Hunter Biden Employs the Bill Clinton Defense in First Day of Criminal Trial

Abbe Lowell argues it all depends on what your definition of “is” is

Hunter Biden arrives for trial for felony gun charges. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
June 4, 2024

Hunter Biden’s attorney took a page out of former president Bill Clinton’s playbook on Monday, telling jurors that his client’s case hinges on what the definition of the word "is" is.

The troubled first son is accused of falsely answering a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives form when he purchased a handgun from a Delaware gun store in October 2018. Federal law requires firearms dealers to ask all would-be purchasers to fill out the form, which includes questions about one’s felony history or if he or she is an "unlawful user of, or addicted to" illegal drugs.

Hunter Biden’s years-long drug use is well documented, both through the contents of his abandoned laptop and his admission in his memoir that he was "smoking crack every 15 minutes" in the same year he purchased the gun. But Hunter Biden’s attorney Abbe Lowell is arguing that Hunter Biden did not lie when he checked a box indicating he was not a drug user or addict, since he did not believe he was at the time he bought the gun.

"It does not say, ‘Have you ever been?’ It does not say, ‘Have you ever used?’" Lowell said, referencing the form. "He did not buy that gun knowing that he fit into a category of people who could not do so."

Such a defense is reminiscent of Clinton’s, who told a grand jury in 1998 that he did not lie to his staff when he said that "there’s nothing going on between" him and his aide Monica Lewinsky, with whom he carried out a romantic affair. Clinton was eventually impeached by Congress over lying under oath and obstruction of justice.

"It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the—if the—if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not—that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement," Clinton said. "Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true."

Those similar lines of reasoning should not necessarily come as a surprise: Lowell served as Democrats’ chief counsel during the Clinton impeachment hearings.

Hunter Biden faces three felony counts from federal prosecutors related to that handgun purchase, and faces up to 25 years in prison if he is convicted. The White House has said on multiple occasions that Hunter Biden’s father, President Joe Biden, has no intention of pardoning his son if he is found guilty.

As further proof of Hunter Biden’s innocence, Lowell told jurors that Hunter Biden could not have been addicted to crack at the time of the purchase because of his busy schedule.

"There may be high-functioning alcoholics, but there’s no such thing as a high-functioning crackhead."

Emails and text messages from a copy of Hunter Biden’s hard drive show that he was likely still a drug user at the time of the gun purchase, even though he had checked out of a rehab facility two months prior. Those messages were presented to the jury by the prosecution, who said they contain "evidence of addiction."

One text exchange cited by prosecutors shows Hunter Biden complaining about a drug dealer named "Mookie" with his brother Beau Biden’s widow, Hallie Biden. Hallie and Hunter Biden carried out a romantic relationship after Beau Biden’s death.

"I’m not off MD av behind blue rocks stadium waiting for a dealer named Mookie," Hunter told Hallie Biden. "He has my money and I’m getting pissed." Hunter Biden later texted Hallie Biden roughly six hours later that he was "sleeping on a car smoking crack on 4th street and Rodney."

An FBI agent who testified in court said she had verified the authenticity of those messages.

Those same messages show that Hunter Biden regularly conducted business as a drug addict. Hunter Biden has gone as far as to blame his crack use for messages that show he leaned on his father’s influence to secure a payment from a senior official at a Chinese conglomerate.

When asked about those messages during a deposition held by House Republicans, Hunter Biden said he was likely high on drugs when he sent that message, was not with his father, and sent the message to the wrong person.

"During my battle with addiction, my father was there for me," Hunter Biden said during his testimony. "He helped save my life. His love and support made it possible for me to get sober, stay sober, and rebuild my life as a father, husband, son, and brother."

Subsequent records released by House Republicans, they say, show Hunter Biden "indisputably" lied about those messages.

Hunter Biden has filed several lawsuits against one individual, former Trump administration aide Garret Ziegler, who has disseminated the contents of his old hard drive. In his lawsuit, Hunter Biden accused Ziegler—without evidence—of "manipulating" and "altering" the hard drive’s contents.

The prosecution said it expects to wrap up its arguments by Wednesday. Hunter Biden is expected to appear in a California court over nine separate criminal charges later this year related to allegations that he failed to pay nearly $1.5 million worth of taxes while he was a drug addict.

During the first day of arguments, Hunter Biden was joined by his mother, first lady Jill Biden, his sister Ashley Biden, and his wife Melissa Cohen-Biden. Hollywood producer and lawyer Kevin Morris, who has also spent at least $6.5 million on Hunter Biden’s legal fees and living expenses, was spotted as well.