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Hunter Biden Stands Trial For Gun Charges
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Hunter Biden Stands Trial For Gun Charges

The prosecution is expected to rest its case today.

Happy Friday! Between the three of us, we know a good amount about a whole bunch of different sports. 

Cricket isn’t one of them, but we’ve heard Pakistan is pretty decent. And after the U.S. national cricket team (we have one of those?) upset Pakistan at the cricket World Cup yesterday, we’re thinking of investing in a copy of Cricket for Dummies

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Daniel Hagari said Thursday that the military had carried out a “precise, intelligence-based strike” on Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives hiding in a U.N. school in central Gaza, claiming the targeted terrorists were planning “imminent” attacks against Israelis and had been involved in the October 7 massacre. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry claimed the strike had killed at least 30 people, including women and children, though Israeli officials said they were not aware of any civilian casualties as a result of the operation. “The Government of Israel has said that they are going to release more information about this strike, including the names of those who died in it,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters Thursday. “We expect them to be fully transparent in making that information public.” 
  • Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group reportedly opened fire on a village in central Sudan on Thursday, killing at least 150 people—including potentially dozens of children—and injuring some 200 more. The RSF—engaged in a yearlong civil war with the Sudanese Armed Forces—claimed it was attacking military positions, not civilians. In an interview with Foreign Policy this week, U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello warned of “the speed with which this [conflict] could go from a two-sided war to a seven- or eight-sided war where neighboring countries are pulled in.” Both sides have been accused of war crimes in the brutal civil war that has displaced around 9 million people and seen at least 16,650 people killed. 
  • Federal Judge Carl J. Nichols on Thursday ordered Steve Bannon, a longtime adviser to Donald Trump, to report to prison on July 1 to begin serving a four-month sentence for his 2022 contempt of Congress conviction. Nichols—whom Trump nominated—had previously allowed Bannon to delay serving his sentence as he appealed his conviction, but last month, Bannon lost the first round of his challenge with a three-judge panel of the Washington federal appeals court. “I do not feel my original basis for Mr. Bannon’s stay exists any longer,” Nichols said. Following the hearing, Bannon told reporters he planned to appeal his contempt conviction “all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to.”
  • In the third day of testimony in Hunter Biden’s trial for federal gun charges, the jury heard from Hallie Biden, the widow of President Joe Biden’s late son Beau and Hunter’s onetime romantic partner. Hallie’s testimony suggested Hunter was using cocaine within days of purchasing a gun, which federal prosecutors allege he did while actively abusing cocaine. Hallie also testified to having found the gun in Hunter’s car along with drug paraphernalia, and disposed of the gun before calling the police, who retrieved it. Meanwhile, in an interview with ABC News on Thursday, President Biden reaffirmed his commitment to accept the jury’s verdict and not to pardon his son if he is convicted. The trial is expected to conclude next week. 
  • The space exploration company SpaceX successfully tested its Starship rocket on Thursday, with the rocket launching and then returning to Earth without either exploding or breaking apart as it had done in the previous three tests. The rocket will have several more tests this year as SpaceX pursues a fully reusable space vehicle to ferry NASA astronauts to the lunar surface. Meanwhile, the Boeing Starliner capsule carrying two NASA astronauts—which experienced trouble with its thrusters near the end of its journey—successfully docked with the International Space Station on Thursday.

Hunter Back in the Hot Seat

Hunter Biden arrives with his current wife Melissa Cohen Biden to the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building in Wilmington, Delaware, on June 3, 2024. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Hunter Biden arrives with his current wife Melissa Cohen Biden to the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building in Wilmington, Delaware, on June 3, 2024. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

No one should be surprised that family members of a criminal defendant would show up to their loved one’s criminal trial. When you’re facing potentially years behind bars, it helps to see some support and solidarity. But when your stepmom is the first lady of the United States, her attendance means a little extra. 

Starting on Monday—her 73rd birthday—Jill Biden spent three days earlier this week sitting in on her stepson Hunter Biden’s federal criminal trial for gun charges, watching from the front row as the prosecution examined in painful detail one of the darker periods of Hunter’s life. But FLOTUS sitting in full view of the jury during the proceedings is just one of many oddities in the first-ever trial of a sitting U.S. president’s child. 

