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Hunter Biden’s Plea Deal Has Everyone Acting Totally Normal
Plus: Trump’s court date could come as soon as mid-August
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Major news broke this morning of Hunter Biden entering a plea agreement on two tax crimes and one gun charge. Naturally, right-wing lawmakers and commentators are responding to the news with all the grace and poise you might expect. Also, Judge Aileen Cannon has set a date for Trump’s trial in the documents-and-obstruction case, and the late-summer timing could have implications for his campaign.
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Hunter Biden reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors regarding two tax crimes and a gun charge, federal officials announced Tuesday morning. The plea agreement is likely to exclude any jail time for Biden, pending approval from a judge.
According to the letter from U.S. Attorney David Weiss:
The first Information charges the defendant with tax offenses—namely, two counts of willful failure to pay federal income tax, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7203. The defendant has agreed to plead guilty to both counts of the tax Information. The second Information charges the defendant with a firearm offense—namely, one count of possession of a firearm by a person who is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) and 924(a)(2) (2018). The defendant has agreed to enter a Pretrial Diversion Agreement with respect to the firearm Information.
A White House spokesperson said in a statement, “The President and First Lady love their son and support him as he continues to rebuild his life. We will have no further comment.”
This puts the lid on an investigation opened five years ago, when Donald Trump was in the White House. Conservatives, who have spent weeks condemning the “two-tiered justice system” that indicted former President Trump earlier this month, are using the same line to attack what they see as preferential treatment on the part of federal prosecutors in Hunter Biden’s case.
Let’s be clear: the Department of Justice’s charges against President Biden’s son Hunter reveals a two-tiered system of justice. Hunter Biden is getting away with a slap on the wrist when growing evidence uncovered by the House Oversight Committee reveals the Bidens engaged in a pattern of corruption, influence peddling, and possibly bribery. These charges against Hunter Biden and sweetheart plea deal have no impact on the Oversight Committee’s investigation. We will not rest until the full extent of President Biden’s involvement in the family’s schemes are revealed.
Federalist editor Mollie Hemingway tweeted that the plea agreement is part of a broader conspiracy to distract from (very thin) allegations that Joe Biden engaged in a bribery scheme while serving as vice president.
“After working overtime to protect the Biden family business for years, they do some mild charges so people will stop talking about bribery scandal implicating POTUS,” Hemingway wrote.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) shares that view. She tweeted, “It’s no coincidence that less than a week after President Trump is arraigned by the DOJ, Hunter Biden is pleading guilty to a sweetheart deal with no jail time.” Later in the same thread, she wrote, “If the DOJ thinks this dismisses the $5 million alleged bribery scheme or the years of reported Biden family corruption, they are mistaken.”
Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), no fan of the Bidens, seethed that Hunter “got a plea deal in advance!!” (It is not clear what she is upset about: Plea deals are very commonly made “in advance,” as the defendant reaches an agreement with prosecutors to forgo a criminal trial by pleading guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence.)
Greene also outdid Blackburn by alleging the Bidens did not just take in $5 million in bribes, but “tens of millions of dollars from foreign countries,” adding, “We are controlled by COMMUNISTS!!”
“Hunter pleading guilty to tax evasion is only the first crack in the Biden corruption cover-up,” declared Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Just a week ago, Issa was on Fox Business lamenting the “double standard” in the justice system:
America is seeing a double standard. Perhaps President Trump should have aggressively gone after Hillary Clinton, he didn’t. Should Joe Biden be allowed to aggressively go after the former president? You know what, I don’t want to be part of a banana republic. I don’t want to be a part of a place where every president doesn't want to leave office without their successor being picked because that makes them vulnerable. That’s not America as we have it. We should have one standard. No one should be above the law, but there should be one law and not a changing law depending upon who’s in the office of the president.
“Let's be clear: if anyone without the Biden last name engaged in even a fraction of Hunter's misconduct, they'd face real consequences,” tweeted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
In general, Republicans have rarely been as disciplined in their messaging as they have been on the subject of Hunter Biden, whom they’ve found to be an easy target. And rhetorically, it’s easy to pivot from condemning the alleged injustice of Trump’s indictment to condemning the alleged injustice of the president’s son receiving a plea deal; conservative media and Republican elected officials have financial and political incentives to maintain the narrative that the justice system favors one party over the other, especially when their own party’s leader keeps running afoul of the law. But one point worth taking seriously in all this is the suggestion that Hunter Biden is facing a gentler outcome that most Americans would in a similar position. That observation can be applied more generally, of course: Both Trump and Hunter Biden have behaved in ways that would put the average American in a much deeper legal hole with far fewer resources to get themselves out.
I’ll see you in court (eventually)
Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, set a preliminary date of August 14 for the former president’s day in court over his felony charges of mishandling classified information and obstruction of justice.
There are two things to keep in mind about this decision. The first is that the date is essentially a placeholder, and it almost certainly won’t end up being the day the trial actually begins. Legal maneuvering on Trump’s part could delay it for weeks or even months. According to the New York Times:
While the timeline set by the judge, Aileen M. Cannon, is likely to be delayed by extensive pretrial litigation—including over how to handle classified material—its brisk pace suggests that she is seeking to avoid any criticism for dragging her feet or for slow-walking the proceeding.
The second thing to keep in mind is just how close we are—and how close Trump’s trial could be—to the heart of the 2024 primary campaign season. August 14 falls right in the middle of the Iowa state fair, a major attraction for presidential candidates, and the first Republican primary debate will take place just nine days later. Trump has signaled that he might not participate in the latter, but his trial will certainly give other candidates quite a lot to talk about.
This case and the other indictments of Trump still expected will keep a spotlight on him no matter what. And judging from what we’ve already seen, further tangles with law enforcement will once again put his opponents in a position to either defend him or risk alienating a massive part of the Republican base—although the risk might be lessening somewhat.
A new CNN poll out this morning shows Trump’s dominant lead falling slightly in the wake of the federal indictment. His favorability rating among “Republican-aligned voters” has dropped 10 points over the past month to reach 67 percent. The survey also documented a seven percent increase in the number of Republicans who say they will not support him under any circumstances: That figure was 16 percent last month, and it’s sitting at 23 percent now. Almost a quarter of Republican-aligned voters now saying they will never vote for Trump is bad news for the former president, whose legal problems are only just beginning. Whether his opponents take advantage of his deepening vulnerability is anyone’s guess.