the Hunter Biden investigation began in 2018 and became a central focus for then-President Donald Trump during his failed 2020 re-election effort. Initially, the investigation focused on Hunter Biden’s finances related to overseas business ties and consulting work. Over time, investigators from multiple agencies focused closely on whether he underreported his income and lied on gun purchase documents in 2018, according to the people familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a dispute. case. ongoing case.
Agents determined months ago that they had put together a viable criminal case against the younger Biden. But ultimately, it’s up to Justice Department prosecutors, not agents, to decide whether to press charges in cases where prosecutors believe the evidence is strong enough to lead to a likely conviction at trial.
Given the intense political interest in a criminal investigation involving the son of a sitting president, Attorney General Merrick Garland has made it clear that Delaware U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss, who was Trump’s nominee in late 2017, is monitoring the case.
Garland has promised there will be no political or improper interference in the Hunter Biden case, and has not moved to press Weiss for a decision, the people familiar with the matter said. It’s not uncommon for Justice Department investigations to take years to complete. Justice Department policy would require the department’s tax division to approve any criminal tax charges.
A spokeswoman for Weiss declined to comment, as did spokespeople for the Justice Department, the FBI and the IRS, the two main investigative agencies.
When asked about the case, Chris Clark, an attorney for Hunter Biden, accused investigators of leaking information. “It is a federal crime for a federal agent to leak information about a Grand Jury investigation like this,” Clark said in a written statement. “Any agent you cite as a source in your article has apparently committed such a felony. We expect the Department of Justice to diligently investigate and prosecute those bad actors. As is appropriate and legally required, we believe the prosecutors in this case are diligent and “Thoroughly weigh not only the evidence provided by the officers, but also all other witnesses in this case, including defense witnesses. That is the job of prosecutors. They should not be pressured, rushed or criticized for doing their job.” .
Any impeachment decision involving the Biden case is especially tense because Trump and his allies have made allegations of corruption in Hunter Biden’s business dealings a key line of attack against Democrats, both before and after the 2020 presidential race. At the height of the election campaign, Trump allies revealed that a Delaware computer store owner had given the FBI a laptop that had apparently belonged to Hunter Biden. Trump and others argued that the laptop data showed evidence of unethical and possibly illegal business dealings; Joe Biden and his supporters denounced the efforts as libel.
In March, The Washington Post reported that two computer security experts had reviewed thousands of emails purportedly from Hunter Biden’s computer and found that they were authentic communications, based on cryptographic signatures from Google and other technology companies. Whether the laptop and its contents were useful in the Justice Department’s investigation could not be determined for this article.
The Biden investigation has proceeded with relatively little fanfare in recent months amid the much larger and more public investigation by the Justice Department and the FBI into whether Trump mishandled classified material at Mar-a-Lago, and a federal investigation. separate on efforts to overturn 2020 election results. Trump and his allies have harshly criticized the federal police about both cases.
Questions about the young Biden’s foreign business ventures have long haunted his father’s political life. Trump and his Republican allies specifically cite Hunter Biden’s previous work for a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice president, as well as his business dealings with China, as ethical conflicts. In a July 2019 phone call, Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate both Joe and Hunter Biden, as part of a pressure campaign that led to the first of two Trump impeachment trials in Congress.
In December 2020, federal agents attempted to interview the young Biden, leading him to publicly acknowledge that was being investigated. “I take this matter very seriously, but I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will show that I handled my affairs lawfully and properly, including with the benefit of professional tax advisors,” Hunter Biden said in a statement there. moment. .
Clark, the attorney for Hunter Biden, said in his statement Thursday that he “has had no contact with any federal investigative agent. Therefore, such an ‘agent’ version of the case is inherently biased, one-sided and inaccurate. It is unfortunate that law enforcement officials appear to be breaking the law to prejudice a case against a person who is targeted simply because of their last name.”
Republicans have pushed the Biden administration to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the investigation of the president’s son, arguing the move was necessary to ensure public confidence in the outcome of the investigation. However, under Justice Department regulations, any special counsel would still answer to the attorney general. Garland opted not to make such an appointment, instead keeping the case with Weiss, whose previous career as a federal prosecutor dates back decades and includes violent crimes and white-collar cases.
In the early days of the Biden administration, said a Justice Department official Removing Weiss as federal prosecutor while he oversaw the Hunter Biden case would likely provoke a significant political backlash.
In April, after White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Biden is “confident his son did not break the law,” Garland was asked at a Senate hearing about how the Justice Department is handling the case.
Weiss “is in charge of that investigation. There will be no interference of any political or improper nature,” Garland replied. “We put the investigation in the hands of a Trump appointee from the previous administration.”
The main focus of the tax investigation has been whether Hunter Biden failed to report income related to his various business ventures, including abroad. The gun paperwork portion of the investigation comes from 2018, a time period in which Hunter Biden, by his own account, smoked crack.
In October of that year, Biden purchased a firearm, filling out a federal form in which he allegedly answered “no” to the question of whether he was “an illegal user of or addicted to marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic, or any drug.” other controlled substance?
According to a book Hunter Biden later wrote about his struggles with substance abuse, he was doing drugs a lot that year.
Proceedings for false statements about Forms of gun purchases are relatively rare, but they do happen. In the fiscal year that Hunter Biden bought that gun, Department of Justice records show that prosecutors received 478 referrals for lying on the forms. Of those, charges were filed in 298 cases, or about 60 percent of the time.
Federal agents refer to these cases as “lie and buy.” Historically, prosecutors have significant discretion in deciding what is worth federal resources.
“A prosecutor may say they have bigger fish to catch, or they may decide to go for a deal,” said Joseph G. Green, a retired agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “As officers, we would always include as many charges as we could, but ultimately it is up to the prosecutor to decide which ones he will bring.”
Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.