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By Holmes Lybrand, CNN
Los Angeles (CNN) — Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty Thursday on federal charges he faces in California for allegedly failing to pay more than a million dollars in taxes.
The embattled son of the president made his initial appearance Thursday in a federal courthouse in Los Angeles in the case brought by special counsel David Weiss.
Hunter Biden has been charged with nine counts related to a tax-avoidance conspiracy that prosecutors say he implemented over several years while enjoying a lavish, and at times salacious, lifestyle. Hunter Biden’s attorney has argued that they amount to nothing more than a political hit job.
Republicans have focused on the president’s son and his overseas business dealings with Ukrainian and Chinese companies, accusing Joe Biden himself of financially benefitting from Hunter Biden’s dealings; claims that are yet unproven.
The charges against Hunter Biden stem from a yearslong investigation by Weiss, the US attorney for Delaware, who was appointed as special counsel by Attorney General Merrick Garland in August.
After Hunter Biden entered a plea of not guilty, the judge overseeing the case in California moved quickly to setting the trial date as well as filing and hearing deadlines in the case.
“I’m kind of keeping you on a tight schedule,” the federal Judge Mark Scarsi said after setting the trial in the case for June 20, 2024. “We like to move things along.”
Prosecutor Leo Wise told the court that discovery in the case had already largely been handed over and that some discovery in the Delaware case – where Hunter Biden faces three gun-related charges – will also be used in the case in California.
“It’s a common production,” Wise noted, “coming out of the same investigation.”
Hunter Biden’s attorney Abbe Lowell did not object to the dates set by the judge but noted that dates in the Delaware case have not yet been set. The next hearing in the California case is set for late March.
‘Everything but his taxes’
According to the indictment filed in California, where Hunter Biden lives, the president’s son “engaged in a four-year scheme to not pay at least $1.4 million in self-assessed federal taxes he owed for tax years 2016 through 2019.”
“(T)he Defendant spent this money on drugs, escorts and girlfriends, luxury hotels and rental properties, exotic cars, clothing, and other items of a personal nature, in short, everything but his taxes,” the indictment states.
Prosecutors say Hunter Biden falsely claimed some of these expenses, including payments to escorts, as deductions on his taxes. He has since paid the IRS back what he owes in taxes and penalties.
In his 2021 autobiography, cited in the indictment, Hunter Biden detailed his struggle with addiction, including with crack cocaine – a period that overlaps with some of the timeframe covered in the indictment.
The Justice Department has previously said that if convicted on the tax charges, Hunter could face a maximum of 17 years in prison.
The deal that fell apart
In July, the stage was set for the president’s son to enter into an agreement with prosecutors on two federal tax charges that would also resolve a felony gun charge.
But that deal, which could have put an end to Hunter Biden’s current legal troubles, quickly fell apart during a hearing in Delaware.
During the hearing, the federal judge presiding pressed prosecutors and defense attorneys on the deal itself as well as each party’s understanding of the extent of the deal and what, if any, potential future prosecution it protected Hunter Biden from.
While prosecutors told the judge the deal did not limit them from bringing future charges against the president’s son under foreign lobbying laws, Hunter Biden’s attorneys disagreed.
“As far as I’m concerned, the plea agreement is null and void,“ Hunter Biden’s attorney Christopher Clark told the judge after the fundamental disagreement over the extent of the deal came to light.
Despite Clark’s attempts to salvage the deal later during the hearing, the judge declined to accept a revised agreement, questioning the constitutionality of the deal they had struck with prosecutors that would resolve a felony gun charge.
Two months after the collapsed deal, Hunter Biden was indicted on three gun charges in Delaware over his alleged purchase of a firearm several years ago while using illegal drugs.
Hunter Biden’s attorneys have moved to dismiss the gun charges and have maintained the original deal with prosecutors remains valid.
Lowell said Thursday that three of the motions he has submitted in the Delaware case will also be similarly submitted in the California tax case as well as a fourth motion related to the IRS agents involved in the investigation.
The judge noted that some of the motions Hunter Biden’s attorney may file could run into issues surrounding the immunity prosecutors have on handing over items related to their decisions in the investigation.
Lowell said they would be seeking discovery related to how prosecutors changed their minds following the collapsed plea deal with Hunter Biden over similar charges.
“We had a resolution in this case in the summer of 2023. And then, things happened,” Lowell said, arguing that they have passed the immunity threshold.
Wise shot back, arguing that he did not believe the collapsed plea deal was “that unusual.”
“Pleas fall apart all the time,” Wise said.
Republicans in Congress could vote as early as next week to hold Hunter Biden in contempt after he failed to appear before the House Oversight and House Judiciary committees for a closed-door deposition following a congressional subpoena.
Hunter Biden’s attorneys have said their client would be willing to sit down for a public hearing before the committees and the president’s son made a surprise visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, interrupting the House Oversight’s hearing to hold him in contempt.
Several Republican members of the committee, who subpoenaed Hunter Biden as part of their investigation into the president, confronted him for failing to appear for the deposition, with one Republican lawmaker suggesting he should be immediately arrested and jailed.
As CNN has reported, the stunt by Hunter Biden represents an aggressive legal strategy by the president’s son and his lawyers, who recognize the significant difficulty Republicans in Congress would have getting the Justice Department to take up any contempt charge against Hunter Biden, who already faces charges by the department in two states.
Scarsi also asked the parties to look for case law dealing with the issue of Congressional interference, noting that he and his clerks could only find one case on the matter.
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