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Crucial witness in Hunter Biden trial gives intimate portrait of his drug use

Hallie Biden, left, daughter in-law of U.S. President Joe Biden, arrives to the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building for the trial of Hunter Biden on Thursday in Wilmington, Del.  (Kevin Dietsch)
By Glenn Thrush, Eileen Sullivan and Zach Montague New York Times

WILMINGTON, Del. – Hallie Biden walked briskly to the witness box, past her brother-in-law and ex-boyfriend Hunter Biden, to chronicle a short, star-crossed relationship that ended in anguish, her own addiction and, eventually, his criminal prosecution.

Hallie Biden, 50, is by far the most important witness for the government. She is one of the few able to offer a detailed, and intimate, accounting of Hunter Biden’s all-consuming addiction to crack cocaine. He is on trial on charges of lying about his drug use on a form to buy a gun in October 2018, and of illegally possessing the weapon.

Moments after sitting down, she delivered what seemed to be the heaviest blow yet to Biden’s defense, confirming the veracity of texts showing he bought and smoked crack in the 48 hours after he purchased a gun in Delaware.

But if the purpose of her appearance was to nail down a dry, prosecutorial timeline, the effect on Hallie Biden was of forcing a recovering addict to revisit days of desperation and shame that she had, to an extent, tried to purge from her memory. She was clearly shaken, repeatedly scanning the gallery for her new husband’s face among the crowd of gawking reporters.

“It was a terrible experience that I went through,” said Biden, a former school counselor.

The defendant nodded in affirmation, almost imperceptibly, as she spoke.

Hallie Biden – speaking in nervous, clipped bursts – admitted to the jury that she had smoked crack after President Joe Biden’s youngest son had introduced her to the drug in the summer of 2018, before quitting a few months later. She said she was “ashamed” and embarrassed by their behavior when they briefly shared a house in Annapolis, Maryland, when both were still reeling from the death of her husband and his brother, Beau Biden, from brain cancer in 2015.

The texts between the two were wrenching.

The lead prosecutor in the case, Leo J. Wise, who normally speaks with an unhurried, high-volume cadence, seemed to lower his voice and rush his delivery to read their emotionally raw, frantic conversations.

The exchanges alternated between recrimination and affection, with Hallie Biden begging him to seek treatment, and not to cheat on her, as he trawled the streets, often all night, for drugs.

And there were a lot of drugs. Hunter Biden, she said, bought multiple rocks of crack in Washington, where he kept an apartment – some the size of “pingpong balls, or bigger maybe” – and stored them in his “backpack or car.”

Two transactions seemed to be particularly damaging to Biden’s defense, which is predicated on the assertion that he was not taking drugs around the time he signed the federal screening form to buy a Colt handgun in Wilmington on Oct. 12, 2018.

The day after, he texted Hallie Biden that he was “buying.” That indicated he was purchasing crack, she told the court.

Later, under cross-examination, she would say that she never personally witnessed him smoking crack in October 2018.

In a second message, from late on the night of Oct. 14, Hunter Biden acknowledged he was “sleeping on a car” and “smoking crack” behind the minor league baseball stadium in Wilmington after buying drugs from a dealer named Mookie.

It was part of a pattern of erratic behavior, she added, saying that he would be unreachable for weeks at a time and that she or her children would scrounge through his car for drugs or alcohol to help him “start anew and deal with stuff” when he reappeared exhausted at her home.

Hunter Biden’s defense lawyer, Abbe Lowell, gingerly but forcefully challenged Hallie Biden’s credibility as a witness, asking her several dozen questions about her specific recollections of her actions in the weeks before and after the gun purchase that were answered with “I don’t recall” more often than not.

“There are some things you remember, but many things you don’t,” he said.

While Lowell did not directly challenge the veracity of the texts, he suggested his client might have lied to Hallie Biden, saying he was buying drugs to cover up his affairs.

On Oct. 23, 2018 – 11 days after Hunter Biden bought the gun – a panicked Hallie Biden confiscated the weapon, drove it to a high-end supermarket in Delaware, and tossed it in a trash can, hoping he would never discover who had taken it.

