Federal prosecutors have indicted Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, on gun charges, court documents show.
Biden was indicted Thursday in federal court in Delaware on three counts tied to possession of a gun while using narcotics.
Two counts accuse Biden of having completed a form indicating he was not using illegal drugs when he bought a Colt Cobra revolver in October 2018. The third count alleges he possessed a firearm while using a narcotic. The indictment says Biden certified on a federally mandated form "that he was not an unlawful user of, and addicted to, any stimulant, narcotic drug, and any other controlled substance, when in fact, as he knew, that statement was false and fictitious.”
Two of the counts carry maximum prison sentences of 10 years, while the third has a maximum of five years. Each count also carries a maximum fine of $250,000.
The historic indictment of the son of a sitting president comes after a plea deal that might have ended a yearslong probe into Hunter Biden fell apart and just as House Republicans have launched an impeachment inquiry to seek bank records and other documents from the president and his son.
The case is being overseen by special counsel David Weiss, who also headed the investigation. Weiss is a Trump appointee who was kept on as the U.S. attorney for Delaware because of the sensitive and unique nature of the investigation into a president's son by the Justice Department, a part of the executive branch headed by the president. Attorney General Merrick Garland named Weiss special counsel last month as negotiations over the tax and gun charges collapsed.
The White House referred requests for comment to the Justice Department and Hunter Biden's legal team.
Weiss declined to comment on the investigation Thursday before the indictment was unsealed.
An attorney for Hunter Biden, Abbe Lowell, said in a statement that the new charges were politically influenced and are unwarranted. "We believe these charges are barred by the agreement the prosecutors made with Mr. Biden, the recent rulings by several federal courts that this statute is unconstitutional, and the facts that he did not violate that law, and we plan to demonstrate all of that in court,” Lowell said.
In an interview with CNN on Thursday evening, Lowell said he believed there was "ambiguity in the statute" under which Biden was charged.
“The law says whether or not the person is possessing the gun while they are addicted," he told host Erin Burnett. "There is ambiguity in the statute, which we will have to pursue if this case continues. At the time that he purchased this gun, I don’t think there’s evidence that that’s when he was suffering. When you refer to his book, he had just come out of rehabilitation.”
Weiss’ investigation was opened in 2018, the year before Joe Biden announced his candidacy for president, said a source familiar with the inquiry, and it focused on the younger Biden’s finances.
The two sides in July reached a plea agreement that called for Biden to plead guilty in Delaware federal court to two misdemeanor counts of failing to pay his taxes in return for prosecutors’ recommending probation. A separate felony gun charge of illegally owning the Colt Cobra .38 Special handgun would have been dropped in two years if Biden honored the terms of what is known as a diversion agreement.
The plea agreement started to fall apart at the court appearance where it was expected to be finalized after the judge presiding over the case raised questions about some details. “The agreements are not straightforward, and they contain some atypical provisions,” U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika said, including one that could theoretically protect Biden from other tax-related crimes in the same period.
Prosecutors said the provision in the diversion agreement would not protect Biden from different charges, while his attorneys said it would. Noreika, a Trump-appointed judge, asked both sides for more information, and the agreement — which Republicans were already blasting as a “sweetheart deal” — fell apart.
In subsequent court filings, Weiss’s office noted that without the plea agreement in place, there were venue issues and the tax case would most likely have to go to trial in California or Washington, D.C. Prosecutors also suggested that they might bring different charges in the new case. In a court filing last week, prosecutors indicated new indictments would be filed before the end of the month. Asked Thursday whether any additional charges or indictments would be coming, a spokesperson for the special counsel said, "The investigation continues."
Two of the charges filed Thursday were not used in the prosecutors' gun case in July, which Lowell noted in his statement. He said "prosecutors filed charges today that they deemed were not warranted just six weeks ago following a five-year investigation into this case. The evidence in this matter has not changed in the last six weeks, but the law has and so has MAGA Republicans’ improper and partisan interference in this process. Hunter Biden possessing an unloaded gun for 11 days was not a threat to public safety, but a prosecutor, with all the power imaginable, bending to political pressure presents a grave threat to our system of justice "
Lowell has also argued the diversion agreement in the previous gun case is still in effect because Biden and prosecutors had already been signed, and he has said it “prevents any additional charges from being filed against Mr. Biden.”
Prosecutors dispute that the agreement is in effect, arguing it lacks a necessary signature from the probation department.
Attachments to the plea agreement and the diversion agreement — which were filed in court in July and cannot be used in the current case — blamed Biden’s conduct in the tax and gun cases on his drug and alcohol addiction. The documents say that he got sober in May 2019 and that with the help of a third party he paid off about $2 million in back taxes and penalties by October 2021.
A “statement of facts” document included in the original gun case said Biden was using crack cocaine during the period when he bought a revolver from a federally licensed firearms dealer in Delaware in October 2018. Filling out a federally mandated form asking whether he used illegal narcotics, “Biden answered ‘no,’ even though he was a user of and addicted to crack cocaine at the time,” the court filing said.
He wound up possessing the gun for 11 days, and during that time “he purchased and used crack cocaine regularly,” the filing continued. The gun was later found in his car along with drug paraphernalia, and it was “subsequently discarded in a trashcan outside a supermarket in Greenville, Delaware,” it said.
House Oversight Committee chair James Comer, R-Ky., who has been investigating the Biden family’s finances but made no criminal referrals, said he was unimpressed with the new charges, calling them "the least of all the dozen crimes he’s committed."
"I’m still holding out hope that Weiss does the right thing" and pursues additional charges, he said.
Former President Donald Trump also complained on his social media platform, Truth Social, saying it was "the only crime that Hunter Biden committed that does not implicate Crooked Joe Biden."
The House probes, which have focused on money Hunter Biden made from foreign sources while his father was vice president, have not turned up any evidence to date that the president benefited from his son's business dealings.
The White House has been largely silent on the investigation, but the president defended his son in an interview with MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle on May 5.
“First of all, my son has done nothing wrong,” he said. “I trust him. I have faith in him.”
Asked by Ruhle how charges against his son would affect his presidency, Biden said, “It impacts my presidency by making me feel proud of him.”
Hunter Biden told CBS News in a 2021 interview that he was “cooperating completely” with the federal probe. “And I’m absolutely certain, 100 percent certain,” he said, “that at the end of the investigation, I will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”
Dareh Gregorian, Daniel Barnes and Tom Winter reported from New York and Gary Grumbach from Wilmington, Delaware.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com