DOVER, Del. (AP) — A federal judge in Delaware ordered prosecutors and defense attorneys on Thursday to provide a status report regarding a felony gun charge against Hunter Biden.
Judge Maryellen Noreika directed lawyers to provide the report by next Wednesday, including any steps they believe the court needs to take.
Attorneys for Biden have argued that a “diversion agreement” sparing him from prosecution on the gun charge is still in place, even though it was inextricably linked to a plea deal on misdemeanor tax offenses that imploded during a court appearance in July.
Noreika dismissed the tax case, and prosecutors have indicated they plan to pursue tax charges against President Joe Biden's son in another district, perhaps California or Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, prosecutors maintain that the agreement on the gun charge, which contains unprecedented immunity provisions against federal prosecutions for other potential crimes, never took effect and is no longer valid.
The two-part deal on tax and gun charges was supposed to have largely wrapped up a years-long investigation overseen by Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss. The deal fell apart after Noreika raised questions about its terms during a hearing in July. Among other issues, prosecutors were unable to resolve the judge's concerns about offering Biden immunity for certain crimes as part of the diversion agreement, instead of in the plea deal.
Typically, a non-prosecution agreement is not presented to a judge and requires no court input. A plea deal, on the other hand, must be presented to a judge, but prosecutors tried to structure Biden’s tax plea deal in a way that left Noreika with no discretion to accept or reject it. The judge expressed concern that attorneys were asking her to simply “rubber stamp” the deal, which she refused to do.
Pressed by Noreika, prosecutor Leo Wise said he could find no precedent for agreeing not to prosecute Biden for crimes that have nothing to do with the gun case or the charges being diverted. Wise also acknowledged that he had never seen a diversion agreement in which the agreement not to prosecute is so broad that it encompasses crimes in a different case. Nor could he offer any precedent for requiring prosecutors to first obtain court approval before prosecuting Biden for certain crimes in the future.
“These agreements are not straightforward and they contain some atypical provisions,” Noreika noted.
Prior to the hearing, Republicans denounced Biden’s plea agreement as a “sweetheart deal.” The deal called for Biden to be sentenced to probation in exchange for pleading guilty to failing to pay taxes on more than $1.5 million in income in both 2017 and 2018. According to prosecutors, Biden's income during those two years included roughly $4 million in business and consulting fees from a company he formed with the CEO of a Chinese business conglomerate, and from the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
The diversion agreement, meanwhile, was aimed at sparing Biden from prosecution on the felony crime of being a drug user in possession of a gun in 2018 if he kept out of trouble for two years. Hunter Biden’s history of drug use and financial dealings have trailed the political career of his father.
Following the collapse of the plea deal, Attorney General Merrick Garland named Weiss as special counsel, a status that confers broad powers to investigate and report out his findings.