rid of them,” she said of the gun and ammunition she found.

“Why did you panic?” the prosecutor asked.

“Because I didn’t want him to hurt himself, and I didn’t want my kids to find it and hurt themselves,” Hallie Biden replied. She put the gun in a bag and tossed it in a garbage can at a nearby grocery store. A man collecting recyclables found it and eventually handed it over to police.

A third woman, Zoe Kestan, told jurors about meeting Hunter in December 2017 at a strip club in New York where she was working. She recounted Hunter Biden smoking crack perhaps every 20 minutes when she stayed with him at a hotel.

Kestan acknowledged that she had no contact with him in October 2018, the period when he bought the gun. But she told jurors that Hunter Biden was using drugs the next month. Prosecutors also showed jurors several highly personal photos from her phone of Hunter Biden sleeping, in a bubble bath and, in some, unclothed or censored with a black box.

DEFENSE STRATEGY

The defense argued in a court filing Friday that prosecutors have failed to present evidence that Hunter Biden was actually using drugs in the 11 days he owned the gun.

“It was only after the gun was thrown away and the ensuing stress … that the government was able to then find the same type of evidence of his use (e.g., photos, use of drug lingo) that he relapsed with drugs,” defense lawyer Abbe Lowell wrote.

Throughout the trial, the defense has tried to cast doubt on the memories of the prosecution’s witnesses, pressing them about their recollection of events.

Lowell has raised other possible reasons for large cash withdrawals to counter the implication that his client was using the cash for drugs. Lowell asked investigators whether Hunter Biden could have been getting cash to pay for his children’s tuition, for housing or alimony, pointing out that authorities had not done a forensic financial examination to trace the money.

The defense on Friday called to the witness stand Hunter Biden’s daughter Naomi Biden, who testified about how she visited her father while he was at a rehab facility in August 2018, months before the gun purchase, and told him she was proud of him. The testimony detailing a lunch with her boyfriend, her father and his sober living companion appeared designed to show that Hunter Biden had turned a corner with his addiction during that period.

But prosecutors quickly pressed Naomi Biden on details she witnessed about his addiction and her father’s behavior when she saw him briefly in October after his gun purchase. Prosecutors read highly personal texts between the father and daughter, including a plea she made to see him and his response that he was being unfair, leaving them both emotional as she left the witness stand.

The defense had previously said they planned to call as a witness Joe Biden’s brother, James. On Friday, Hunter’s lawyer did not rule out calling one more witness, but it was unclear who that could be. Testimony from other family members could open the door for more highly personal messages to be introduced to the jury.

_____

Richer reported from Washington.

United States News

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Takeaways from Hunter Biden’s gun trial: His family turns out as his own words are used against him