The United States attorney general has named a special counsel in an ongoing investigation into President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden. This indicates that a criminal trial may be in the offing.
A plea deal on tax and gun charges against the president’s son collapsed earlier this month.
Hunter Biden had previously reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to the tax charges and admit the gun offence to spare himself prison time.
Hunter Biden has since been charged with two misdemeanour tax offenses for allegedly not paying income taxes in 2017 and 2018, years in which he earned in excess of $1.5m, according to the US Attorney’s Office in Delaware.
However, US District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika wiped out the deal due to “non standard terms” and the “unusual” nature of the proposed resolution for the gun charge.
Since then, Hunter Biden and prosecutors have engaged in further plea negotiations but remain at an impasse. In a court filing on Friday, Mr Weiss’s team said they now expect the case to go to trial – and could potentially file new, more serious charges in Washington DC or California.
On Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland elevated David Weiss, a federal prosecutor who has been handling the younger Biden’s case, to special counsel, expanding his investigative authority.
“The appointment of Mr Weiss reinforces for the American people the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters,” Garland told reporters.
Special counsels are often appointed when the US Justice Department might otherwise have a conflict of interest in pursuing a case.
Endowed with special investigative powers — as well as the ability to prosecute — special counsels act independently of the department’s day-to-day management, though they are subject to the same rules.
The Justice Department falls under the executive branch, and Weiss’s appointment to special counsel could indicate the Biden administration is attempting distance itself from a much-expected trial of the president’s son.
Republican lawmakers have made Hunter Biden a central focus of their investigative efforts in Washington, as well as a frequent target for criticism.
The younger Biden has been accused of leveraging his family’s political status to win lucrative contracts in countries such as China and Ukraine. Hunter Biden also faces misdemeanors for tax evasion and a felony charge for illegally possessing a gun during his longtime struggle with cocaine and alcohol addiction.
Some Republicans have also sought to tie Hunter Biden’s business dealings to his father’s presidency, but so far no evidence has emerged linking the two, and the White House has dismissed such claims as “insane conspiracy theories”.
Conservative political figures have long pointed to Hunter Biden’s scandals as evidence of a double standard in the treatment of President Biden and former President Donald Trump.
Trump, the Republican frontrunner in the 2024 presidential race, was dogged by allegations of wrongdoing during his time in office and was impeached twice: once for abuse of power and obstruction and the second for inciting the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
He currently faces three criminal indictments, including for election interference.
Federal ethics law prohibits the use of public office for private gain. Both the Trump and Biden families have faced accusations of doing so from opposition parties.
Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC, and news agencies.