Testimony to begin in Hunter Biden's criminal trial, with focus on phone messages

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) – Hunter Biden‘s criminal trial on gun charges will begin in earnest on Tuesday with opening statements and potentially lurid testimony about drug use from his autobiography and phone messages that prosecutors say incriminates the president’s son.

Hunter Biden, 54, is accused of failing to disclose his use of illegal drugs when he bought a Colt Cobra .38-caliber revolver and of illegally possessing the weapon for 11 days in October 2018.

He has pleaded not guilty to the three felony charges. Hunter Biden is the first child of a sitting president to be criminally tried.

The proceeding at the federal courthouse in the Bidens’ hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, comes just days after Republican Donald Trump, the rival to Democratic President Joe Biden for the Nov. 5 U.S. election, became the first former president found guilty of a crime.

The trial is expected to center on Hunter Biden’s years-long crack cocaine use and addiction, which he has discussed publicly and which was a prominent part of his 2021 autobiography, “Beautiful Things.” He told U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika at a hearing last year that he has been sober since the middle of 2019.

Prosecutors will seek to prove that Hunter Biden knew he was lying when he ticked the box “no” next to a question on a federal gun purchase form asking if he was an unlawful user of a controlled substance.

U.S. Special Counsel David Weiss is expected to call FBI agent Erika Jensen to testify about Hunter Biden’s messages discussing his drug use and Hunter Biden’s autobiography, “Beautiful Things.”

“I was sleeping on a car smoking crack on 4th Street and Rodney,” was one of the messages prosecutors disclosed in a court filing. In another, Hunter Biden said he was behind a minor league baseball stadium in Wilmington “waiting for a dealer named Mookie.”

Prosecutors said they may call as a witness his former wife, Kathleen Buhle, who accused Hunter Biden in their 2017 divorce proceedings of squandering money on drugs, alcohol and prostitutes.

Twelve jurors and four alternates were sworn in on Monday, many describing their own experiences with family members and friends battling substance abuse. All 12 jurors must agree Hunter Biden is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to convict.

Weiss, a Trump appointee, has hit Hunter Biden with federal tax charges separately in California.

The trial comes days after Trump was convicted by a jury in state court in New York of 34 felony counts of falsifying documents to cover up hush money paid to a porn star to avoid a sex scandal shortly before the 2016 U.S. election that put him in the White House.

Hunter Biden’s trial gives Republicans a chance to shift attention away from Trump’s legal troubles. Trump is due to be sentenced in New York on July 11. He has pleaded not guilty in three other pending criminal cases, two related to his efforts to overturn his loss in 2020 to Biden and one charging that he unlawfully kept classified national security documents after leaving office in January 2021.

If convicted on all charges in the Delaware case, Hunter Biden faces up to 25 years in prison, though defendants generally receive shorter sentences, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Noreika, also a Trump appointee, entered multiple orders over the weekend that were requested by prosecutors and that appeared to undercut Biden’s legal strategy.

The judge said Biden’s legal team could not introduce expert testimony that people suffering from substance abuse disorder might not consider themselves an addict.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; additional reporting by Stephanie Kelly in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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