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Wednesday did not go how Hunter Biden probably hoped.
The president’s son was supposed to finalize a plea deal, admitting he broke the law but avoiding jail time for misdemeanor tax crimes and agreeing to a diversion program on a gun charge.
Instead, a federal judge in Wilmington, Delaware, questioned the scope of Hunter Biden’s plea deal with prosecutors, asking for more clarity from both sides.
But rather than suggesting the deal reached between federal prosecutors in Delaware and Hunter Biden’s legal team was too lenient, as Republican lawmakers have done, the judge wanted to know if the deal would settle the five-year federal investigation into the president’s son.
Hunter Biden’s attorneys thought it did. The prosecutors said there would be ongoing investigations.
So Wednesday ended not with the legal cloud behind the president’s son, but rather with the plea deal on hold and him pleading “not guilty.”
The two sides will now have to offer more explanation to the judge, Maryellen Noreika, who was appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump.
Key background from CNN’s Marshall Cohen, Holmes Lybrand and Kara Scannell:
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.
There is also a separate mini-drama. Noreika previously threatened to sanction Hunter Biden’s lawyers after questions about whether one of them misrepresented herself in a phone call to the court. The issue “did not come up at Wednesday’s hearing,” according to CNN’s report.
Calls by Republicans that the plea deal should be reexamined while lawmakers pursue complaints by two IRS whistleblowers about the process that led to the agreement did not feature in the proceedings Wednesday.
The IRS employees, who testified before Congress last week, says Weiss, the Trump-appointed US attorney leading the investigation, should have pursued more serious crimes against Hunter Biden.
The idea that the DOJ is applying different standards of justice to Republicans has become orthodox thinking among Republican lawmakers, who frequently try to create some equivalence between the Hunter Biden plea deal for tax infractions and the prosecution of Trump for conspiracy and mishandling of classified information.
If Trump also ultimately faces charges for his effort to overturn the 2020 election, look for Republicans to deflect questions about his conduct with flicks at this perception of a double standard.
And the political prosecution of Hunter Biden will continue long after the issue of his plea deal is resolved.
Weiss has volunteered to testify in public on Capitol Hill this fall.
Associating the president with his wayward son has been the goal of his political rivals for years, and it won’t end as a result of the confusion at the court in Delaware Wednesday.
Republicans are conducting their own investigations of Hunter Biden’s business dealings, although they have so far failed to tie any of his questionable arrangements or foreign dealings to his father.
Meanwhile, there is a notable shift in the thinking of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
CNN’s Capitol Hill team, including Melanie Zanona, Manu Raju and Annie Grayer, writes that McCarthy has suddenly warmed to the idea of pursuing an impeachment investigation against the president. Read their full report.
It details how McCarthy has heard advice to prioritize an impeachment of Joe Biden over a member of his Cabinet, like Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was grilled Wednesday by House Republicans over the Biden administration’s border policies.
Here are key lines from Zanona, Raju and Grayer:
Part of the thinking, according to multiple sources familiar with the internal discussions, is that if House Republicans are going to expend precious resources on the politically tricky task of an impeachment, they might as well go after their highest target as opposed to the attorney general or secretary of homeland security.
And McCarthy – who sources said has also been consulting with former House GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich on the issue – has warmed up to an idea that has long been relegated to the fringes of his conference. This week, he delivered his most explicit threat yet to Biden, saying their investigations into the Biden family’s business deals appear to be rising to the level of an impeachment inquiry.
One problem for a presidential impeachment effort is that, as McCarthy admitted to CNN Tuesday, Republicans have not verified the most salacious allegation against Joe Biden, documented in a single FBI interview, that as vice president he engaged in a bribery scheme with a foreign national in order to benefit Hunter Biden’s career – an allegation the White House furiously denies.
“How do you get to the bottom of the truth? The only way Congress can do that is go to an impeachment inquiry,” McCarthy said Tuesday, according to CNN’s report – suggesting the new thinking that an impeachment inquiry could act as something of a fishing expedition to find something worthy of impeachment.