Hunter Biden pleads not guilty to tax charges as deal put on pause
Hearing concludes with judge unable to accept plea deal, ordering teams to revise agreement within 30 days
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - US President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal tax charges after a deal his legal team struck with Justice Department prosecutors was put on hold.
The stunning development happened after US District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, questioned part of the plea deal that would have kept the junior Biden out of jail on gun charges, according to multiple media reports.
Biden agreed last month to plead guilty to two counts of willful failure to pay federal income tax and another count of illegal possession of a firearm by a drug user. The tax charges are misdemeanors and stem from a failure to pay $100,000 in federal income taxes.
Noreika raised concerns about the agreement's diversion agreement, which would have allowed Biden to remain out of jail without formally pleading guilty to the gun charge. That stems from his possession of a Colt Cobra .38 Special in 2018. Biden is a known drug user, meaning his possession of a firearm would have been a felony.
Noreika also reportedly raised concerns about the plea deal's language, questioning if it protects Biden from future criminal charges.
The fact that the plea deal included the tax and gun charges prompted confusion in the courtroom, and Noreika questioned if she could sign off on the diversion agreement, which is not typically approved by a judge because prosecutors agree not to bring charges as part of the deal.
"I have concerns about the constitutionality of this provision, so I have concerns about the constitutionality of this agreement," she said, according to the Washington Post newspaper.
The hearing closed with Noreika unable to accept the plea deal as it stands, ordering prosecutors and Biden's defense team to revise and justify the agreement within 30 days.
Biden could still reverse his not guilty plea on the tax charges if his attorneys and prosecutors can reach an agreement that Noreika will accept.
The White House maintained that Hunter Biden's ongoing legal woes are a personal matter, and declined to answer questions that have arisen from Wednesday's hearing.
"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," spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
"This case was handled independently, as all of you know, by the Justice Department under the leadership of a prosecutor appointed by former President Trump. So, for anything further, as you know, and we've been very consistent from here and referred to the Department of Justice, and to Hunter's representatives," she added.
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