The Hunter Biden investigation began in 2018 and became a central focus for then-President Donald Trump during his unsuccessful 2020 re-election effort. Initially, the probe focused on Hunter Biden’s finances related to foreign business relations and consultancy work. Over time, investigators from multiple agencies focused on whether he failed to declare all of his income and whether he lied on gun purchase documents in 2018, according to people familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing matter.
Officers determined months ago that they had mounted a viable criminal case against the younger Biden. But it is ultimately up to Justice Department prosecutors, not officers, to decide whether to bring charges in cases where prosecutors believe the evidence is strong enough to lead to a likely conviction at trial.
Given the intense political interest in a criminal investigation involving the son of a sitting president, Attorney General Merrick Garland made it clear that Delaware U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss, who was appointed by Trump in late 2017 , oversees the case.
Garland swore there would be no political or otherwise inappropriate interference in the Hunter Biden case, and did not move to push Weiss into a decision, people familiar with the matter said. It is not uncommon for Department of Justice investigations to take years to complete. Justice Department policy would require that any criminal tax charges be approved by the department’s tax division.
A spokeswoman for Weiss declined to comment, as did spokeswomen for the Justice Department, the FBI and the IRS, the two main investigative agencies.
Asked about the case, Chris Clark, a lawyer for Hunter Biden, accused investigators of leaking information. “It is a federal crime for a federal agent to disclose information about a Grand Jury investigation such as this,” Clark said in a written statement. “Any agent you cite as a source in your article has apparently committed such a crime. We expect the Department of Justice to diligently investigate and prosecute these bad actors. As appropriate and legally required, we believe the Prosecutors in this case are diligent and carefully weigh not only the evidence provided by the officers, but also all other witnesses in this case, including defense witnesses. This is the job of prosecutors. They should not suffer pressured, rushed or criticized for doing their job.”
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Any charging decision involving the Biden case is particularly weighty because Trump and his allies have made accusations of corruption in Hunter Biden’s business dealings a key line of attack against Democrats, both before and after the presidential race. of 2020. At the height of the election campaign, Trump allies revealed that a Delaware computer store owner turned over a laptop that apparently belonged to Hunter Biden to the FBI. Trump and others argued the data on the laptop showed evidence of unethical and potentially illegal business deals; Joe Biden and his supporters have denounced the efforts as defamation.
In March, the Washington Post reported that two computer security experts reviewed thousands of emails purportedly from Hunter Biden’s computer and found them to be genuine communications, based on cryptographic signatures. from Google and other technology companies. It was not possible to determine for this article whether the laptop and its contents were useful in the Justice Department investigation.
The Biden investigation has proceeded with relatively little fanfare in recent months amid the much larger and more public investigation by the Justice Department and FBI into whether Trump mishandled classified documents at Mar-a -Lago – and a separate federal investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. Trump and his allies have strongly criticized federal law enforcement in both cases.
Questions about young Biden’s foreign business ventures have long plagued his father’s political life. Trump and his GOP allies specifically cite as ethical conflicts Hunter Biden’s past work for a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice president, as well as his China-related business dealings. In a phone call in July 2019, Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate both Joe and Hunter Biden – part of a pressure campaign that led to Trump’s first of two impeachment trials. in Congress.
In December 2020, federal agents sought to interview the young Biden, leading him to publicly acknowledge that he was under investigation. “I take this matter very seriously, but I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I have conducted my affairs in a lawful and proper manner, including with the assistance of professional tax advisers.” Hunter Biden said in a statement at the time. .
Clark, Hunter Biden’s attorney, said in his statement Thursday that he had “had no contact with any federal investigative agents.” Therefore, an interpretation of the case by such an “agent” is inherently biased, one-sided and inaccurate. It is unfortunate that law enforcement officers appear to be breaking the law to prejudice a case against someone targeted simply because of their last name.”
Republicans have pressed the Biden administration to appoint a special counsel to take over the investigation of the president’s son, arguing the move was necessary to ensure public confidence in the investigation’s outcome. Under Justice Department regulations, any special advocates would still report to the Attorney General. Garland opted against making such an appointment, instead keeping the case with Weiss, whose previous career as a federal prosecutor dates back decades and includes violent crimes and white-collar cases.
Early in the Biden administration, a Justice Department official said the removal of Weiss as U.S. attorney while overseeing the Hunter Biden case would likely trigger a significant political backlash.
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In April, after White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said Biden “is satisfied that his son did not break the law,” Garland was asked during a Senate hearing about how which the Department of Justice is handling the case.
Weiss “is in charge of this investigation. There will be no political or inappropriate interference,” Garland responded. “We turned the investigation over to a person appointed by Trump from the previous administration.”
The tax investigation focused on whether Hunter Biden failed to report income related to his various business ventures, including overseas. The gun paperwork portion of the investigation dates back to 2018, a time when Hunter Biden, by his own account, smoked crack cocaine.
In October of that year, Biden purchased a handgun, filling out a federal form in which he reportedly answered “no” to the question of whether he was “an illegal user or addicted to marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic, or any other controlled substance? »
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According to a book Hunter Biden later wrote about his substance abuse issues, he was doing a lot of drugs that year.
Lawsuits for misrepresentation of firearm purchase forms are relatively rare, but they do exist. In the fiscal year Hunter Biden bought that handgun, Justice Department records show prosecutors received 478 referrals for lying on the forms. Of these, charges were filed in 298 cases, about 60% of the time.
Federal agents refer to such cases as “lie and buy.” Historically, prosecutors have had significant discretion in deciding which are worth federal resources.
“A prosecutor can say he has bigger fish to catch, or he can decide to seek a deal,” said Joseph G. Green, a retired officer with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “As officers, we would always include as many charges as possible, but it’s ultimately up to the prosecutor to decide which ones to bring.”
Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.