Hunter Biden's conviction is body blow to US president that will supercharge Trump rhetoric

11 June 2024, 10:45 | Updated: 11 June 2024, 16:33

It is another moment without precedent for America. The son of a sitting president has been convicted on three felony counts in a federal court.

Beyond the seriousness of the crime itself, the trial has lifted a lid on the layered struggles and tragedies of one family. It could be any number of American families - except it is the nation's first family.

At its heart, it is a story of addiction, loss and grief which led to a criminal conviction. But because it's about the Bidens, it is also, inevitably, a story of politics and scandal.

The first family's private turmoil has played out in a public courtroom because one member of the family lied to obtain a gun.

It is a case that almost never came to trial. A plea bargain had been arranged - Hunter Biden would plead guilty to the tax fraud and the gun charges would be dropped.

But the plan fell apart.

Just as Donald Trump had been told he wasn't above the law, so too was Joe Biden's son. A trial began and history was made when the sitting president's son entered the courtroom.

Lying to obtain a gun

The trial centred around one document - a gun application form. Signed by Hunter and dated 12 October 2018, it has an "X" in one particular box - a cross which precipitated this case.

Hunter had answered "no" to the question whether the applicant had a drug problem.

Through a week of evidence, the prosecution successfully argued that this was a lie.

Hunter Biden was addicted to crack cocaine and was using, they concluded, at the period of time when he bought the handgun.

The jurors, who were their own stark reflection of modern America because most of them had family connections to addiction, were guided through just over a week of evidence.

A web of complex relationships within the first family was dissected in detail.

Hunter is President Biden's second son from his first wife, who died in a car crash in 1972. Hunter survived the crash.

The president's first son Beau died of cancer in 2015. Following his death, Hunter began a relationship with Beau's widow Hallie, who was a witness for the prosecution.

The trial heard Hunter and Hallie both used drugs. It was a relationship borne, Hunter said in his memoir, out of a "shared grief oasis".

Excerpts from the audiobook of the memoir, narrated by Hunter and detailing his struggles with addiction, were played in court.

Incriminating text messages

Text messages between them proved, said the prosecution, that Hunter was an addict at the time he bought the gun.

The texts revealed exchanges with drug dealers and with Hallie.

"I'm a drunk… an addict...," he wrote to Hallie in August 2018.

The messages gave a glimpse of a man - the president's son - trawling the streets at night, looking for drugs.

"I'm now off Maryland Avenue waiting for a dealer named Mookie…" he wrote to her at 10.30pm on 13 October 2018, a day after he signed the gun form.

In another exchange, the day before he signed the form, he wrote to a contact identified in court only as Q: "Can you meet me @ 7/11 now[?]"

The 7-Eleven store was, the prosecution alleged, a regular spot for him to meet to buy drugs.

A life of addiction captured in images

The court was shown photographs and videos of Hunter weighing crack cocaine he had bought and images of him surrounded by drug paraphernalia. The images were taken from messages Hunter had sent to family and to dealers.

The photos were found after examination of his laptop, which also showed evidence of regular large cash transactions.

Repeated attempts at rehabilitation

Texts revealed how Hallie had tried to help him into rehab.

"I need you sober," she wrote. It was just one of her many attempts.

The court heard how Hallie had discovered the Colt Cobra 38 handgun and had thrown it in a supermarket bin. The gun was later found and prompted the legal saga which resulted in this case.

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Also giving evidence was Kathleen Buhle who was married to Hunter for nearly two decades.

She testified about his addiction and about how she tried to keep it hidden from their three children - Maisy, Finnegan and Naomi - President Biden's grandchildren.

First Lady Jill Biden, Hunter's stepmother, has been at the centre of the support network for him throughout the trial. She even came back from the presidential visit to France last week to be in court.

Personal blow and political jeopardy

Hunter's conviction now is a body blow for the Bidens. It will supercharge Trump's rhetoric against his opponent.

Hunter has been in the cross-hairs of the Republican Party for years.

He is the centrepiece in their "Biden crime family" conspiracy. This trial was only a bit-part in the web of wrongdoing they allege - questionable links to Ukraine and to China, the infamous laptop, and tax controversies.

Hunter Biden faces a separate trial in California for alleged tax offences later this year.