Prosecutors Plan to Use Highly Personal Evidence in Hunter Biden Trial

Elizabeth Frantz for The Washington Post
President Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, Melissa Cohen Biden and Beau Biden Jr. leave the White House in December.

Hunter Biden, in a trial scheduled to get underway in two weeks, could face testimony from his ex-wife and his brother’s widow, with whom he became romantically involved, according to new filings from federal prosecutors that illustrate just how messy the seemingly simple court case could turn.

The filings from special counsel David Weiss provide a window into prosecutors’ plans and how they may reopen some of the most painful moments in the Biden family’s past, potentially embarrassing not only Hunter Biden but also a president whose political career has long been defined by a close-knit family that stuck together through difficult times.

In black and white, the court papers detail the depth of family members’ turmoil as they struggled to grapple with the death of President Biden’s oldest son, Beau, in 2015, and the drug and alcohol addiction of his younger son, Hunter. The family divisions were deepened when Hunter began a romance with Beau’s widow, Hallie.

Hunter Biden has been charged with falsely declaring – on a form he was required to fill out to buy a gun in 2018 – that he was not using illegal drugs. By calling women close to Hunter Biden as witnesses and introducing contemporaneous text messages, prosecutors appear to be trying to prove he was in fact abusing drugs at the time he filled out the form. Biden has admitted he was using drugs at the time, including in his memoir.

“I am afraid you are going to die,” Hallie wrote to Hunter at a time when he was in possession of the gun, according to one of the text messages entered into the court record by prosecutors. Two minutes later, she added: “And I can’t live without you.”

Hunter Biden’s lawyers declined to comment for this article. Federal prosecutors also declined to comment.

Hunter Biden has largely stabilized his life, his friends and associates say, having remarried and relocated to California, but those close to him and the president worry about the toll the upcoming trial could take on someone who has struggled with addiction for much of his life. While he has viewed the process of making amends and admitting mistakes as part of his recovery, the court documents show just how painful some of that could be.

“I am not doing this. You have to get sober for your 5 kids and me,” Hallie Biden wrote in another text message. “Bottom line. Or you lose everyone slowly.”

Much about the case is not in dispute. In Hunter Biden’s published memoir, which prosecutors have submitted as evidence, Hunter Biden described himself as someone who was “up twenty-four hours a day, smoking every fifteen minutes, seven days a week.”

“All my energy revolved around smoking drugs and making arrangements to buy drugs-feeding the beast,” he wrote.

Prosecutors in their latest filings indicate that they will use the text messages to confirm and flesh out details from the book, such as one message in which Hunter Biden describes waiting for a drug dealer at an intersection in Wilmington. “I was sleeping on a car smoking crack on 4th Street and Rodney,” he wrote.

Prosecutors are also planning to show images of drug paraphernalia and of Hunter Biden smoking crack that were backed up on his Apple iCloud account or his laptop.

The case centers on a claim Biden made, on the forms required to buy a gun on Oct. 12, 2018, that he was not addicted to illegal drugs – when, the indictment says, “he knew that statement was false and fictitious.”

About two weeks after the purchase of the gun, Hallie Biden threw the weapon in a trash can behind a grocery store that is located across the street from a high school. A man searching for recyclables discovered the gun and turned it in.

“You have lost your mind hunter,” Hallie Biden wrote to him in one of the text messages. “I’m sorry I handled it poorly today but you are in huge denial about yourself and about that reality that I just want you safe. You run away like a child. … It’s to be expected that you go, you prove repeatedly that you can’t stay and really do work on yourself. It’s easier for you to avoid looking within and cowardly to constantly point the blame on me.”

Barbara McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan and a former U.S. attorney, said that the case was fairly straightforward, and it was unclear why prosecutors would include so much detail in a filing so close to the trial.

“If Weiss wanted to pressure Biden, he certainly could have shared all of this information with Biden’s attorneys without filing it in a public document,” she wrote in an email. “Not sure what he is accomplishing by filing it publicly, other than perhaps prompting the witnesses to urge Biden to plead guilty.”

Still, prosecutors may face challenges at trial. Hunter Biden’s team is likely to argue that prosecutors rarely pursue someone for such a minor violation unless it is tied to a more serious crime.

Defense lawyers also could cite a recent revelation in court documents that at the time of the gun purchase, the store workers made copies of Hunter Biden’s passport but did not document viewing any ID with an address as required. Three years later, when the case became more controversial and officials asked for the original form, the shop owner decided to add more information to suggest he had also checked Hunter’s car registration.

The defense team could argue that this calls into question the validity of the original form, and therefore the seriousness of Hunter Biden’s offense if he lied on it.

If he is convicted, the maximum sentence for the most serious crime in the indictment would be 10 years in prison, although he probably would face far less time under federal sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors and Hunter Biden’s team were close to a plea deal a year ago, but it collapsed when the two sides could not agree on whether it would preclude future charges against Hunter.

Hunter Biden and his attorneys for months have attempted to delay the trial as well as a separate tax evasion case in California. Weiss, who is overseeing both prosecutions, has vigorously objected to the delays.

U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika, who is presiding over the gun case in Delaware, has set an opening day of June 3. U.S. District Judge Mark C. Scarsi, the judge in California, has indicated that the tax case will get underway on June 20, although there is a hearing on Wednesday to determine whether it should be delayed.

Weiss’s team has also entered a significant amount of sensitive material in the California case, according to recent government filings. It includes emails and texts between Hunter Biden and his children and his uncle, documents from his divorce case with Kathleen Buhle, and tax forms from Hallie Biden.

But it is the live witnesses in Delaware who may get the most attention. The court documents do not name them, but provide descriptions that make it clear who they are.

Buhle, who divorced Hunter Biden in April 2017, is described as someone who “was previously married to the defendant.” After their divorce, it says, “through 2018 she would check his vehicle from time to time because she did not want their children in a vehicle with drugs.”

“While searching his vehicles, she found drugs or paraphernalia on approximately a dozen occasions, which she discarded in a trash can,” the court filing states. “She is corroborated by a text message exchange with the defendant, in which she tells the defendant on March 9, 2018, ‘I also found a few crack pipes. I took them out because our daughter was driving the car.’”

Hallie Biden is described as having observed Hunter Biden “using drugs on multiple occasions.” She said that when Hunter Biden stayed at her home in the fall of 2018, she and her children – Hunter’s niece and nephew – “searched his bags, backpacks, and vehicle in an effort to help him get sober, and discovered drug paraphernalia and drugs in his possessions on multiple occasions.”

Another witness is described as having previously been in a romantic relationship with Hunter Biden and having observed him “using crack cocaine frequently – every 20 minutes except when he slept.” Some of that description fits Lunden Roberts, an Arkansas woman with whom Hunter Biden had a child. An attorney for Roberts did not return a message on Tuesday.

Buhle and Hallie Biden also did not respond to emails seeking comment.

The recent court filing includes 75 pages of texts and emails that government prosecutors say they will use during the case.

But Hunter Biden publicly describes himself as a recovering addict and has not been shy about admitting his drug use.

“I’m a liar and a thief and a blamer and a user and I’m delusional and an addict unlike beyond and above all other addicts that you know and I’ve ruined every relationship I’ve ever cherished,” Hunter Biden wrote in a Nov. 3, 2018, message to Hallie Biden, according to the court filing.

A few weeks later, he conceded that he was struggling to escape his addiction while in his home state, apparently alluding to his long history, memories good and bad, and numerous connections there.

“What’s the worst place for me to be trying to stay clean?” he wrote. “Delaware.”