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Hunter Biden's plea deal falls apart for his failure to pay taxes

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A plea deal fell apart today for President Biden's son Hunter. He appeared in federal court in Delaware, where he intended to plead guilty to two misdemeanors for failure to pay his taxes in 2017 and 2018, a time period during which Hunter acknowledges he was struggling with addiction. Today, though, the judge unexpectedly said she is not ready to make a decision in this case. WHYY's Cris Barrish was in the courtroom and joins us from Delaware. Hey there.

CRIS BARRISH, BYLINE: How are you doing?

KELLY: I am well, thank you. Although, I gather this development caught a lot of people, including Hunter Biden himself, off guard today. What exactly happened?

BARRISH: Well, heading into the hearing, conventional wisdom was that this was a done deal. Hunter was going to plead guilty. The judge would accept the agreement and then she would set a sentencing date. Now, he could face up to a year in prison on each of the two tax charges. But the prosecutors are recommending probation. Instead, the judge, she has said she has loads of concerns and needs more info, saying she wasn't ready to, quote, rubber-stamp the agreement.

Now, specifically, she asked for clarification around what this would mean for other possible crimes he had committed or could have committed. Could he still be charged in the future, or if this deal would make him immune? Now, to provide a little bit of context, the judge is Maryellen Noreika. She was nominated by President Trump in 2017. David Weiss, the U.S. attorney for Delaware, is also a Trump appointee.

KELLY: And just to complicate things, there was a third charge at issue as well. What was that?

BARRISH: Yeah, this had to do with the purchase of a handgun hunter Biden made in 2018. He lied and said he was not using drugs at the time he made the purchase, and that's a felony. Now, under an agreement he struck with Weiss' office, he'd go into a diversion program. And that meant that if he remains drug free, doesn't commit any other crimes and follows other conditions for two years, the charge would be dismissed. Now, the holdup was that in the event he violates the conditions, the parties wanted the judge to decide whether he had done so. But she objected. And she was, like - wondered if that's even constitutional because the government brings charges, not the judiciary. And she pressured the lawyers. And they even acknowledged there was no precedence, no precedent at all, for such judicial action.

KELLY: Now, the White House has all along been very reluctant to weigh in on Hunter Biden and his legal troubles. Did anybody comment on these latest developments?

BARRISH: Well, after the hearing, his - Biden's press secretary made this statement to reporters. And I'll just read it.

(Reading) Hunter Biden is a private citizen, and this was a personal matter for him. As we have said, the president, the first lady, they love their son. And they support him as he continues to rebuild his life. This case was handled independently, as all of you know, by the Justice Department under the leadership of a prosecutor appointed by the former president, President Trump.

Now, as for the president, his mantra has been that he loves his son and is proud of him.

KELLY: And I'm going to skip ahead and just ask you to sum up for us quickly, where does this case go next?

BARRISH: Well, today's hearing ended with Hunter entering a not guilty plea. Now, both sides have now two weeks to file briefs that address the issue she raised. And then we can expect her to schedule a new hearing with terms she can accept.

KELLY: That is WHYY's Cris Barrish from Delaware. Thanks for your reporting.

BARRISH: All right. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEAT DEPOT'S "HIP HOP JDILLA BEAT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Cris Barrish