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Prosecutors spend first day of testimony in Hunter Biden’s gun trial detailing his drug problems

Jun 3, 2024, 9:10 PM | Updated: Jun 4, 2024, 4:04 pm

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Federal prosecutors on Tuesday painted President Joe Biden’s son Hunter as deceptive and driven by addiction, a man whose dark habits ensnared loved ones and who knew what he was doing when he lied on a federal form to purchase a gun in 2018.

Jurors also got their first look at the document at the center of the case, and Hunter Biden’s attorney argued that his client did not believe he was in the throes of addiction when he stated in the paperwork that he did not have a drug problem. In the short time that he had the gun, he did nothing with it, and the weapon was never even loaded, attorney Abbe Lowell said in his opening statement.

“You will see that he is not guilty,” Lowell said.

Hunter Biden has been charged with three felonies stemming from the purchase of the Colt revolver when he was, according to his memoir, addicted to crack. He has been accused of lying to a federally licensed gun dealer, making a false claim on the application by saying he was not a drug user and illegally having the gun for 11 days.

The first day of testimony in the case dredged up painful memories for the president and his family, and revealed new and highly personal details about some of their struggles with addiction as the 2024 election looms. For part of the day, the first lady watched from the front row of the courtroom.

Attorneys said jurors would hear testimony from the president’s brother James Biden, who is close with Hunter and helped his nephew through rehab stints in the past. They will also hear how Hallie Biden, the widow of the president’s late son Beau, also became addicted to crack during a brief relationship with Hunter.

Hallie took the gun from Hunter and tossed it into the garbage at a nearby market, afraid of what he might do with it. The weapon was later found by someone collecting cans and eventually turned over to police.

The president was in Washington on Tuesday, announcing an immigration order and hosting a picnic for congressional leaders before a scheduled departure for France later in the day. He will be gone the rest of the week. Jill Biden planned to meet him in Europe.

The president’s allies are worried about the toll the trial may take on the elder Biden, who’s long been protective and deeply concerned about his only living son and his sobriety and who must now watch as those past mistakes are publicly scrutinized.

Prosecutors on Tuesday spent hours on Hunter Biden’s drug problem, using his own words and missives to show the depth of the addiction and to suggest it was still ongoing when he bought the gun. They showed jurors his old laptop computer, the same one he left at a Delaware repair shop and never retrieved. In 2020, the contents made their way to Republicans and were publicly leaked, revealing highly personal messages about his work and his life. He has since sued over the leaked information.

An FBI agent read aloud messages stored on his devices that chronicled a desperate effort to buy drugs. The data also included receipts for a detox facility he attended before relapsing and showed large cash withdrawals.

In one exchange with Hallie, the day after he bought the gun, she wrote: “I called you 500 times in past 24 hours.” Hunter replied less than a minute later, informing her that he was “sleeping on a car smoking crack on 4th street and Rodney.”

“There’s my truth,” he added in a follow-up text.

But during cross-examination, the FBI agent testified that Hunter Biden sent fewer messages about seeking drugs in October 2018, around the time when he purchased the gun, than in February 2019, a later period in which Lowell described his client as struggling significantly with addiction.

Lowell also called into question the receipts for the rehab facility, asking whether the agent knew whether he had been treated for drugs or alcohol. She said she could not.

The jury also heard lengthy audio excerpts of Hunter Biden’s memoir, “Beautiful Things,” in which he narrates his return to Delaware around the time of the gun purchase and his descent into drugs following the death of his brother in 2015 from cancer.

His sister Ashley Biden, watching from the courtroom, dabbed at her eyes with a tissue and eventually left. Jill Biden, who was expected in Washington with her husband, left after lunch.

The proceedings come after the collapse of a deal with prosecutors that would have avoided the spectacle of a trial so close to the 2024 election. Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty and has argued he’s being unfairly targeted by the Justice Department after Republicans decried the now-defunct plea deal as special treatment for the Democratic president’s son.

“No one is allowed to lie on a federal form like that, even Hunter Biden,” prosecutor Derek Hines said. “He crossed the line when he chose to buy a gun and lied about a federal background check … the defendant’s choice to buy a gun is why we are here.”

“When the defendant filled out that form, he knew he was a drug addict,” and prosecutors don’t have to prove he was using the day he purchased the firearm, Hines said.

Lowell said the form asks whether you “are” a drug user. “It does not say ‘have you ever been,’” and he suggested the president’s son did not think of himself as someone with a drug problem when he purchased the gun.

His state of mind should be considered at the time of the purchase, not “what he wrote in a book in 2021,” Lowell said.

If convicted, Hunter Biden faces up to 25 years in prison, though first-time offenders do not get anywhere near the maximum, and it’s unclear whether the judge would give him time behind bars.

The trial is unfolding just days after Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was convicted of 34 felonies in New York City. The two criminal cases are unrelated, but their proximity underscores how the courts have taken center stage during the 2024 campaign.

On Tuesday, a former Trump aide and vocal Biden critic, Garrett Ziegler, attended court, prompting Hunter Biden’s wife, Melissa, to approach him and say “You have no right to be here” and yelling an expletive. Ziegler has been sued by Hunter Biden, who claimed he violated computer privacy laws by accessing and then manipulating the laptop data.

Hunter Biden also faces a trial in California in September on charges of failing to pay $1.4 million in taxes. Both cases were to have been resolved through the deal with prosecutors last July, the culmination of a yearslong investigation into his business dealings.

But Judge Maryellen Noreika, who was nominated to the bench by Trump, questioned some unusual aspects of the deal. The lawyers could not come to a resolution on her questions, and the deal fell apart. Attorney General Merrick Garland then appointed a former U.S. attorney for Delaware, David Weiss, as a special counsel in August, and a month later Hunter Biden was indicted.

Garland on Tuesday faced members of the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee in Washington, which has been investigating the president and his family and whose chairman has been at the forefront of a stalled impeachment inquiry stemming from Hunter Biden’s business dealings.

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Long reported from Washington.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of Hunter Biden at https://apnews.com/hub/hunter-biden.

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Prosecutors spend first day of testimony in Hunter Biden’s gun trial detailing his drug problems