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Hunter Biden trial shows the first family’s agony — and its bond

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Hunter Biden trial shows the first family’s agony — and its bond

The surveillance footage shows an unremarkable suburban scene: a dark SUV pulls into the parking lot of an upscale grocer. A woman wearing sunglasses steps out. She retrieves a purple gift bag from the back seat, glances over her shoulder, and then drops it into a rubbish bin on her way into the store.

A jury in Wilmington, Delaware was told last week that the woman was Hallie Biden, the former daughter-in-law of the current US president. Inside the bag was a pistol belonging to Biden’s troubled son, Hunter, who, it transpires, was having an affair with Hallie — his late brother’s widow. In the course of that relationship Hunter also turned the mother of two on to crack cocaine.

The week-long criminal trial, in which jurors began their deliberations on Monday, has focused on Hunter Biden, and whether he lied on a federal background check about his own drug addiction when he bought that pistol in October 2018 at a local store called StarQuest Shooters & Survival Supply.

But the trial has also provided something else: a raw — at times excruciating — glimpse into the turmoil of the Biden family after the president’s oldest son and presumed political heir, Beau, died in 2015 from brain cancer.

Whether it has any political implication for Biden as he fights for re-election is unclear. A survey by Emerson College Polling earlier this month found 64 per cent of voters said the trial would not affect how they will vote.

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Republicans have for years tried, and mostly failed, to pin the sins of Hunter on his father — be it his drug abuse, failure to support a child fathered out of wedlock, or his business dealings. Their efforts have intensified as former president Donald Trump’s campaign has become burdened by his own legal woes.

Unsavoury as the trial’s revelations have been, though, some believe it might also remind voters of Biden’s virtues as a father, particularly at a time when so many American families are dealing with drug addiction.

That is the view of Chris Whipple, who chronicled the family in his book The Fight Of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House. “For, me, the trial confirms what we’ve always known about Joe Biden,” Whipple said. “It’s just hard to overstate how strong the bond is between him and Hunter. How close they are.”

Even if his political career demanded it, Whipple is convinced the president would never cast Hunter aside. “Family is everything to Biden,” he observed.

First lady Jill Biden, pictured, arrives at court. She has supported Hunter Biden’s second wife Melissa at the trial © Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Valerie Biden and James Biden arrive at court
Joe Biden’s siblings: Valerie Biden, left, and James Biden arrive at court © AP

As Hunter himself told the New Yorker in 2019, he was a kind of security blanket for his father on the campaign trail. “I can say things to him that nobody else can,” he explained.

Their bond was forged in Kennedy-esque tragedy that is both family lore and political biography. Biden’s young wife and daughter were killed in a car accident a week before Christmas in 1972. Just 29, the newly-minted senator was sworn into office days later at the hospital bedside of his boys, Beau and Hunter, who survived the accident.

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As he has often recounted at campaign events, Biden would ride the train home from Washington, DC each evening to kiss his boys goodnight. Beau’s untimely death has added another chapter to the story. As he ran for the presidency in 2020, Biden cast his fallen son as his inspiration and guiding spirit.

Behind the scenes, though, the grief-stricken family was cratering, as Hallie recounted from the witness stand on Thursday. Within months of Beau’s death, she and her brother-in-law began a “complicated” romance. Hunter would disappear for weeks on end — often bingeing on drugs. The first time she found his stash of crack at her house she had to consult Google, Hallie said, because she did not know what it was. Soon she was smoking it, too. She became paranoid that he was seeing other women.

“It was a terrible experience I went through,” Hallie, now sober and recently remarried, told the court. “I’m embarrassed and ashamed and I regret that period of my life.”

Hunter did not testify but prosecutors played extended clips from the audiobook of his 2021 memoir, Beautiful Things, last week. He was forced to listen as his own voice filled the courtroom, narrating his descent into crack addiction.

“I’ve bought crack cocaine on the streets of Washington, DC, and cooked up my own inside a hotel bungalow in Los Angeles. I’ve been so desperate for a drink that I couldn’t make the one-block walk between a liquor store and my apartment without uncapping the bottle to take a swig,” he intoned in one passage.

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While Hunter’s flaws have been extensively recounted — be it arranging to meet with dealers or standing up his daughter on a visit to New York —there have also been occasional flashes of his charm, as a former stripper he briefly dated testified. “He was just so charming and so nice,” she recalled. “I felt myself having feelings for him.”

As is their habit — and perhaps, to their detriment — the Bidens have not abandoned Hunter. If anything, they have pulled him closer. In the run-up to the trial, he has been a regular presence at the White House, even attending state dinners.

Meanwhile, his second wife, Melissa, has been supported in court by a rotating cast of family and friends, including first lady Jill Biden and the president’s sister, Valerie. Other members of the Biden orbit present in court include Kevin Morris, an entertainment lawyer and friend of Hunter, Fran Person, the president’s former personal aide, and philanthropist Bobby Sager.

President Biden, who last week said he would not pardon his son if he is convicted, has not attended. Still, he has been a spectral presence: His smiling portrait hangs in the lobby of Wilmington’s federal courthouse.

On the eve of the trial, he issued a statement that suggested even the commander-in-chief was not exempt from the parental anguish induced by a wayward child. “I am the president, but I am also a dad,” Biden said. “Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today.”

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US House holds attorney-general Merrick Garland in contempt over Biden audio recordings

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US House holds attorney-general Merrick Garland in contempt over Biden audio recordings

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The Republican-led US House of Representatives has voted to hold the country’s highest law-enforcement official in contempt of Congress for defying an order to hand over audio recordings of Joe Biden’s interviews with special counsel Robert Hur.

The House on Wednesday voted 216-207, along party lines, in favour of censuring attorney-general Merrick Garland, as allies of former president Donald Trump escalated their attacks on the Department of Justice.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, said it was “up to Congress” to decide “what materials it needs to conduct its own investigations, and there are consequences for refusing to comply with lawful Congressional subpoenas”.

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He added: “This is a simple matter — we have the transcript, and we need the audio.”

Garland appointed Hur in January 2023 to investigate the president’s handling of classified information. The special counsel did not charge Biden but ignited a political firestorm in February when Hur’s report cast the president as an “elderly man” whose “memory was significantly limited” during interviews with investigators.

Last month, Biden blocked the release of audio recordings of his interviews with Hur, with the White House noting the DoJ had already released transcripts of those conversations.

Wednesday’s measure against Garland came just a day after Biden’s DoJ secured the conviction of the president’s son, Hunter, on federal firearm charges.

Republicans have repeatedly claimed, however, that the department has become part of Democratic efforts to prosecute Trump, who faces federal charges relating to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and to his mishandling of classified documents.

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In a letter seen by the Financial Times, Carlos Uriarte, head of the DoJ’s legislative affairs unit, told House Republicans last month that the department had “a responsibility to safeguard the confidentiality of law enforcement files where disclosure would jeopardise future investigations”.

Garland pushed back against Wednesday’s House vote, saying in a statement that it was “deeply disappointing” that the chamber “has turned a serious congressional authority into a partisan weapon”. 

“Today’s vote disregards the constitutional separation of powers, the justice department’s need to protect its investigations, and the substantial amount of information we have provided to the committees,” Garland added.

The House’s censure means Garland could face prosecution, but only if the DoJ decides to begin a legal process against him. It brings to a culmination a fraught battle between the DoJ and Republican lawmakers, who have also sought to probe alleged business connections between Biden and his son Hunter.

Garland has appointed a trio of special counsels in a bid to quash accusations of bias, Hur, prosecutor Jack Smith, who has obtained two federal indictments against Trump, and David Weiss, who brought the gun charges against Hunter Biden.

