Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty to three federal gun charges in a politically fraught case that could go to trial in the heat of the US president’s 2024 re-election campaign.
Hunter Biden, 53, the first child of a sitting president to be criminally prosecuted, was arraigned at a court in Wilmington, Delaware, accused of unlawfully possessing a gun as an illegal drug user and lying about his drug use on a background check form when he bought a Colt Cobra revolver in 2018.
Biden wore a dark suit and tie during his appearance in court, which lasted 25 minutes. “Yes, your honor,” he said after the magistrate judge Christopher Burke asked how he pleaded. He left the courthouse in a motorcade of six black sedans.
The indictment was secured last month by the special counsel David Weiss after a plea agreement between Biden and prosecutors collapsed in August. Under that deal, Biden had agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor tax violations and would avoid punishment on the gun charges if for two years he did not possess a firearm and refrained from using illegal drugs and alcohol.
His lawyer, Abbe Lowell, told the court on Tuesday that he would file a motion to dismiss the case because he believed the agreement remains in effect. Burke said he would have to file by 3 November. Republicans have alleged that the agreement represented a “sweetheart deal” for the Democratic president’s son.
The justice department has not said whether it will also bring an indictment over separate tax misdemeanour charges but the special counsel has indicated they could come in Washington or in California, where Hunter lives.
Hunter, who acknowledged past cocaine use in his memoir, never held a position in the White House or on his father’s campaign. He is charged with two counts of making false statements and one count of illegal gun possession, punishable by up to 25 years in prison upon conviction. As a first-time, nonviolent offender who did not use the gun to commit an offence, he appears likely to receive a more lenient punishment.
Legal experts have said that any firearms-related charges against Hunter could be vulnerable to a constitutional challenge after the supreme court last year expanded gun rights under the second amendment, which protects the right to bear arms. The landmark ruling, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc v Bruen, was condemned by Biden but could now come to his son’s rescue.
In a public statement on the day of the indictment, Lowell said: “We believe these charges are barred by the agreement the prosecutors made with Mr Biden, the recent rulings by several federal courts that this statute is unconstitutional, and the facts that he did not violate that law, and we plan to demonstrate all of that in court.”
In Congress, House Republicans – eager to divert attention from the multiple criminal indictments faced by Donald Trump – are seeking to link Hunter Biden’s dealings to his father’s through an impeachment inquiry. Republicans have been investigating Hunter since his father was Barack Obama’s vice-president.
While questions have arisen about the ethics surrounding the Biden family’s international business, no evidence has emerged so far to prove that Biden, in his current or previous office, abused his role or accepted bribes.
Last week Hunter fought back, suing the Trump ally Rudy Giuliani and Giuliani’s former lawyer Robert Costello, accusing the pair of violating his privacy over data allegedly taken from his laptop.
After the hearing on Tuesday, Hunter’s lawyer Lowell said in a statement: “These charges are the result of political pressure from President Trump and his Maga allies to force the justice department to ignore the law and deviate from its policies in cases like this one.”
The White House declined to comment on details of the case. Karine Jean-Pierre, the press secretary, told reporters at Tuesday’s briefing: “The president loves his son. He’s going to continue to support him as he rebuilds his life.”
She added: “This is an independent Department of Justice investigation which has been led by one of the prosecutors from the last administration.”