A plea deal between President Joe Biden’s son Hunter and the Justice Department after a years-long investigation—and that Republicans have attacked as too lenient—hit an unexpected bump on Wednesday when the federal judge overseeing the case questioned the agreement.
Hunter Biden last month agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax crimes of failing to pay more than $100,000 in income taxes he owed in both 2017 and 2018. His deal with US Attorney’s office in Delaware also included an arrangement that he would accept a felony charge for buying a pistol in October 2018 while addicted to a controlled substance. Biden wrote in a memoir that he was addicted to crack cocaine at the time. The gun charge would be wiped from Biden’s record if he adheres to the terms of the deal. He would avoid any prison time under the plea agreement.
But U.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika, who was appointed by Donald Trump, declined to accept the plea on Wednesday. “It seems to me like you are saying ‘just rubber stamp the agreement, Your Honor,’” Noreika said. The multiple agreements in the plea deal are “atypical” and required further consideration, she said. “I’m not in a position where I can decide to accept or reject a plea agreement and I need to defer it,” she told the courtroom.
Noreika ordered the defense and prosecutors to file briefs within 30 days explaining why she should accept the agreement.
Noreika’s surprise move came amid calls by congressional Republicans for her to consider allegations that have emerged in their own investigations into Hunter Biden’s past work for foreign companies.
Attorney General Merrick Garland left David Weiss, a Trump appointee, in office as US Attorney in Delaware and in charge of the Biden case in an effort to avoid any appearance of interference in a prosecution of the president’s son. And Weiss has repeatedly said that he faced no pressure from anyone in the administration regarding the case.
Still, Republicans have touted claims by IRS whistleblowers who allege their investigation into Hunter Biden was limited due to political influence. Republicans are also working to publicize an uncorroborated accusation from 2019 that Hunter Biden helped to channel payments from a Ukrainian company to Joe Biden while he was vice president.
Rep. Jason Smith, a Missouri Republican who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, on Tuesday filed in brief in the Delaware case that urged Noreika to reject the plea deal. Smith asked the judge to “consider” the recent testimony by IRS officials. “In the interest of full transparency and fairness for all citizens, it is critical for the Court to have this information,” the brief said.
Noreika did not indicate Wednesday if the filing influenced her decision not to immediately accept Biden’s deal.