But it was quickly retrieved, and Hunter Biden himself contacted police, spurring a series of anxious communications from Hunter Biden, who seemed to have immediately grasped the dire implications. He cursed Hallie Biden out and called her stupid, according to the texts.

“I’ll take the blame,” replied Hallie Biden, who had repeatedly urged him to go to rehab and seemed to view her actions as an intervention of sorts. “I don’t want to live like this.”

One of the most damaging aspects of her testimony was her claim that he took few precautions in storing the gun when it was in his possession. Lowell contended in his opening statement that Biden had kept the gun in a “lock box” in his truck and took it out only once in the time he owned it.

But prosecutors produced a text from Hallie Biden chiding her boyfriend at the time, telling him the box had been left open in an unlocked vehicle, “windows down.” She warned Hunter Biden that “the kids search your car.”

When she searched the car Oct. 23, she noticed “a dusting of powder” that she assumed to be “remnants of crack cocaine” before finding the gun in a case with a broken lock.

Prosecutors then showed surveillance video of her tossing the gun only to return later and frantically try to recover it.

“I realize it was a stupid idea now, but I was just so panicked” she said.

At times, Hunter Biden’s web of romantic intrigue and obliteration of personal boundaries bordered on the comical. At one point, he even used the cellphone number of his estranged wife, Kathleen Buhle, to text with Hallie Biden.

“That freaks me out,” she wrote.

“This is Kathleen and I’m gonna beat you up,” he joked.

Thursday was the first time that Jill Biden, who briefly joined her husband to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day before departing hours later, was not in the courtroom. In an interview with ABC, Joe Biden was asked if he would “rule out” pardoning his son. “Yes,” he replied.

David C. Weiss, the special counsel who has brought a separate case against Hunter Biden involving more serious tax offenses, has turned to the women closest to Biden to document his drug use, revisiting some of the most damaging episodes in the Biden family’s recent history as the campaign season intensifies.

On Wednesday, two of Hunter Biden’s former romantic partners, his former wife and a former girlfriend, provided vivid testimony about his addiction to crack in the weeks and months before he applied for a gun.

Almost all the events at issue in the trial happened in 2018, when Joe Biden was out of office.

Hunter Biden is charged with three felonies: lying to a federally licensed gun dealer, making a false claim on the federal firearms application and possessing an illegally obtained gun. If convicted, Biden could face up to 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. But nonviolent first-time offenders who have not been accused of using the weapon in another crime rarely receive serious prison time for the charges.

The government’s case turns on a relatively straightforward question: whether Hunter Biden was abusing drugs when he filled out the federal firearms application claiming he was not an “unlawful user” of controlled substances.

“Addiction may not be a choice, but lying and buying a gun is a choice,” Derek Hines, a top deputy to Weiss, told jurors in opening statements Tuesday.

The sheer amount of unflattering evidence assembled by Weiss is intended to prove that Biden knowingly lied when he claimed not to be taking drugs when he bought the handgun.

It has, in the view of even some Biden family critics, moved far beyond that goal – into a publicly humiliating trial of the president’s troubled son for an offense that, while a crime, is seldom prosecuted as a stand-alone charge for someone with no prior criminal record who has been sober for years.

But Hallie Biden, who first met Beau and Hunter Biden when they were middle schoolers in Delaware, is not just a witness in someone else’s trial.

Like Hunter Biden, she had to soldier on after the death of her husband, who was seen by everyone, particularly his father and younger brother, as the bearer of the family legacy.

Unlike Hunter Biden, Hallie Biden took decisive early steps to address her addiction, regularly attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings during the relationship and up to the present day.

Late Thursday, as the prosecution prepared to rest its case, Hallie Biden appeared exhausted and struggled to follow the tangle of evidentiary threads spun by her questioners.

But she brightened when Wise – to dispel any notion she was being coached by someone in gallery – pointed out that her new husband, whom she married over the weekend, was in the courtroom.

Wise asked: Why was he there?

“Support,” she said, with a grin, raising her fist.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.