Judge says Hunter Biden lawyers presented no evidence tax charges are political

LOS ANGELES — Lawyers for Hunter Biden urged a federal judge on Wednesday to dismiss the nine tax charges filed against him, arguing that prosecutors botched some facts of the case and allowed politics to influence their charging decisions.

If U.S. District Judge Mark Scarsi rejects the more than a half-dozen dismissal requests and Biden does not strike a deal with prosecutors, the president’s son could go to trial in June — right in the middle of President Biden’s reelection campaign. He is also scheduled to go to trial that same month in a separate federal case in Delaware on gun charges.

Hunter Biden, who did not attend the hearing Wednesday, has pleaded not guilty to the charges in both cases and has blamed at least some of the alleged behavior in the indictments on a drug addition that spiraled after his brother died of brain cancer in 2015.

Republicans, including former president Donald Trump, have hammered on Biden’s legal troubles, saying they show corruption within the Biden family and at the same time accusing the Justice Department of not pursuing the cases aggressively.

Biden’s legal team has, in turn, said that its client has already repaid the government the unpaid taxes with interest and that the political firestorm around his legal troubles has pressured the Justice Department to bring more serious charges against the president’s son than warranted.

Prosecutors have repeatedly denied these misconduct claims.

Scarsi did not reveal how he would rule on each of the nine motions that Biden filed but pushed back the hardest on the motion claiming that the indictment is the result of “selective and vindictive” prosecution. He said he would rule on all the motions by April 17.

“One of the big hurdles that this motion has it that it’s not filed with any evidence,” Scarsi said.

Abbe Lowell, Hunter Biden’s attorney, said in court Wednesday that the case against his client should not have escalated to felony charges in Los Angeles, with a trial start date just months away.

Lowell’s team pointed to a plea agreement in July that was nearly finalized but publicly fell apart under scrutiny from a federal judge in Delaware. That agreement had Biden pleading guilty to two tax misdemeanors and probably avoiding jail time. A separate diversion agreement allowed Biden to admit to wrongdoing in a gun case and agree to certain conditions, to avoid actually being charged with unlawful possession of a firearm.

Months after that plea agreement fell apart, special counsel David Weiss charged Biden in Los Angeles with three felony and six misdemeanor tax charges. The 56-page indictment filed last December alleges that Biden — who moved to Los Angeles around 2018 — did not pay at least $1.4 million in federal taxes from 2016 through 2019. The charges include failing to file and pay taxes, tax evasion and filing false tax returns.

At the heart of the three-hour hearing Wednesday was the question of how those two misdemeanor charges in the proposed plea agreement morphed into three felony charges and six misdemeanor charges in Los Angeles.

Lowell said it was a clear sign that the pressure campaign from congressional Republicans and IRS whistleblowers — who took to Congress and the media to claim that the case was mishandled and more serious charges should have been brought against Biden — was successful.

The judge asked Lowell if he could bolster his claims with any evidence beyond the timeline of the plea deal falling apart around the same time that Republicans ratcheted up their inquiries into the Biden investigation, and then prosecutors brought charges.

“It’s a timeline,” Lowell said. “But it’s a juicy timeline.”

Prosecutor Leo Wise said that the government was not bound to the charges within the plea agreement once it collapsed and that it is standard for prosecutors to change course as they build their cases.

A chunk of the hearing focused on Biden’s request to dismiss the case because of an immunity provision in the unusually structured diversion agreement for the gun charges that fell apart. The immunity provision said Biden could not be charged for tax-related crimes for years that include 2016 to 2019.

Biden’s attorneys have argued that the diversion agreement is still in effect, pointing to the fact that both sides signed it and it did not require authorization from a judge. Prosecutors have said it is not in effect and that a probation official had not yet put her signature on it.

The judge appeared to agree that the probation official signature was necessary but also questioned why the immunity provisions were baked into the gun diversion agreement.

Lowell said Biden has been complying with the terms of the probation agreement, which include not purchasing a firearm and not using drugs.

Some of the dismissal motions have echoes of those Trump made — unsuccessfully so far — in his effort to get two federal cases against him dismissed. Trump has also made claims of vindictive prosecution. One of Biden’s motions said the prosecutor who brought the charges, Weiss, the U.S. attorney in Delaware, was not properly appointed as a special counsel, and argues that special counsels should come from outside the government.

Prosecutors from Weiss’s team have countered that the attorney general has the authority to designate whom he wants to serve as special counsel and cited many previous special counsels who have also served as federal prosecutors.

Trump’s team has argued that the special counsel in his cases, Jack Smith, required Senate confirmation.

Lowell also lodged claims that prosecutors should not have filed all the charges in California because Biden was not living in the state for the entirety of allegations in the indictment. There was some dispute between the two sides over when the younger Biden moved to California.

Biden’s lawyer also claimed that the statute of limitations for some of the charges had expired.

Prosecutors rebutted all those claims. They said, for example, that while Hunter Biden was not living in Los Angeles in 2016, he was a resident during a period when he allegedly was aware that he did not pay his taxes in 2016 and still decided not to pay them.

The judge asked detailed questions of both sides as they made their cases about each of the requests. But he noted that this is a criminal case, and that unlike a civil case, he would not be able to make factual rulings, such as where Biden lived in certain years.

He told the parties he would thoroughly consider their requests and ignore the politics and personal attacks surrounding the case.

“We are just looking at the facts and law,” Scarsi said. “All of the aspersions cast off one another just roll off.”

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