WASHINGTON ― The Justice Department has elevated the federal prosecutor investigating President Joe Biden’s son Hunter to special counsel status, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday.
The move coincided with the collapse of a plea deal that prosecutors previously reached with the younger Biden over tax and gun charges.
Garland said that Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump and kept on by President Biden to continue his investigation of his son, requested special counsel status this week.
“On Tuesday of this week, Mr. Weiss advised me that in his judgment, his investigation had reached a stage at which he should continue his work as a special counsel, and he asked to be so appointed,” Garland said. “Upon considering his request, as well as the extraordinary circumstances relating to this matter, I have concluded that it’s in the public’s interest to appoint him as special counsel.”
Hunter Biden agreed in June to plead guilty to misdemeanor tax charges brought by Weiss over a failure to pay tax on income earned in 2017 and 2018. Under the plea deal, he would have avoided a felony gun charge under a “diversion” agreement requiring him to stay out of trouble for two years.
But the plea deal hit a speed bump last month when a federal judge questioned language in the agreement forestalling future tax charges, and told the government to renegotiate the terms of the agreement with Hunter Biden’s legal team. The speed bump then became a roadblock.
“After the hearing, the parties continued negotiating but reached an impasse,” Weiss said in a court filing Friday. “A trial is therefore in order.”
Putting a special counsel on the case is a huge development in what has become one of the biggest political stories in Washington. Republicans have complained that Weiss was going easy on Hunter Biden because he’s the president’s son, and they’ve made that accusation Exhibit A in their contention that the entire justice system is biased against Republicans. Trump faces federal charges in two separate special counsel cases related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his hoarding of classified information after he left office.
Republicans considered the charges against Hunter Biden to be a slap on the wrist, even though they were relatively rare for someone who belatedly paid at least some of his tax debt, as Biden had. Fueling Republican ire, an IRS agent who oversaw the criminal investigation into Biden’s taxes told lawmakers that the Justice Department stymied his investigation and brought lesser charges than he had recommended.
The IRS agent also said Weiss told him that he didn’t have the authority to bring charges outside of Delaware and that he had asked for special counsel status and been rebuffed by the Justice Department ― a claim both Weiss and Garland strongly denied.
In Friday’s court filing, Weiss said he had only been able to charge Hunter Biden in Delaware under a plea agreement, and that because negotiations had broken down, he would need to pursue charges in California or the District of Columbia.
Special counsels have more independence from the Justice Department and are typically sought when a prosecution might appear to present a conflict of interest within the government. Special counsels are required to submit a report to the government summarizing their investigations.
Garland on Friday repeated his denials that Weiss had been blocked in any way from prosecuting Biden however he wanted.
“As special counsel, he will continue to have the authority and responsibility that he has previously exercised to oversee the investigation and decide where, when and whether to file charges,” Garland said.
The unpaid taxes stemmed from Biden’s lucrative work with foreign nationals in Ukraine and China, including during his father’s time as vice president. Republicans have dubiously claimed that the elder Biden is either “compromised” as a result of his son’s work or that it was connected to a full-family bribery scheme.
Even though Hunter Biden appeared to be in worse legal jeopardy as a result of Friday’s developments, Republicans claimed it was just another sweetheart deal for the Biden family.
“This move by Attorney General Garland is part of the Justice Department’s efforts to attempt a Biden family coverup in light of the House Oversight Committee’s mounting evidence of President Joe Biden’s role in his family’s schemes selling ‘the brand’ for millions of dollars to foreign nationals,” Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the chair of the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement.