Hunter Biden’s emotional testimony about drug use in gun trial

The criminal trial of US President Joe Biden’s son enters its final stretch today as the defense attempts to chip away at prosecutors’ case, laying bare some of the darkest moments of Hunter’s drug-fueled past Biden.

Hunter Biden’s lawyers could call at least one additional witness when the case resumes in federal court in Delaware – the first of two trials he faces in the midst of his father’s re-election campaign. It’s unclear whether prosecutors will call rebuttal witnesses before the case goes to closing arguments and then to the jury.

Hunter Biden is charged with three felonies stemming from the October 2018 purchase of a gun he had possessed for about 11 days. Prosecutors say he lied on a required gun purchase form by claiming he was not illegally using drugs or addicted to drugs.

Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty and accused the Justice Department of bowing to political pressure from former U.S. President Donald Trump and other Republicans to bring the case and separate tax charges after the failure of a deal with prosecutors last year. Hunter Biden has said he has been sober since 2019, but his lawyers said he did not consider himself an “addict” when he filled out the form.

The case highlighted a turbulent period in Hunter Biden’s life following the death of his brother Beau in 2015. First Lady Jill Biden watched from the front row of the courtroom. President Biden was in France much of last week and is heading to Europe again this week for the Group of Seven leaders meeting in Italy.

Hunter Biden’s struggles with substance addiction before getting sober more than five years ago are well-documented. But defense attorneys say there is no evidence that Hunter Biden actually used drugs during the 11 days he possessed the gun. He had completed a rehabilitation program a few weeks earlier.

Photos and videos pointing to drug use

Jurors heard emotional and sordid testimony from Hunter Biden’s former romantic partners and read personal text messages. They saw photos of Hunter Biden holding a crack pipe and partially dressed, as well as a video from his phone showing crack being weighed on a scale.

His ex-wife and two former girlfriends testified before prosecutors about his habitual crack use and their unsuccessful efforts to help him abstain. One woman, who met Hunter Biden in 2017 at a strip club where she worked, described him smoking crack about every 20 minutes while she stayed with him at a hotel.

Hunter Biden has not taken the witness stand and it is unclear whether he will. But jurors heard him describe at length his descent into addiction through audio clips played in court from his 2021 memoir Beautiful Things. The book, written after he became sober, covers the period he had the gun but does not specifically mention it.

A key witness for prosecutors is Beau’s widow, Hallie, who had a brief, rocky relationship with Hunter after her brother died of brain cancer. She found the unloaded gun in Hunter’s truck on Oct. 23, 2018, panicked and threw it in the trash can at a Wilmington grocery store, where a man inadvertently retrieved it from the trash can.

“I didn’t want him to get hurt, and I didn’t want my kids to find out and get hurt,” Hallie told jurors.

Hallie Biden leaves federal court on June 6, 2024.

From the time Hunter Biden returned to Delaware after a trip to California in 2018 until she threw away his gun, she did not see him use drugs, Hallie Biden told jurors. This period included the day he purchased the gun. But jurors also saw text messages Hunter Biden sent Hallie in October 2018 saying he was waiting for a drug dealer and smoking crack. The first message was sent the day after purchasing the gun. The second was sent the next day.

The defense suggested Hunter Biden was trying to turn his life around at the time of purchasing the gun, after completing a detox and rehabilitation program in late August 2018.

“There is no evidence of drug use or firearm possession at the time,” defense attorney Abbe Lowell wrote in court papers filed Saturday. “Only after the gun was thrown away and the stress that followed … was the government able to find the same type of evidence of its use (e.g., photos, use of drug-related jargon) that led to a drug relapse.”

Hunter Biden’s daughter, Naomi, took the defense Saturday, telling jurors that she visited her father while he was in a rehabilitation center in California a few weeks before buying the gun. She told jurors he seemed “hopeful” and was improving, and she told him she was proud of him. As she was dismissed from the stand, she stopped to hug her father before leaving the courtroom.

One more witness?

The defense has not ruled out the possibility of calling an additional witness, but it is not clear who it would be. Hunter’s lawyers previously said they planned to call Joe Biden’s brother, James, as a witness, and he was at the courthouse Saturday. Testimony from other family members could open the door to more deeply personal messages to present to the jury.

President Joe Biden said last week he would accept the jury’s verdict and ruled out a pardon for his son. First Lady Jill Biden was in court every day last week in support of Hunter, except Friday when she was with the president in France for D-Day anniversary events.

It appeared Hunter Biden would have avoided prosecution in the gun case altogether, but a deal reached last summer with prosecutors imploded after U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika, a Trump appointee to the bench, expresses his concerns on this subject. Hunter Biden was later indicted on three gun-related criminal charges. He also faces a trial scheduled for September on criminal charges alleging he failed to pay at least $1.4 million (NZ$2.3 million) in taxes over four years.

If convicted in the gun case, Hunter Biden faces up to 25 years in prison, although first-time offenders don’t come close to the maximum, and it’s unclear whether the judge would give him time behind bars.