By Zachary Stieber
U.S. prosecutors are disputing the allegation they “reneged” on a plea deal with President Joe Biden’s son.
“The government did not “renege” on the on the plea agreement, U.S. Attorney and special counsel David Weiss said in an Aug. 15 filing.
Lawyers for Hunter Biden, the president’s son, had accused prosecutors of going back on the deal.
The prosecutors made the decision “to renege on the previously agreed-upon plea agreement,” the lawyers for Mr. Biden said.
The parties had an agreement ready when entering a hearing on July 26 in federal court in Delaware that would have seen Mr. Biden plead guilty to two counts of intentionally not paying taxes. That deal was tied to a pretrial diversion agreement that features Mr. Biden being able to avoid punishment for possessing a gun while an addict to an illegal drug, a violation of federal law.
After a contentious hearing that saw the judge overseeing the trial question the parameters of the deal, in particular the immunity it would have granted Mr. Biden, the defendant pleaded not guilty to the tax charges.
“The Defendant chose to plead not guilty at the hearing,” Mr. Weiss said in the new filing. Additionally, probation officers declined to sign off on the proposed pretrial diversion agreement.
That means neither agreement is in effect, according to prosecutors.
After the hearing, the parties began negotiating on updating the agreements to address concerns raised by the judge. Mr. Biden’s lawyers offered changes in one meeting, but prosecutors did not believe the changes would be “in the best interest of the United States” and proposed different changes on July 31, Mr. Weiss said.
Mr. Biden rejected the counterproposals on Aug. 7, resulting in what the government has described as an impasse.
The government then informed the defendant that it was withdrawing both agreements and asked for Mr. Biden’s position by Aug. 11 on its plans to ask the judge to approve the withdrawal of the tax charges in order to file them in a different venue.
Mr. Biden asked for an extension of time to respond, but the government declined.
In its latest filing, Mr. Biden’s team said that a scheduled hearing on the matter would be moot because of the prosecutorial decision “to renege on the previously agreed-upon plea agreement.”
They also said that they view the pretrial diversion agreement as in effect and that Mr. Biden intends to abide by the terms of the agreement, which include not possessing guns for 24 months.
Mr. Weiss said that’s not true.
“The proposed diversion agreement never took effect,” Mr. Weiss said, adding later, “The Government never said the proposed diversion agreement was in effect because it is not.”
During the hearing in July, prosecutors said the diversion agreement would not take effect unless it was signed by the judge. The prosecutors said they were referring to Margaret Bray, the U.S. probation officer for Delaware, who would be acting at the judge’s direction.
Ms. Bray has not signed the agreement, according to prosecutors and the only version available to the public.
Because the agreement never went into effect, “none of its terms are binding on either party,” Mr. Weiss said.
Mr. Weiss was appointed under President Donald Trump on the recommendation of U.S. Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.). Mr. Weiss made the filing after being named special counsel by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The appointment will provide Mr. Weiss with “all the resources he requests” and “reaffirms that Mr. Weiss has the authority he needs to conduct a thorough investigation and to continue to take the steps he deems appropriate independently, based only on the facts and the law,” Mr. Garland, appointed by President Biden, said in prepared remarks from Washington.
Mr. Garland had previously said that Mr. Weiss had the power to “make a decision to prosecute any way in which he wanted to and in any district in which he wanted to,” contradicting testimony from an IRS whistleblower and IRS emails summarizing a meeting that involved Mr. Weiss.
IRS whistleblower Gary Shapley, who was investigating Mr. Biden, said in one email that Mr. Weiss had communicated that he did not have the authority to bring charges wherever he wanted, being blocked in multiple districts. Mr. Weiss, according to Mr. Shapley and his supervisor, also asked to be appointed special counsel but was rejected.
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, earlier Thursday shook up his legal team. Christopher Clark, one of his longtime lawyers, exited the case, telling the court that he could become a witness in the case as the negotiation and drafting of the agreements are examined.
“Based on recent developments, it appears that the negotiation and drafting of the plea agreement and diversion agreement will be contested, and Mr. Clark is a percipient witness to those issues. Under the ‘witness-advocate’ rule, it is inadvisable for Mr. Clark to continue as counsel in this case,” Mr. Clark said.
Abbe Lowell has asked the court to enter the case to replace Mr. Clark.