Friday, June 23, 2023

Legal experts say Hunter Biden received "harsh" treatment in tax, gun cases, while they ask if Trump will be held accountable on documents and taxes

Hunter Biden

Right-wing voices in recent days have been claiming the plea agreement Hunter Biden struck on tax- and gun-possession charges was a "sweetheart deal" or a "slap on the wrist," emblematic of a two-tiered justice system that favors the wealthy and connected. Republicans also claim Hunter Biden received favorable treatment compared to the classified-documents charges against former President Donald Trump.

A number of legal experts, however, have stated that Biden, the son of President and Trump rival Joe Biden, actually received harsh treatment compared to others facing similar charges. Some experts, in essence, also ask, "When is Trump going to be held accountable for anything, including tax charges?"

Salon's Tatyana Tandanpole examines the various arguments under the headline "Experts say Hunter Biden deal is actually "harsh" — and question when Trump will face tax charges; Despite GOP "sweetheart deal" gripes, experts say Trump could have gotten an even better deal than Hunter Biden." Writes Tandanpole:

Democratic leaders and legal experts pushed back against the [Biden-Trump] comparison, arguing that bringing charges against Hunter Biden proves that the Justice Department is anything but politically motivated against conservatives.

"This development reflects the Justice Department's continued institutional independence in following the evidence of actual crimes and enforcing the rule of law even in the face of constant criticism and heckling by my G.O.P. colleagues who think that the system of justice should only follow their partisan wishes," Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the House Oversight Committee's top Democrat, said in a statement.

"Important context for Hunter Biden deal: it was made by a Trump appointee who has said he had 100% authority to decide what to do ultimately on the matter," NYU Law professor and attorney Andrew Weissmann noted in a tweet, citing a letter Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney David Weiss sent to House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, (R-Ohio).

Other experts and justice reporters further countered the GOP leaders' claims of unfair prosecution, arguing that the charges against Hunter Biden are unusual.

"A federal public defender with 30 years of experience who was working an addict-in-possession case in DC a few years back said he'd never seen prosecutors move forward on that charge," NBC News reporter Ryan J. Reilly tweeted, linking to his NBC News article titled "Legal experts say the charges against Hunter Biden are rarely brought."

"I spoke to multiple former federal prosecutors today. The only one who could recall charging the addict-in-possession statute was a prosecutor with decades of experience who remembered a lone case from many years ago," legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti added.

Mariotti also stated: "It insults the intelligence of the American people to compare misdemeanor tax charges to a scheme to steal Top Secret documents and obstruct justice when the government asked for them back,.”

One former federal prosecutor argued that Attorney General Merrick Garland actually was more "harsh" on Hunter Biden in an effort to blunt arguments that the Department of Justice is politicized:

In an opinion for The Daily Beast, former federal prosecutor Shan Wu argued that Attorney General Merrick Garland was more "harsh" on Hunter Biden in an attempt to make the DOJ appear less politicized, arguing that any other person with a drug addiction "who was not the son of a sitting president would not have been prosecuted for these charges."

"But AG Merrick Garland—ever sensitive to accusations of DOJ looking political—kept the original prosecutor on the case to insulate DOJ from accusations of political partisanship, and refused to exercise what could easily be considered reasonable prosecutorial discretion in refusing to bring criminal charges for such minor offenses," Wu wrote. "As usual, Garland's efforts to avoid political backlash are doomed to failure."

As for Trump, some legal experts said the former president brought the documents indictment on himself, while it easily could have been avoided, Tandanpole writes:

Other legal experts cited reporting that Trump turned down his lawyers' pleas to strike a settlement with the DOJ before he was indicted.

"If he had listened to his lawyers, rather than to Tom Fitton, he likely could have avoided criminal charges entirely," attorney Bradley Moss tweeted, referring to Trump's adherence to the Judicial Watch activist's advice to keep documents and argue that they were his.

Since the Hunter Biden case involved tax charges, some observers noted that Trump and his associates have not been held accountable on that front. From Salon:

Others wondered why the DOJ had not looked at Trump's well-publicized tax issues.

"The biggest issue the Hunter plea underscores is where are the federal tax audits/cases with respect to Trump, the Trump Org and related businesses, and his former CFO Weisselberg— all of whom have reported tax issues," Weissmann wrote.

"Frankly, it seems a little ridiculous and more than a little hypocritical for GOP supporters of their favorite orange defendant to make a stink about prosecutors supposedly going light on, um, … *tax* *charges*," conservative lawyer and Trump critic George Conway added.

Have those arguments appeased Republican critics? Not exactly, reports Tandanpole:

Congressional Republicans on Tuesday accused President Joe Biden of intervening to get a lighter penalty for his son, Hunter Biden, and vowed to escalate their investigation into the family after the younger Biden reached a plea deal with the Department of Justice, The New York Times reports.

Hunter Biden is expected to plead guilty to two misdemeanors for neglecting to pay taxes on time and could forgo prosecution over a separate gun charge. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., slammed the deal while speaking to reporters at the Capitol, saying it "continues to show the two-tier system in America."

Like several other Republicans, McCarthy falsely compared Hunter Biden's criminal charges to the far more serious charges against former President Donald Trump, who the Justice Department indicted earlier this month on 37 counts over his alleged efforts to illegally retain national-security documents and obstruct the government's retrieval of them.

"If you are the president's leading political opponent, D.O.J. tries to literally put in you jail and give you prison time," Mr. McCarthy told reporters. "If you are the president's son, you get a sweetheart deal."

He added that the agreement should "enhance" House Republicans' investigation into the Bidens' alleged bribery and money laundering schemes.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the chairman of the House Oversight Committee probing the president and his family, said in a statement that he would intensify the investigation and called Hunter Biden's charges a "slap on the wrist."

"We will not rest until the full extent of President Biden's involvement in the family's schemes are revealed," said Comer, who has failed to produce any evidence to back his claims against the president.

Do Republican arguments hold up well under scrutiny? In his article at NBC News, Ryan J. Reilly argues the answer is "No." Reports Reilly:

Chuck Rosenberg, a former top federal prosecutor and acting administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and a current NBC News legal analyst, noted that the addict-in-possession charge is used "sparingly," but said that did not mean it was used improperly in Hunter Biden's case, as each case needed to be evaluated on the individual evidence.

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