Though prosecutors say they expect to rest their case this morning—and the trial is expected to wrap up entirely early next week—Hunter’s legal travails will continue to be on full display through the general election in which his father hopes to secure a second term. If convicted on the three felony gun charges he faces, there’s little doubt that he’ll appeal. Plus, he will face trial on separate tax charges in September, continuing to be a thorn in the side of his father’s campaign and a welcome target for Republicans in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s felony conviction.

Hunter’s had a long and winding road to federal criminal court in Wilmington, Delaware, this week. What was first merely a Justice Department probe became gun and tax charges that seemed to be neatly resolved in a plea deal last summer. But that agreement quickly fell apart, blowing up into a full-blown legal and political drama for the younger Biden—complete with whistleblower allegations of political bias in the investigation, a special counsel appointment, closed-door Congressional testimony, and, now, very public criminal trials. 

The demise of the plea deal—which spontaneously combusted last year when Biden’s legal team and prosecutors disagreed over how much immunity the deal would provide from future charges—seemed to signal the end of a legal strategy that may have had the White House’s political sensibilities in mind. Once willing to accept responsibility for his wrongdoing and quietly take a plea agreement, Hunter has, since September—when prosecutors once again charged him with three felonies related to his purchase of a firearm while allegedly abusing drugs—shifted to a full-court press of attacking the prosecution and the scrutiny he’s received as politically motivated. The president and the first lady have said little about the cases, aside from affirming their support for Hunter. In an interview that aired on ABC News yesterday, President Biden said that he would accept the outcome of the trial, and not pardon his son if he is convicted. 

In the September indictment, special counsel David Weiss alleged that Hunter was an active drug user when, on October 12, 2018, he purchased a Colt Cobra .38 revolver from StarQuest Shooters and Survival Supply in Wilmington. In checking the box on a federal firearm purchase form (Form 4473) affirming that he wasn’t an “unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance,” Hunter allegedly committed two felonies: lying to the gun store, a federally licensed gun dealer, and making a false claim on a federal form. The younger Biden also faces a third felony charge of possessing a firearm while abusing drugs.

Hunter had the gun in his possession until October 23 when Hallie Biden—the widow of Hunter’s late brother Beau Biden, with whom Hunter was romantically involved in October 2018—found it in his truck and threw it away in a trash can outside of a grocery store. Authorities later recovered the gun after Hallie reconsidered disposing of it and called the police.

Prosecutors argued this week that Hunter was an active drug user both when he purchased the firearm and was in possession of it—and have called on several of the women Hunter has been romantically involved with in the past to try to prove it. “When the defendant filled out that form, he knew he was a drug addict,” Derek Hines, a prosecutor in the case, told the jury. Hunter’s ex-wife, Kathleen Buhle, and Zoe Kestan, a woman Hunter dated in 2018, both testified extensively about the younger Biden’s crack cocaine abuse. Kestan described a pattern of frequent cocaine use when she spent time with Hunter in the spring and summer of 2018—and in September and November 2018—but said that she didn’t have any contact with him in October. Hunter himself, in his memoir Beautiful Things, described a period in the spring of 2018 when he was “smoking crack every 15 minutes.” Jurors actually heard Hunter himself read that excerpt aloud since he personally narrated the audiobook.

Hunter’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, argued that, when Hunter purchased the gun in October 2018, he was not an active drug user. Lowell claimed Hunter had recently returned to the East Coast from California and was planning on going to rehab with Hallie, who said she also used crack—after Hunter introduced her to the drug—until August 2018. The defense’s case hinges on the argument that when Hunter purchased the gun, he wasn’t knowingly lying on the form, even if he fell back into drug use at a later date. 

Kestan testified that she witnessed Hunter using drugs until late September. The prosecution pointed to texts between Hunter and Hallie on October 14 in which he said he was “sleeping on a car” and “smoking crack.” Hallie testified that she found drug paraphernalia in his truck when she discovered the gun, but also that she didn’t actually witness him using drugs during the 11 days that he owned the firearm and had no way of knowing if Hunter was telling the truth in his texts to her. “Prosecutors don’t have to prove he was using the day he purchased the firearm,” Hines argued, and in pre-trial rulings, the judge overseeing the case barred the defense from suggesting the prosecution has to prove he used drugs the same day as the gun purchase.

