The sprawling Hunter Biden probe is hurtling toward a conclusion, and former prosecutors who have followed the case say signs point to a “generous” guilty plea deal that would spare the Biden administration further embarrassment.
Media outlets have reported that the grand jury probe of President Biden’s second son has reached a “critical stage” as prosecutors consider charges.
Hunter Biden has not been charged with wrongdoing, but investigators have been looking into suspected violations of federal gun and tax laws. He is also under federal scrutiny for suspicion of money laundering and violation of foreign lobbying requirements tied to his overseas business dealings.
Prosecutors who have watched the case predict it will end with a guilty plea to minor tax or gun charges in exchange for a light sentence.
A guilty plea would be the least-messy outcome, they say. It would avoid an indictment or criminal trial that could unearth accusations that would embarrass Hunter Biden and his father.
Chris Clark, a lawyer representing Hunter Biden in the Delaware case, disputed predictions that the case will end in a guilty plea.
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“Let any of your ‘experts’ know I’m happy to place a bet with them,” he wrote in an email to The Washington Times.
A plea would provide political cover for Attorney General Merrick Garland, who can point to it as evidence that President Biden didn’t try to put his thumb on the scales of justice. It would also keep accusations swirling around Hunter Biden from upending the critical midterm elections in November.
“My bet is we are looking at a generous soft plea that is very favorable to Hunter Biden,” said Jim Trusty, a former Justice Department prosecutor. “The guilty plea is designed to end all inquiries into Hunter Biden’s financial activities. The story will be Hunter Biden had a drug addiction and made the mistakes.”
Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, expects a guilty plea because emails, text messages, photos and other materials discovered on Hunter Biden’s laptop computer will make it difficult for prosecutors not to pursue charges.
He said a plea deal could include tax crimes and violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. The obscure 1938 law requires anyone doing political or lobbying work on behalf of a foreign client or government to register with the Justice Department.
“Absent a sealed indictment or a decision to carry over to a new grand jury, a plea deal seems more likely,” Mr. Turley wrote in an email. “It is hard to believe that the DOJ would walk away from what appear to be obvious FARA violations and tax violations. A plea deal always seemed like the best case scenario for Hunter since his laptop left no question about an assortment of criminal acts.”
Legal observers point to several developments in the Hunter Biden case and in Washington that signal a guilty plea. First, the grand jury in Delaware hearing testimony in the case expired last month without any public charges.
U.S. Attorney David Weiss could call a new grand jury, but that would take months and might give prosecutors time to discover more witnesses or evidence. Another indicator, they say, is that the grand jury closed without appearances from significant witnesses, including President Biden.
Also, the looming November midterm elections are putting pressure on prosecutors to resolve the case. Republicans are expected to take one or both houses of Congress and have already promised to conduct rigorous investigations into Hunter Biden’s business dealings and the Justice Department’s handling of the case.
“Generally, prosecutors don’t like to have congressional overlap at the time of an investigation because you don’t want witnesses subjected to the publicity of a congressional hearing,” Mr. Trusty said.
A guilty plea would shield Hunter Biden from a congressional inquiry by closing the case before Republicans gain investigative powers and would magnify Democrats’ objections to calls for a special counsel.
The midterm elections also could impact the case in other ways. Under a long-standing rule, the Justice Department won’t file charges in a politically tinged case within 60 days of an election. That would mean prosecutors have until early September to move on an indictment.
Some question whether the department’s 60-day rule would apply in the Hunter Biden case because neither he nor his father is up for election this year. In 2018, the Justice Department used that logic to bring criminal charges against Michael Cohen, who was President Trump’s personal attorney.
The Hunter Biden case dates back to 2018 as an investigation into his tax affairs. It has since morphed into a broader probe looking not only into whether Hunter Biden paid enough income taxes but also whether he violated other federal laws.
Hunter Biden received large salaries while working for various businesses in China, Ukraine and elsewhere. He reportedly raked in more than $11 million from his overseas business dealings while his father served as vice president.
He sat on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, from 2014 to 2019. Despite having little experience in the industry, he received a lucrative salary.
A Chinese energy company sent $4.8 million to entities controlled by Hunter Biden and his uncle, James Biden, for legal and advisory work. It’s unclear whether Hunter Biden actually performed any legal work for the company.
The foreign lobbying work has raised questions about whether Hunter Biden violated FARA.
Those foreign funds have also landed Hunter Biden under scrutiny for suspected money laundering by bringing overseas funds into the U.S. financial system in a way to obscure their origins. Various financial institutions filed more than 150 reports of suspicious activity with the U.S. government about the transfer of funds into and out of his accounts.
Prosecutors are also examining whether Hunter Biden violated firearms laws when he purchased a gun in 2018 while he was struggling with substance abuse.
In 2018, Hunter Biden’s girlfriend tossed a firearm he owned into a dumpster in Wilmington, Delaware. Hunter Biden said he was grappling with drug abuse.
Federal gun laws prohibit the sale of a firearm to anyone who uses or is addicted to illegal drugs. Gun purchase forms require buyers to self-attest that they are not using drugs.