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Hunter Biden indicted on tax charges

Hunter Biden departs the federal courthouse in Wilmington, Del., on July 26. The special counsel investigating Hunter Biden charged the president’s son Thursday on nine counts stemming from his failure to pay his federal taxes on time on millions in income from foreign businesses, the second indictment against him this year – and the latest development in a case Republicans have made the cornerstone of a possible impeachment of President Biden.  (KENNY HOLSTON)
By Glenn Thrush and Michael S. Schmidt New York Times

WASHINGTON – A federal grand jury charged Hunter Biden on Thursday with a scheme to evade federal taxes on millions in income from foreign businesses, the second indictment against him this year and a major new development in a case Republicans have made the cornerstone of a possible impeachment of his father, President Joe Biden.

Hunter Biden faces three counts each of evasion of a tax assessment, failure to file and pay taxes, and filing a false or fraudulent tax return, according to the 56-page indictment – a withering play-by-play of personal indulgence with potentially enormous political costs for his father.

The charges, filed in California, came five months after he appeared to be on the verge of a plea deal that would have avoided jail time and potentially granted him broad immunity from future prosecution stemming from his business dealings. But the agreement collapsed, and in September, he was indicted in Delaware on three charges stemming from his illegal purchase of a handgun in 2018, a period when he used drugs heavily and was prohibited from owning a firearm.

The tax charges have always been the more serious element of the inquiry by the special counsel, David Weiss, who began investigating the president’s son five years ago as the Donald Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for Delaware. Weiss was retained when Biden took office in 2021.

Hunter Biden “engaged in a four-year scheme to not pay at least $1.4 million in self-assessed federal taxes he owed for tax years 2016 through 2019,” Weiss wrote.

“Between 2016 and Oct. 15, 2020, the defendant spent this money on drugs, escorts and girlfriends, luxury hotels and rental properties, exotic cars, clothing, and other items of a personal nature, in short, everything but his taxes,” he added.

If convicted, he could face a maximum of 17 years in prison, Justice Department officials said.

The charges, while serious, were far less explosive than ones pushed by Trump and congressional Republicans, who have been angry with the department for failing to find wider criminal wrongdoing by the president’s son and family.

But the failure of Biden’s lawyers to reach a new settlement after talks with Weiss fell apart has now subjected Biden to the perils of two criminal proceedings in two jurisdictions, with unpredictable outcomes.

Many of the facts laid out in Thursday’s indictment were already widely known, and the litany of Biden’s actions tracks closely with a narrative he drafted with prosecutors in the plea deal that collapsed over the summer under the withering scrutiny of a federal judge in Delaware.

Prosecutors said he “subverted the payroll and tax withholding process of his own company,” Owasco PC, by withdrawing millions from the coffers that he used to subsidize “an extravagant lifestyle rather than paying his tax bills.” They also accused him of taking false business deductions.

Weiss called out Biden for failing to pay child support and his reliance on associates, including Hollywood lawyer Kevin Morris, to pay his way. Prosecutors included a chart that tracked the cash he siphoned from Owasco’s coffers – $1.6 million in ATM withdrawals, $683,212 for “payments – various women,” nearly $400,000 for clothing and accessories, and about $750,000 for restaurants, health and beauty products, groceries and other retail purchases.

Throughout the document, Weiss presented an unflattering split-screen of Biden, scooping up millions in income and gifts from friends while stubbornly refusing to pay his taxes. That pattern even persisted into 2020, after he had borrowed money to pay off his tax liabilities from the previous few years, prosecutors wrote.

“Defendant spent $17,500 each month, totaling approximately $200,000 from January through Oct. 15, 2020, on a lavish house on a canal in Venice Beach, Calif.,” they wrote, adding that “the IRS stood as the last creditor to be paid.”

In a statement, Abbe Lowell, Biden’s lawyer, said Weiss had “bowed to Republican pressure” and accused him of reneging on their previous agreement. He said the special counsel had not responded to his request for a meeting a few days ago to discuss the details of the case.

“If Hunter’s last name was anything other than Biden, the charges in Delaware, and now California, would not have been brought,” he said.

The indictment includes a more detailed description of Biden’s activities and tangled business deals than the government had previously made public. Taken in its totality, the filing paints a damning portrait of personal irresponsibility by a man who leveraged his last name to finance his vices while willfully ignoring his tax liabilities.

The Biden case sits at the crowded intersection of America’s colliding political and legal systems. There is now a very real prospect that the president’s son will be defending himself in two federal criminal trials during a presidential election year – as Trump, his father’s likely opponent, confronts the possibility of two federal criminal trials in his classified documents and election interference cases.

The additional charges come on the cusp of a vote by the Republican-led House to formalize its impeachment inquiry into the president, which is largely based on unsubstantiated allegations that he benefited from his son’s lucrative consulting work for companies in Ukraine and China.

Republican leaders in the House released draft text of a procedural impeachment resolution against the president Thursday, just hours before word of the new charges started to percolate through official Washington. It is not clear what effect the indictment will have on their inquiry.

The indictment contains no reference to the president. But prosecutors pointed out that Hunter Biden’s compensation from Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, dropped from $1 million a year in 2016, when his father was still in office, to $500,000 in March 2017, two months after he left office.

The decision to indict the president’s troubled son was an extraordinary step for Weiss, who was named a special counsel in August by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The Justice Department has been investigating Hunter Biden since at least 2018. Despite examining an array of matters – including Biden’s work for Burisma, ties to oligarchs and business deals in China – the investigation ultimately narrowed to questions about his taxes, including his failure to file his 2017 and 2018 returns on time, and the gun purchase.

The investigation appeared to have come to a conclusion in June when Weiss and Biden’s lawyers announced that Biden would plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges.

As part of the deal, prosecutors charged Biden with lying about whether he was using drugs but, under a so-called pretrial diversion agreement, agreed not to prosecute Biden on that. In return, Biden agreed to admit that he had used drugs at the time of the purchase and the deal remained contingent on him remaining drug free for the next two years.

But the deal abruptly imploded.

At a hearing in July, Judge Maryellen Noreika of the U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware, sharply questioned elements of the deal, telling the two sides repeatedly that she had no intention of being “a rubber stamp.”

One objection centered on a provision that would have offered Biden broad insulation against further prosecution on matters under scrutiny during the federal inquiry. Weiss’ prosecutors and Biden’s lawyer at the time, Christopher Clark, disagreed on whether that shielded him from being prosecuted in connection with his foreign business dealings.

The other objection had to do with the diversion program on the gun charge, under which the judge would play a role in determining whether Biden was meeting the terms of the deal.

Noreika said she was not trying to sink the agreement, but to strengthen it by ironing out ambiguities and inconsistencies. But by the end, the sides had splintered, prosecutors filed paperwork indicating they would proceed with a prosecution and the embattled Weiss requested to be named special counsel, which requires him to file a report at the conclusion of the investigation.

Since taking control of the House in January, top Republicans have used their new investigative power to push the narrative that the president has been complicit in an effort engineered by Hunter Biden to enrich his family by profiting from their positions of power, especially through business and investment transactions abroad.

The investigation has become a central focus of House Republicans, and of Trump, who has seized upon it as a counter to his own legal woes. Earlier this year, two former IRS agents who worked on the investigation testified before a House committee that they had been discouraged from fully investigating interactions of Hunter Biden and his father, and that Weiss had complained that he did not have the authority to expand the investigation to other jurisdictions.

Weiss denied those claims.

On Thursday, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., chair of the House oversight committee, credited the “two brave IRS whistleblowers” for forcing Weiss to abandon plea negotiations and file charges.

“The Department of Justice got caught in its attempt to give Hunter Biden an unprecedented sweetheart plea deal,” Comer said in a statement, adding that the men should be applauded “for their courage to expose the truth.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.