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Hunter Biden hearing ends after judge is not ready to accept revised plea deal

<i>Jonathan Ernst/Reuters</i><br/>Hunter Biden arrives for his court hearing in Wilmington
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Hunter Biden arrives for his court hearing in Wilmington

By Marshall Cohen, Holmes Lybrand and Kara Scannell, CNN

Wilmington, Delaware (CNN) — A plea deal between President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden and the Justice Department is on hold after a dramatic court hearing Wednesday.

Hunter Biden failed to pay between $1.1 million and $1.5 million in federal taxes before the legal deadlines and was poised to plead guilty to two tax charges with prosecutors agreeing to recommend a sentence of probation.

But before the original plea could be entered, the deal began to unravel and a revised agreement reached during the hearing was not accepted by the judge.

“I cannot accept the plea agreement today, said District Judge Maryellen Noreika.

Noreika said she had “concerns” about the parties seemingly linking the tax plea agreement to resolving a felony gun charge. During the proceedings, prosecutors confirmed that the investigation into Biden was ongoing.

After negotiations, the president’s son then agreed to plead guilty to the two tax charges in a deal that only includes conduct related to tax offenses, drug use and gun possession. The two sides agreed that this deal does not shield him from potential future charges. But the judge wasn’t satisfied.

“What if it is unconstitutional?” she asked. “I’m trying to exercise due deliverance and consideration to make sure we don’t make a misstep.”

After the discussion, Hunter Biden entered a not guilty plea.

Noreika – a Donald Trump appointee who was confirmed unanimously by the Senate – presided over Wednesday’s hearing and has the sole authority to decide Hunter Biden’s ultimate punishment.

While the investigation was ongoing, Hunter Biden fully paid his federal tax bill, along with interest and penalties, his lawyers have previously said.

The Trump-era Justice Department started investigating Hunter Biden in 2018, and the probe steadily expanded to examine whether he violated money laundering and foreign lobbying laws with his multimillion-dollar overseas business dealings. Federal investigators also looked into Hunter Biden’s unpaid taxes and lavish spending, which came amid a struggle with addiction.

US attorney David Weiss has led the investigation. He was appointed by Trump, and Joe Biden kept him at his post so he could continue handling the probe. There is no public indication that Joe Biden or the White House ever tried to intervene in the probe.

A bizarre legal clash between a top Republican lawmaker and Hunter Biden’s lawyers, which erupted on the eve of his court appearance, did not come up at Wednesday’s hearing.

The dispute revolves around whether a member of Hunter Biden’s legal team lied to the court about her identity so they would remove a Tuesday filing from GOP Rep. Jason Smith, the House Ways and Means Committee chair, about alleged political interference in the probe.

In a late twist, the judge threatened to sanction Hunter Biden’s lawyers over the matter. They denied the claims and called the incident an “unintentional miscommunication” by court staff.

Questions about the probe

Hanging over the plea hearing are recent claims from two IRS whistleblowers who helped lead the investigation that the Justice Department gave preferential treatment to Hunter Biden beginning when Trump was president in 2020.

Their claims dovetail with the GOP-fueled narrative that Hunter Biden got a “sweetheart deal,” even though it’s fairly common for first-time offenders to avoid incarceration in a misdemeanor-only case.

The career IRS agents told Congress that Justice Department officials undercut their attempts to further scrutinize Biden family members, slow-walked requests for subpoenas and search warrants and blocked Weiss from filing the felony tax evasion charges that they had recommended.

The relevant parties – including Weiss, Attorney General Merrick Garland and other senior Justice Department officials – have publicly refuted the whistleblowers’ claims of politicization.

In letters to Congress, Weiss has maintained that he has “been granted ultimate authority over this matter, including responsibility for deciding where, when and whether to file charges.” And earlier this week, he offered to testify at a public House Oversight Committee hearing, likely sometime this fall.

House Republicans have zeroed in on Hunter Biden’s finances as part of their broader oversight probes into the Biden family. They are seeking testimony from Weiss about the criminal probe, and the House GOP’s right-wing flank is already clamoring for a possible Garland impeachment.

Hunter Biden’s lawyers called the IRS whistleblowers “disgruntled agents” with “an axe to grind.”

They’ve also said their client is pleading guilty because he believes “it is important to take responsibility for these mistakes he made during a period of turmoil and addiction in his life.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Tierney Sneed, Zachary Cohen and Devan Cole contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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