Judge’s worries over the terms of the agreement led to a dramatic scene in federal court in Delaware on Wednesday when prosecutors and President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden’s plea deal fell apart.
U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika spent the better part of three hours reviewing practically every aspect of the plea deal, causing shrugs, audible exhales, panicked glances, and other signs of unhappiness from the government’s attorneys and the defense counsel.
Noreika acknowledged that her questioning had thrown a wrench into the proceedings.
Initially, Hunter Biden admitted he had failed to pay taxes on revenue he had earned in 2017 and 2018. In exchange, prosecutors would have suggested probation, meaning he avoided jail time.
Hunter Biden was also willing to have a separate gun charge dropped in exchange for his compliance with the terms of a pretrial diversion.
Washington Democrats praised Biden’s possible guilty plea as an example of his willingness to take responsibility. However, Republicans have condemned the specifics as a sweetheart deal.
Noreika, a Trump appointee, expressed skepticism in court on Wednesday regarding the parties’ decision to tie Hunter Biden’s tax plea agreement to the deal on the gun charge and whether or not a provision in the deal would grant Hunter Biden blanket immunity, preventing the government from prosecuting him more extensively in the future.
Noreika delayed accepting the plea bargain until after the hearing, during which she repeatedly expressed disappointment that the settlement was more formal than substantive.
Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty in the meanwhile.
Several tense moments occurred throughout the three-hour session. After Noreika’s questioning about the potential immunity arrangement revealed cracks in their relationship, prosecutors threatened to seek charges under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
To audible gasps from the courtroom, Biden’s attorney Chris Clark declared the plea deal null and void as far as he was concerned.
After Clark’s remarks and several times afterward, the hearing was adjourned while the attorneys tried to iron out their differences of opinion on the immunity agreement.
Over the following half an hour, the lawyers from both sides met in the middle of the courtroom to debate strategy before returning to their respective corners to continue the discussion.
Clark, clearly agitated at this time, walked up to the prosecutors, arms outstretched and threatened to ‘rip it up’ while staring at U.S. Attorney David Weiss, another Trump appointee, and asking if anyone wanted to discuss this.
Later, Clark was overheard complaining to the prosecutors about the terrible idea.
The argument appeared to have reached a stalemate.
During a break in the proceedings, Abbe Lowell, a veteran defense attorney who is handling other matters for Hunter Biden, walked up to Weiss, shook his hand, and said something to the effect of It looks like he’s going to be involved in the fray now.
Hunter Biden, who appeared to be becoming increasingly angry, got out of his chair and began talking with Clark and other members of his legal team. Weiss across the room took on Hunter Biden’s manner.
Hunter Biden laughed at what his friend and lawyer Kevin Morris had whispered in his ear just before the judge returned.
Before deciding what to do next, Noreika has asked for more briefing from the parties in the coming weeks.
“I’m not going to say I will accept the agreement. I won’t say I’ll deny it,” Noreika said.
Noreika became increasingly angry at the end of the hearing when she felt she was being asked to rubber-stamp the deal.
She decided not to in the end.