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After Hunter Biden was convicted on criminal gun charges on Tuesday, Weiss thanked Garland for ensuring his office had the “independence to appropriately pursue our investigations and prosecutions”.

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Hur’s report into the president’s handling of classified documents sent shockwaves through Washington and revived questions about the 81-year-old’s age and fitness for office.

While Trump is only a few years younger — he will turn 78 later this week — Biden’s age is seen as one of the president’s biggest liabilities on the campaign trail.

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Tuesday, Garland said there had been an escalation of “baseless, personal and dangerous” attacks on the DoJ in recent weeks. “Using conspiracy theories, falsehoods, violence and threats of violence to affect political outcomes is not normal,” he warned.

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“The short-term political benefits of those tactics will never make up for the long-term cost to our country,” he said. “This must stop.”

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ACLU sues Biden administration over new executive action on the southern border

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ACLU sues Biden administration over new executive action on the southern border

President Biden delivers remarks on June 4 on executive actions to limit asylum.

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Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images/Getty Images North America

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday challenging the Biden administration’s new executive actions that block migrants from seeking asylum at the southern U.S. border when crossings surge.

Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney for the ACLU, told NPR that President Biden’s new measures are nearly identical “from a legal standpoint” to ones that former President Donald Trump used to try to ban migrants from seeking asylum between ports of entry.

But Gelernt said Congress has been “crystal clear” that asylum seekers can request relief “whether or not you enter at a port.”

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“We are challenging President Biden’s executive action because it’s flatly illegal and inconsistent with the asylum laws that Congress passed decades ago,” Gelernt said in an interview.

“President Trump enacted a nearly identical asylum ban, and we successfully challenged that. We have no choice but to challenge this one as well.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Texas advocacy groups: Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.

The lawsuit doesn’t seek an emergency injunction for the new rules

The Biden administration announced the rules last week. Specifically, they bar migrants from seeking asylum when they cross into the country between ports of entry when border encounters rise above 2,500 per day.

The restrictions can be lifted two weeks after daily numbers dip below 1,500 people.

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Migrants walk on the U.S. side of the border wall in Jacumba Hot Springs, Calif., on June 5, after crossing from Mexico.

Migrants walk on the U.S. side of the border wall in Jacumba Hot Springs, Calif., on June 5, after crossing from Mexico.

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The lawsuit alleges the Biden rule violates legal procedures for agency rulemaking and adjudications because it did not justify “radical departures” from prior practices and because the public didn’t have the chance to comment before the rule took effect.

However, the lawsuit did not seek an emergency injunction to block the administration from applying the new rule. Gelernt said that is an option for the future once advocates find specific migrants who have been harmed by the measure.

Biden is under pressure over the border

The border has become an increasingly difficult issue for Biden, given the record number of migrants coming across the border – and because polls show most Americans don’t approve of the way he has handled the challenge.

When he announced the new measures last week, Biden said he was forced to take unilateral action after Republicans rejected a bipartisan compromise on legislation. Trump had opposed the compromise..

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The lawsuit was not unexpected. The ACLU announced its plans to sue as soon as Biden announced his measures. The Biden administration has said it is prepared to defend the new rules.

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Live news: US stocks hold gains as traders digest Fed outlook

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Live news: US stocks hold gains as traders digest Fed outlook

US stocks opened at fresh record highs and Treasury yields dropped following the release of cooler than expected US inflation data on Wednesday, as investors bet on more interest rate cuts this year.

The S&P 500 was 0.9 per cent higher shortly after the open, while the Nasdaq Composite rose 1.2 per cent.

After Wednesday’s figures, traders in the futures market fully priced in two interest rate cuts this year, beginning in November, according to Bloomberg. Previously the average estimate was between one and two.

Traders also amped up bets on a September cut, putting the odds at 84 per cent, compared with a 60 per cent chance beforehand.

The two-year Treasury yield, which moves with interest rate expectations, fell to its lowest level since early April, down 0.16 percentage points to 4.68 per cent.

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