Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty Wednesday to two misdemeanor tax charges in a dramatic reversal after a pre-existing agreement with the Department of Justice fell apart.
Judge Maryellen Noreika refused to accept a revised plea deal between the two parties after a three-hour hearing Wednesday, which would have offered Hunter Biden broad legal immunity from all tax crimes that took place between 2014 and 2019, as well as any drug or firearm charges. She ordered prosecutors and Hunter Biden’s attorneys to strike a new deal that limits the legal immunity offered to the first son.
The rejected deal came after the collapse of an initial plea agreement, which fell apart following a series of unusual last-minute disputes between his attorneys and federal prosecutors. Hunter Biden’s attorney, Chris Clark, said the agreement was "null and void" after a top prosecutor in the case said it would not provide the first son permanent legal immunity, the New York Times reported.
Hunter Biden was expected to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges for willfully not paying income taxes for 2017 and 2018. Republicans had slammed that original agreement as a "sweetheart deal" after testimony from two IRS whistleblowers who alleged Hunter Biden should have been prosecuted for felonies.
The revised deal prosecutors tried to strike Wednesday with Hunter Biden’s legal team would have provided him much broader legal immunity than what the Department of Justice initially disclosed when it announced charges against the first son on June 20. U.S. Attorney David Weiss said in a court filing at that time that Hunter Biden would plead guilty to failing to pay taxes in 2017 and 2018, and would enter a pretrial diversion agreement to avoid felony charges for illegally purchasing a handgun while addicted to illegal drugs.
Weiss did not mention in his June 20 filing that the agreement would also grant Hunter Biden legal immunity for any tax crimes committed during the six-year period from 2014 through 2019.
The new deal raises questions about whether federal prosecutors believe that Hunter Biden committed additional tax crimes during those years, as alleged by two IRS whistleblowers who said the first son should have been prosecuted for felony tax evasion charges for the tax years 2014, 2018, and 2019.
Hunter Biden failed to pay up to $1.5 million in taxes, prosecutors said during the hearing Wednesday. They recommended probation as part of the deal, CNN reported.
Republican lawmakers argued that the court should reject the plea deal based on the whistleblower allegations. The House Ways and Means Committee filed an amicus brief with the court this week that included details from the IRS agents’ testimony.
Hunter Biden received over $8.3 million in income from foreign business dealings between 2014 and 2019, according to IRS investigators. This included payments for his work for Burisma, a Ukrainian oil company whose owner fled the country a few years ago amid allegations of bribery and embezzlement of state funds. Biden was also paid by the CEFC, a Chinese government-linked energy group whose leader was convicted in the United States of bribery and money-laundering in 2019.
A minor controversy also erupted Tuesday evening after a lawyer—who allegedly represented herself as an attorney for House Republicans—called the court’s clerk to ask for the removal of the Ways and Means Committee's amicus brief from the public docket. After the clerk discovered that the lawyer actually worked for Biden, the judge threatened to sanction Biden’s defense team for "misrepresentations" to the court.
The IRS started investigating Hunter Biden in 2018 after flagging payments from him as part of a separate investigation into a prostitution ring.
Prosecutors "did not appear to follow the normal investigative process, slow-walked the investigation, and put in place unnecessary approvals and road blocks from effectively and efficiently addressing the case. A lot of times, we were not able to follow the facts," whistleblower Joseph Ziegler told Congress last week.
Alana Goodman contributed to this report.
This is a developing story and will be updated with additional information.