Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Hunter Biden: Justice or witch hunt?

 By now, it is no longer breaking news that Hunter Biden has pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor tax and gun crimes. The reactions run the gamut from cheering that a Biden is being shown to be a criminal to anger that he got off lightly to disgust that a president’s child is being persecuted by the political opposition. What is the real truth?

For starters, I’m not going to say that Hunter should be off-limits. The president’s son has had a troubled life and could be a poster boy for why illegal drugs are bad. If Hunter has committed crimes, and he has now admitted that he has, he deserves to be punished. 

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Having said that, it is a bit gross and devoid of class, not to mention basic human decency, to use Hunter and the Biden family’s misfortune to attack his father politically. I’m not sure that is a smart strategy since there are a lot of American families who have a drug-addicted black sheep like Hunter. Many of those families know and understand that one problem child does not implicate the entire family. 

The meat of Hunter’s deal is that he will plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges for failing to pay taxes in 2017 and 2018. CBS News reports that he had earned more than $1.5 million each year but did not pay taxes. He has since paid the taxes owed plus additional fines. 

The gun charge is a felony but will be part of a pre-trial diversion. Hunter reportedly illegally possessed a Colt Cobra .38 Special revolver for 11 days in 2018. Hunter’s possession of the gun was illegal because he was an “unlawful user of and addicted to a controlled substance.” The press release and legal documents detailing the charges and deal are available online. 

The pre-trial diversion program (PTD) is for certain nonviolent offenders. The Justice Department website notes that “Individuals who successfully complete a PTD program may qualify for a range of case outcomes, including the declination of charges, dismissal or reduction of charges, or a more favorable recommendation at sentencing.” On the other hand, “unsuccessful participants may be charged or, for participants who have already been charged, may be returned to or remain in the traditional criminal justice process.”

The deal has come under scrutiny with some Republicans saying that Hunter got special treatment because of his father. On the other hand, many conservatives, from Erick Erickson to the legal eagles at Advisory Opinions, acknowledge that such deals from nonviolent first offenders are not rare. 

And Hunter’s gun crime was one of possession, not use. The guidelines for the pre-trial diversion program stipulate that even brandishing a weapon would be disqualifying for the program. 

Maybe the DOJ shouldn’t rely on plea deals and pre-trial diversions, but without those tools, we would need a lot more prisons. There are pros and cons to both strategies, but the bottom line is that such deals are not unusual. 

Those who make allegations about a sweetheart deal also must grapple with the fact that the federal prosecutor in the Hunter case was a Trump appointee. David Weiss, the US attorney for Delaware, was appointed to the post by Donald Trump in 2018. Weiss has apparently been investigating Hunter for as long as he has been on the job. 

After about five years of investigation, the only federal crimes that Weiss apparently came up with are the two tax crimes and the gun possession charge. If there were other charges, we would probably know about them because the DOJ often throws the book at defendants in an indictment. 

To be fair, there is another Biden investigation pending. Aside from the special counsel looking into President Biden’s handling of classified information, the House Republicans are still investigating the Biden family finances. The question is whether congressional committees can uncover anything that a US attorney couldn’t find in a five-year probe. I wouldn’t hold my breath. 

And what about Donald Trump? Some people wonder why Biden gets a deal but Donald Trump is indicted and faces a criminal trial. That’s an easy one.

For months, as the Trump investigation progressed, Donald Trump’s lawyers said he was not interested in a plea deal. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, Trump was still refusing to consider a deal unless, as Newsweek reports, he was given one “where they pay me some damages.”

Suffice it to say that the DOJ does not pay damages to criminal defendants. If that is going to be Trump’s position, then he is going to trial and very possibly going to jail. 

I do think that Trump could probably get a plea deal, even at this late date. Prosecutors and justices would likely acknowledge that if Trump would plead guilty, avoiding the trial of a hot-headed demagogue who happens to be a former president would be best for the country. Nevertheless, I don’t think that Trump will be able to admit his guilt. 

Finally, I have a theory that Hunter might actually have gotten a more severe punishment because of his relationship to the president. Consider this: It took a five-year investigation to come up with the three charges that were part of the deal. If Hunter had not been the president’s son, would he have attracted enough attention to have investigators find his crimes?

For example, with respect to the gun crime, Erick Erickson described the circumstances that led to the charge: 

A gun belonging to Hunter Biden was tossed in a garbage can across from a high school when his then-girlfriend found it in his car. When the gun was found, authorities investigated its origin and found that Hunter Biden had lied on a background check form claiming he was not addicted to drugs while he publically admitted otherwise.

If Erickson’s version of events is accurate, Hunter didn’t get into trouble for having his gun in a trashcan, he got into trouble for making public statements (not unlike another famous lawbreaker in the news) acknowledging that he was a drug addict while stating on the purchase forms that he was not. Personally, I don’t think it’s likely that anyone would have investigated the matter closely enough to find the discrepancy if his last name had not put him under a magnifying glass. 

The same is true of the taxes. The IRS didn’t discover that he had illegally failed to pay taxes even though the failure to file returns was several years ago. That includes the years when Trump appointees ran the agency. Would Hunter’s crimes have been uncovered before the statute of limitations ran out if his father had not run for president? We have no way of knowing, but I’m skeptical. 

Some might say that Hunter was the victim of a witch hunt targeting the Bidens. But sometimes, witch hunts do uncover real crimes. When that happens, the perpetrators should be prepared to pay for their actions. 

We will never know for sure if Hunter would have gotten into legal trouble if his family hadn’t been involved in politics, but we do know that he does not contest his guilt. Agreeing to the plea deal and admitting guilt was a smart move For that, like many other defendants, he gets leniency. Maybe others should learn from his example. 

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JOHN EASTMAN FACES DISBARMENT: John Eastman, the Trump lawyer who authored a memo outlining a strategy to contest the 2020 election, faces disbarment in California

FBI RESISTED TRUMP INVESTIGATION FOR A YEAR: The Washington Postreports that the FBI resisted investigating the role of Trump and his advisors in the January 6 insurrection. This revelation underscores the importance of the work done by the House January 6 Committee.

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