The case law surrounding the statute Biden allegedly violated tries to strike a balance between barring recovering addicts from ever owning a gun and becoming unenforceable for being applied too narrowly. “The law was passed as part of the 1968 Gun Control Act and the language modified slightly, but the courts, early on, rejected prosecutions from the government that were trying to argue ‘once an addict, always an addict,’” Dru Stevenson—a law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston who researches firearm regulations—told TMD. “[Prosecutors] would find somebody who had been clean for five or 10 years and want to charge them with owning a gun. And the courts added a requirement that it doesn’t have to be the same day, but [drug usage] has to be generally contemporaneous.” 

The gun charges Hunter Biden is facing carry a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison, but in the small number of these kinds of cases that actually make it to sentencing, defendants—particularly first-time nonviolent offenders like Hunter—rarely receive anything close to the full sentence.

“The cases, under this statute specifically, are far, far less common than, let’s say, ‘felon in possession [of a weapon]’ charges,” Stevenson said. “There’s a few dozen of these cases nationwide every year, and only a handful where it’s a standalone charge.” He added that “if you’re not Hunter Biden-level famous or controversial, then you would be looking at probably two years after you go to trial—maybe a little longer because you made them go to trial.” He also noted that he had “never seen one of these cases where the person had the gun for such a short time, and where they had never loaded it or fired it.”

Hunter’s legal team could be hoping the jury will identify with the process of addiction recovery, during which people often fall in and out of drug use. Several of the jurors reported that they have close friends and family members who suffer from drug and alcohol abuse and several jurors are also gun owners.

But the Justice Department has a pretty good record on cases they decide to bring to trial. The Dispatch’s Sarah Isgur argued in an opinion essay for the New York Times this week that Hunter should take any plea deal he can get from the prosecution before the jury returns a verdict. Kevin Morris, the wealthy Hollywood entertainment lawyer who’s spent millions financially backing Hunter, has reportedly run out of money to keep supporting the younger Biden, which could make legal fees particularly burdensome. After speaking with some white shoe law firms, Sarah’s ballpark estimate of legal costs for a high-profile trial like this was at least $150,000 a day.

Rather than just relying on an acquittal, Hunter could be banking on a pardon from old dad: If you think you can ultimately avoid a sentence through a pardon, why not roll the dice on the off chance that your defense succeeds in court? But the president has said he wouldn’t interfere in Hunter’s case or grant him a pardon—a position he reiterated in the ABC News interview yesterday when he said he’d accept the results of the trial. But there’s a reason most presidential pardons come in the final days of presidential terms. “I am the president, but I am also a dad,” Biden said in a statement Monday. “As the president, I don’t and won’t comment on pending federal cases, but as a dad, I have boundless love for my son, confidence in him, and respect for his strength.”

Either way, the trial is a headache for the elder Biden—not just personally, but politically. Biden’s visit to see Hallie late last month to commemorate the anniversary of Beau’s death sparked speculation of witness tampering, though the White House claimed the pair didn’t discuss the trial. Hunter’s trial began less than a week after Trump’s conviction, providing a split screen of legal trouble related to both presidential candidates. House Republicans doubled down on their ongoing scrutiny of the Biden family Wednesday when the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to the Justice Department referring Hunter and James Biden, the president’s brother, for criminal prosecution for allegedly lying to Congress during their closed-door interviews earlier this year. The Justice Department is under no obligation to pursue the charges.

But a few current and former Republican lawmakers have pushed back on Hunter’s criminal trial—for various reasons. “I think any average American who’s done their taxes like Hunter Biden would have probably faced prosecution,” GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said this week. “However, I don’t think the average American would have been charged with the gun thing.”

Likewise, Fox News host Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor and Republican member of Congress, was skeptical of the charges, drawing a comparison to Trump. “I don’t think Donald Trump ought to be singled out for a crime that no one else has been prosecuted for, and I was a gun prosecutor—we never prosecuted addicts for lying and buying on federal forms,” he said. “So, I don’t think Hunter Biden ought to be singled out either.”

