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Lessons learned from Hunter Biden: Careful what you put in your memoir

As they build their two criminal cases against Hunter Biden, prosecutors are leaning hard on a surprising voice: Hunter Biden’s.

In several recent court filings, special counsel David Weiss extensively cited the president’s son’s 2021 memoir, “Beautiful Things,” as evidence that he claimed improper tax write-offs and that he was using drugs when he bought a gun.

And Weiss’ team pointed to Biden’s openness about his drug use as giving prosecutors extra reason to bring criminal charges — even suggesting his memoir was a game-changer in their decision to prosecute him.

“The defendant’s choice to sell a book containing these admissions not only made the government’s case against him stronger, but also increased a potential prosecution’s general deterrence value,” they wrote.

Prosecutors amped up their use of the book in a series of filings this month responding to pre-trial motions from Biden’s lawyers.

Those motions underscore the reality that Biden’s criminal defense is scarcely contesting the facts as alleged by prosecutors; instead, it relies on purely legal arguments. And the prosecution’s response highlights a unique vulnerability faced by criminal defendants with public platforms.

“That’s the challenge for high-profile and political figures: They’re constantly saying things,” said William & Mary Law School professor Jeffrey Bellin. “And the more you say, the more evidence you create for the other side to use.”

A spokesperson for Biden’s legal team did not respond to a request for comment.

“Beautiful Things” first entered the court proceedings on Dec. 7, when Weiss, who has run the Hunter Biden probe for years, obtained an indictment from a Los Angeles grand jury for a series of tax crimes. The indictment alleged that the president’s son illegally claimed that numerous personal expenses were business-related so he could deduct them from his taxes.

“[T]here was no business purpose to staying at luxury hotels in Atlantic City, New York City and Los Angeles,” the indictment said. “Rather, as he described in his memoir, they were used to meet up with his then-girlfriend and for constant partying.”

The memoir names specific hotels where the president’s son partied and used illegal drugs, in a portrayal of addiction that Entertainment Weekly called “harrowing, raw, and quite generously honest.” The indictment alleged that he later claimed that payments to some of those hotels were business expenses. Biden has pleaded not guilty.

Weiss has also charged Biden, in a separate case in Delaware, with unlawfully owning a gun as a drug user. In proceedings in that case, he has cited Biden’s book as evidence that he used illegal drugs regularly during the time he bought the gun.

Biden, meanwhile, has accused the Justice Department of engaging in a selective and vindictive prosecution by bringing the gun charges. His attorneys argued that nobody else would face such charges in a similar situation — where the gun was not used in a violent crime and the gun owner had no criminal history.

The prosecutors pushed back by arguing that Biden could not point to any examples of a similar case going uncharged. The evidence against Biden, they continued, was “overwhelming,” and included his book, “in which he made countless incriminating statements about his years-long drug usage, including during the time period he purchased and possessed the gun.”

The feds also cited some of the memoir’s most memorable passages, including Biden’s description of trying to buy crack in “a vast homeless enclave,” only to have someone point a gun at him. And they cited his description of going on a “‘crack-fueled, cross-country odyssey’” and driving off a highway and then in the direction of oncoming traffic. Prosecutors called the episode “callous disregard for human life” and wrote that he lied to the car rental company about the episode.

Prosecutors argued that Biden’s detailed descriptions of his drug abuse were all the more reason to charge him with the drug-related gun crime. They also noted that Biden decided to publish his memoir after learning he was under investigation.

Biden’s lawyers have argued the prosecution was the result of political pressure from congressional Republicans and allies of Donald Trump. As evidence for that claim, they wrote in a motion that the Justice Department “obtained the facts underlying this case years ago” and decided not to charge him then.

“This is inaccurate,” the prosecutors retorted. Many of the facts they viewed as most damning emerged years after he bought the gun, including when Biden “released his incriminating book.”

In short, they argued, the evidence against the president’s son is extraordinarily strong and the deterrent value of the prosecution is extraordinarily high. Their decision to charge him, therefore, was “unremarkable.”

Bennett Capers, a former federal prosecutor who now helms Fordham University Law School’s Center on Race, Law, and Justice, said Biden isn’t the first famous criminal defendant to have his words used against him.

“In a very different context, defendants find that rap lyrics or rap videos they made are being used against them as basically statements of admission,” he said. “We’ve had cases where novelists have written novels and their words come back to bite them because in their novel they talk about how they would kill their husband.”

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden also praised their son in a statement for writing the book.

“We admire our son Hunter’s strength and courage to talk openly about his addiction so that others might see themselves in his journey and find hope,” they said.

NPR wrote that the memoir was “surely a confession,” and Publishers Weekly called it “a courageous self-assessment.”

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Author: POLITICO