As Hunter Biden goes to trial on gun charges, heres how his attorneys plan to defend a simple case

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(WILMINGTON, Del.) — Federal prosecutors pursuing a conviction of President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden on three felony gun charges have characterized their upcoming trial as “a simple case” — and the facts presented in charging documents certainly appear to support that claim.

According to special counsel David Weiss’ office, in October of 2018, Hunter Biden knowingly lied on a federal form about his drug use in order to procure a Colt Cobra 38SPL revolver — conduct that, at face value, would constitute a federal crime. He is charged with two counts related to false statements in purchasing the firearm and a third count of illegally obtaining a firearm while addicted to drugs.

But Hunter Biden’s legal team believes it can throw a wrench in Weiss’ tidy narrative. At a recent pretrial hearing, an attorney for Biden suggested the firearm form at the heart of the case was “much more complicated than [the] special counsel indicates it is.”

Jury selection for the trial is set to begin on Monday. And if 12 Delaware residents accept the government’s story, the president’s only living son could face a prison sentence.

The task of fighting that outcome falls to Abbe Lowell, a veteran defense attorney who has represented several other high-profile figures, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

How Lowell plans to fight the charges remains somewhat unclear. He has signaled to U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika that the contours of his case would depend in large part on how prosecutors proceed at trial.

But in court records and at pretrial hearings, he has offered some tea leaves — and suggested he will attempt to cast doubt on some of the government’s most crucial evidence and witnesses.

‘Tampered’ or ‘annotated’?

Lowell has, for example, latched onto revelations in court that two copies exist of the federal gun form at the heart of the case, called an ATF Form 4473. A shop employee created the original document when Hunter Biden purchased the firearm in 2018. It lists Biden’s passport as the ID he presented to the shop employee.

Years later, however, a copy was made. The copy included a handwritten note, “DE Vehicle Registration,” on a line left blank for “Supplemental Government Issued Documentation.” Store employees did so in 2021 to rectify a requirement that gun buyers present a form of ID that includes an address, which passports do not.

Lowell contends that gun store employees “tampered with” the document, and that it raises questions about “who wrote what on the form, and when.”

Weiss’ office has said the gun shop employees merely “annotated” the document. But they took Lowell’s argument seriously enough to re-interview the gun store owner, Ronald Palimere, on May 16.

During the interview, according to notes filed on the case docket, Palimere said Hunter Biden’s legal tribulations were becoming “a big scandal and there was intense attention on the incident,” and that employees at the store “were all scared to death.”

Palimere “felt it was necessary to annotate the Form 4473 because he felt they were going to get in trouble just for going up against Biden,” according to the notes.

If jurors are persuaded by Lowell’s tack, the argument could undermine the credibility of some key government witnesses — the people who sold Biden the gun — and potentially create a reasonable doubt that Hunter Biden was the one who actually checked that box.

At least two gun store employees, including Palimere, are expected to testify at the trial.

The definition of ‘is’

Lowell may also advance the argument that Hunter Biden may have been confused by the language on the ATF Form 4473. The box he checked “no” asked of the buyer, “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to” various narcotics.

“The issue here is Mr. Biden’s understanding of the question, which asks in the present tense if he ‘is’ a user or addict,” Lowell wrote in court papers.

“The terms ‘user’ or ‘addict’ are not defined on the form and were not explained to him,” he continued. “Someone like Mr. Biden, who had just completed an 11-day rehabilitation program and lived with a sober companion after that, could surely believe he was not a present tense user or addict.”

Finally, Lowell has raised “an issue of chain of custody” with a leather pouch that allegedly held the revolver Hunter Biden purchased. In court documents filed earlier this year, prosecutors said this pouch had cocaine residue on it.

After purchasing the firearm in 2018, Hunter Biden possessed it for less than two weeks before his then-romantic partner, Hallie Biden – who is also the widow of his brother, Beau – discovered the weapon and the pouch, discarded them in a dumpster.

The gun was soon recovered by the authorities, but the pouch was not tested for drug residue until five years later, in 2023. Lowell said at the pretrial hearing that he wants to question witnesses about what happened to the pouch during those five years when it was in police custody to see if it was “tampered with.”

One of the witnesses Lowell plans to call for the defense is a chemical residue expert.

The government’s case

Prosecutors hope these arguments fall flat, and that jurors rely on the voluminous evidence they plan to present to find Hunter Biden guilty of committing the three felony charges he faces.

Prosecutors seem poised to use Hunter Biden’s own words against him — excerpts from his 2021 memoir, “Beautiful Things,” and text messages he exchanged around the time of the gun purchase — to demonstrate that he was in fact a drug user when he filled out the ATF Form 4473 and procured the weapon.

In one text message prosecutors included in court filings, Hunter Biden wrote two days after allegedly purchasing the gun: “I was sleeping on a car smoking crack on 4th Street and Rodney,” referring to an intersection in Wilmington.

Weiss’ office also plans to show jurors the original ATF Form 4473, in which Biden represented that “he was not an unlawful user of, or addicted to, any stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance” — despite allegedly knowing it not to be true.

Prosecutors indicated that they plan to call as many as 12 witnesses, including Hallie Biden and Hunter Biden’s ex-wife, Kathleen Buhle.

Lowell has not yet decided whether Hunter Biden will testify in his own defense.

The trial begins on Monday and is expected to last two to three weeks. If he’s found guilty, Biden could face a prison sentence of up to 25 years, though legal experts suggest that, as a first-time and nonviolent offender, he would not likely serve time.

Weiss’ office also charged Hunter Biden in December with nine felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from his failure to pay $1.4 million in taxes for three years during a time when he was in the throes of addiction. The back taxes and penalties were eventually paid in full by a third party, identified by ABC News as Hunter Biden’s attorney and confidant, Kevin Morris. Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The trial in that case was scheduled to begin on June 20 in California, but Lowell successfully petitioned the judge to postpone it until Sept. 5 — raising the likelihood that a jury could be deliberating whether to convict the president’s son on several felony counts in the waning weeks of the 2024 election.

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