But other, more Trumpy Republicans have argued this trial is part of a bigger conspiracy, designed to protect the president. “The Hunter Biden prosecution is a fake distraction,” failed presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy tweeted yesterday, “designed to deflect attention from the real crimes of using Joe Biden to make $$ for his family in Ukraine & to create the artifice of ‘nonpartisanship’ in the DOJ after the Trump conviction. Don’t fall for the trick.”

We wrote last June that, “Hunter’s days as a political liability for his father are only getting started.” We’ll let you know when that no longer applies.

Worth Your Time

  • The world is doing something worse than forgetting about Sudan, Cameron Hudson—former State Department official—argued in Persuasion. “For those tracking events in the country, a seemingly endless thread of headlines and editorials lament this ‘forgotten conflict,’” he wrote. “But this is the wrong framing. The crisis in Sudan is neither forgotten nor ignored. It is de-prioritized. And that is worse. … The most impactful lesson for contemporary policymakers is America’s action in Libya in 2011 when, prompted by a group of ‘liberal hawks’ close to the president, including Samantha Power, the Obama administration sought and obtained a UN Security Council resolution to oust Muhammar Gaddafi and prevent what was framed at the time as an imminent genocide against the people of Benghazi. As NATO’s intervention quickly succeeded, and Gaddafi’s state began to crumble, Washington came face-to-face with the unpleasant realities of the full application of a responsibility to protect doctrine. The most vigorous opponent of the ‘liberal hawks’ was then-Vice President Joe Biden. … Today, Biden is likely asking the same questions about Sudan, but he is no longer a dissenting voice in an administration. He’s the president.” 
  • In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan remembered the 40th president’s famous speech from Pointe du Hoc, France, on the 4oth anniversary of D-Day—and the veiled message he was sending in it. “Reagan wished to laud the reunited U.S. Rangers before him, so he simply described what they’d done,” she wrote. “The ‘boys,’ in the front rows, began to weep. … The speech within the speech was about the crisis going on as Reagan spoke. The Western alliance was falling apart. … If you hear that speech, be moved by the Rangers who climbed those cliffs and the country that sent them there. Care that Ronald Reagan became the first public person to capture and laud the greatest generation, but delicately, because it was his generation and he couldn’t self-valorize. (Yes, a sweeter time.) But he was telling the young: That guy you call grandpa, see him in a new way. See his whole generation for who they were. And hear, too, a message that echoes down the generations: Good people with a great cause must stand together, grab that rope and climb, no matter what fire.”

Presented Without Comment

The Hill: Biden Campaign Hires [Former GOP Rep. Adam] Kinzinger Staffer to Lead GOP Outreach Effort 

Also Presented Without Comment

Reason: Lawsuit Filed by Jewish Students Against UCLA

In the Zeitgeist 

The great Dolly Parton is going to Broadway. The singer and American icon announced that, at long last, she was bringing a musical about her life to the Great White Way. We can expect the show in 2026, but while we’re waiting, here’s Dolly doing her thing, singing “9 to 5.”

Toeing the Company Line

  • Our very own David M. Drucker will join the NewsNation panel this Sunday on The Hill Sunday with Chris Stirewalt. Tune in at 11 a.m. ET!
  • In the newsletters: Sarah and Mike reported on Trump’s stalled Georgia prosecution, Will kicked off a two-part series exploring how new technology might disrupt the economy, and Nick predicted (🔒) this election’s “October surprise” could be electorally significant. 
  • On the podcasts: David and Sarah do some Supreme Court math on Advisory Opinions and Grayson talks to Mickey Bergman on The Skiff (🔒) about hostage negotiations and his unique process of helping bring captured Americans home. Plus, Sarah, Jonah, and Mike discuss President Joe Biden’s immigration executive order on The Dispatch Podcast roundtable.
  • On the site: Kevin dives into New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to scrap a congestion pricing plan and World War II historian Alex Kershaw commemorates the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the bravery of those who stormed the beaches that day.

Let Us Know

Do you think Biden will stick to his word and not pardon his son if Hunter is found guilty?

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

Peter Gattuso is a reporter for The Morning Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2024, he interned at The Dispatch, National Review, the Cato Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Peter is not helping write TMD, he is probably watching baseball, listening to music on vinyl records, or discussing the Jones Act.