US Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal investigation into President Joe Biden’s son over his taxes, a major development after a controversial plea deal reached by Hunter Biden fell apart in court last month.
(Bloomberg) — US Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal investigation into President Joe Biden’s son over his taxes, a major development after a controversial plea deal reached by Hunter Biden fell apart in court last month.
Garland has named US Attorney David Weiss — the official already overseeing the politically fraught probe — as the special counsel, a decision that will remove Weiss from day-to-day oversight of Biden administration officials. The appointment came just as prosecutors revealed in court that plea talks with Hunter Biden had reached an “impasse.” They told a judge that they believed the tax charges could not “resolve short of a trial.”
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Announcing the move on Friday, Garland cited the “extraordinary circumstances” of the ongoing investigation into an immediate family member of the sitting president. Weiss will become the third special counsel appointed by Garland. Jack Smith is leading an investigation into former President Donald Trump, and Robert Hur is exploring President Biden’s handling of classified material.
The probe into Hunter Biden began in 2018 amid suspicion over taxes related to his extensive foreign business dealings. The president’s son ultimately struck a deal to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax crimes. He would have to admit that despite efforts by his accountant to prepare his tax documents and “profligate spending,” he failed for years to pay taxes.
Weiss had been confirmed to the US attorney post in Delaware under Trump and agreed to stay on under Biden. Garland made clear on Friday that Weiss would have sweeping powers, including the authority to investigate any matters that may arise during the course of the investigation, just as congressional Republicans ramp up claims that suspect business dealings potentially include payments made to other Biden family members and even President Joe Biden.
The special counsel appointment creates the potential that Joe Biden could be caught up in the investigation as he runs against Trump to hold onto the presidency. A Biden campaign representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Neither the White House nor Hunter Biden’s team were given advance notice that Garland was going to appoint a special counsel, according to a person familiar with the matter. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
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Garland’s decision didn’t appear to placate Republicans. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a tweet questioned how Weiss could be “trusted as a Special Counsel” if he “negotiated the sweetheart deal that couldn’t be approved.” He vowed his party would continue its investigations. Trump released a statement calling on Weiss to investigate President Biden along with his son.
Garland has the power to remove Weiss, but must show cause to do so. Weiss will continue to serve as the US attorney in Delaware.
Around the same time Garland made the announcement from Justice Department headquarters in Washington, prosecutors handling the pending prosecution of Hunter Biden in federal court in Delaware on tax and weapons charges alerted the judge that a tentative plea agreement had fallen apart and asked to cancel deadline for briefs that had assumed they were close to finalizing the terms of the deal.
“Following additional negotiations after the hearing held on July 26, 2023, the parties are at an impasse and are not in agreement on either a plea agreement or a diversion agreement,” Special Assistant US Attorney Leo Wise said in a letter to the court Friday.
In the tax case, prosecutors also alerted the judge that they were dismissing the charges so that they could refile them in either California or Washington and press ahead towards a trial, where they said the alleged offenses took place. They said they’d agreed to bring the case in Delaware as part of the agreement, but that was no longer in effect.
Christopher Clark, a lawyer for Hunter Biden, didn’t immediately return voicemail and email messages seeking comment.
The deal had aimed to cap a five-year investigation into Biden’s tax affairs and business dealings that culminated with federal prosecutors alleging he failed to pay more than $100,000 in income tax on at least $1.5 million in income he received in 2017 and 2018. The deal also would have allowed Hunter Biden to avoid prison on a separate charge for possessing a gun while addicted to an illegal drug.
At the July 26 hearing, however, US District Judge Maryellen Noreika had refused to sign off on it, expressing concerns about the structure of the agreement and the scope of what it could mean for any future charges.
Noreika entered an order on Friday giving Hunter Biden’s lawyers until noon local time on Aug. 14 to file a response to the government’s latest notices about the status of the case.
–With assistance from Patricia Hurtado and Billy House.
(Adds court action in Delaware starting in ninth paragraph, reaction from speaker McCarthy in eigth paragraph and context on potential trial in second paragraph.)
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