Skip to content

How Biden’s team plans to approach his son’s criminal trial

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and his top advisers will be closely following developments from his son Hunter Biden’s criminal trial on felony gun charges in Delaware when it begins in early June, but for different reasons.

Biden, who will be traveling overseas during a portion of the trial, will be monitoring it foremost as a concerned parent, not as an incumbent seeking re-election during a critical stretch of the campaign, according to three people familiar with the president’s thinking. His advisers will be watching, in part, for any instances where the president is referenced during the proceedings, and they plan to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to react in real time, according to two people familiar with the plans.

The likelihood of the president being invoked seems high, given that Hunter Biden’s text messages, including some exchanges with his father, are expected to be used during the trial. The case is also expected to thrust into public view some of the president and his family’s deeply personal dynamics, with prosecutors planning to call Hunter Biden’s ex-wife and his late brother Beau’s widow to testify. And some of Hunter Biden’s lowest moments while he was in the throes of drug addiction, which have for years been fodder for Republican critics of his father, are expected to be graphically cataloged.

“The unknown certainly brings stress,” one Biden adviser said.

In a hearing on Friday in Delaware ahead of the June 3 trial, Hunter Biden’s attorneys will argue for some evidence to be excluded in the case.

The confluence of political crosscurrents around Hunter Biden’s trial is unprecedented. It’s the first time a sitting president’s child has been indicted. The trial begins five months before the presidential election. And it’s set to start just after presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump — the first former president to be tried on criminal charges — may receive a verdict in his hush money trial in New York.

Still, there are no formal plans for the White House or 2024 team to mount a rapid response operation during Hunter Biden’s legal proceedings, according to five people familiar with the current strategy.

The goal is to be “deliberately low-key,” one of those people said, making clear that Hunter Biden is a private citizen who is facing charges that stem from a time in his life when he was addicted to drugs. Hunter Biden also has his own legal defense team and communications professionals who can speak on his behalf, which the president’s aides consider the preferred approach, this person said.

The White House counsel’s office is not planning to invoke any kind of privilege or seek to intervene when it comes to the inclusion of text messages in the trial that Hunter Biden and his father exchanged during the October 2018 period relevant to the case, according to a source familiar with the White House’s planning. The source said any text messages between the president and his son that might be made public in court are expected to reflect a father’s concern for his son during a turbulent period of his life.

“For the president and first lady, this is really about being there for their son as parents and showing him love and support,” a White House official said in response to this story. The Biden campaign declined to comment.

More than 2,500 text messages between Hunter Biden and others could come up in the trial, according to a recent court hearing. Which messages will be admitted into evidence is still being negotiated between the parties.

The trial in Delaware is just the first one Hunter Biden is facing. Another trial in California, currently scheduled to begin in September, focuses on tax charges stemming from the same investigation, which began in 2018 and was overseen by David Weiss, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for Delaware. The Biden administration kept Weiss in place after taking office to avoid any perception of impropriety. Attorney General Merrick Garland granted Weiss special counsel status last August when Weiss requested it after the collapse of a plea deal with Hunter Biden.

Weiss’ prosecutors appeared to acknowledge that a perception of political motivations could be an issue for a potential jury. Their proposed questions for jurors in the upcoming gun case in Delaware include: “Do you believe Hunter Biden is being prosecuted in this case because his father is the President of the United States and a candidate for President?”

For the president, his son’s trial fuels worries he could relapse under the pressure of a trial that could result in a prison sentence and the political attacks from Republicans.

“It’s touching him as a father, but not as a president, or as a candidate,” one of the people familiar with the president’s thinking said.

Part of the worry comes from Hunter Biden’s dearth of income. Hunter Biden’s attorneys and allies are exploring whether to set up a legal defense fund to help cover legal fees, which had previously been considered as recently as late last year, NBC News reported.

The trial also will begin just a few days after the nine-year anniversary of the death of Beau Biden, the president’s son who died of brain cancer on May 30, 2015.

Biden aides hope that voters will see Hunter Biden’s trial as a complex family matter and note that some of them may even have relatives or friends who’ve battled substance abuse.

Throughout Hunter Biden’s legal ups and downs over the past several years, the president and first lady have repeatedly said they support their son.

“I trust him. I have faith in him. And it impacts my presidency by making me feel proud of him,” Biden told MSNBC last May.