President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges that he lied about his drug use while buying a handgun, in the first-ever criminal prosecution of a sitting U.S. president's child.
Hunter Biden, 53, was charged last month with three counts related to lying on a federal form to acquire a Colt Cobra handgun in 2018 and for being an illegal drug user in possession of the gun.
Biden—recently spotted with a beard and longer hair—wore close-cropped hair, a clean shave, and a dark suit and tie during his appearance at the federal courthouse in Wilmington, Delaware, which lasted 25 minutes. "Yes your honor," he said after U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Burke asked how he pleaded. He departed the courthouse in a motorcade of six black sedans.
Tuesday's hearing sets the stage for a historic first: the criminal trial of the adult child of a sitting president who is campaigning for reelection.
Biden's likely 2024 Republican rival, Donald Trump, faces four upcoming criminal trials of his own, two of which are tied to his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden, which he continues to falsely claim is the result of fraud.
Abbe Lowell, Hunter Biden's attorney, had asked the court to conduct Tuesday's hearing by video to spare Hunter Biden, the Secret Service agents who protect him, and downtown Wilmington the hassles associated with his appearance. Hunter Biden traveled to the hearing from his home in California
Burke had rejected the request, saying defendants are required to appear in person.
The president's son also attended a hearing in July in Wilmington.
In that hearing, an agreement to resolve the gun charges and separate tax charges unraveled when a U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika in Wilmington refused to accept it.
Under that deal, Hunter 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.
Lowell said 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 Nov. 3.
Some legal experts have said that any firearms-related charges against Biden could be vulnerable to a constitutional challenge, after the U.S. Supreme Court last year in a landmark ruling expanded gun rights under the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, which protects the right to bear arms.
The younger Biden for years has been the focus of unrelenting attacks by Republicans, led by former president Trump.
Republicans have accused Hunter Biden, who has worked as a lobbyist, lawyer, investment banker and artist, of wrongdoing relating to Ukraine and China and have made him a focus of a congressional impeachment inquiry of Joe Biden.
The president's son, who has publicly discussed his substance abuse, never held a position in the White House or on his father's campaign. The president has said he has not discussed foreign business dealings with his son and has said his Justice Department would have independence in any investigation of a member of his family.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)