President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, faced new challenges on the eve of a scheduled court appearance on Wednesday in which he is set to plead guilty in a deal with prosecutors on tax and gun charges.
On Capitol Hill, where Republicans are ramping up their investigations into the president and his son, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee took the unusual step of filing court documents urging the judge in Hunter Biden’s case to consider evidence from Internal Revenue Service (IRS) whistleblowers.
The whistleblowers allege that the Justice Department interfered with investigations into Biden, a charge that has been denied by the lead prosecutor in the case, who was appointed by former president Donald Trump.
US District Judge Maryellen Noreika, who was also appointed by Mr Trump, will consider whether to accept the plea agreement.
Judges rarely throw out plea bargains, but the effort to intervene by Ways and Means chairman Jason Smith of Missouri amounts to a high-profile push to raise questions about the deal, which is expected to spare the president’s son a jail sentence.
The dynamics of the case became even more complicated hours after the politicians filed their motion.
A court clerk received a call requesting that “sensitive grand jury, taxpayer and social security information” it contained be kept under seal, according to an oral order from Judge Noreika.
The lawyer gave her name and said she worked with an attorney from the Ways and Means Committee but is in fact a lawyer with the defence team, a clerk wrote in an email to Theodore Kittila, an attorney representing Mr Smith.
When Judge Noreika learned of the situation, she demanded the defence show why she should not consider sanctioning them for “misrepresentations to the court”.
Defence lawyers said their lawyer had represented herself truthfully from the start, and called from a phone number that typically displays the firm’s name, Latham & Watkins, on the caller ID.
Jessica Bengels said in court documents that she did speak to two different clerk’s office employees, which could have contributed to the misunderstanding. The second employee emailed Mr Kittila.
Hunter Biden’s lawyers are still seeking to keep information deemed private out of the public court record.
Mr Kittila, however, said he had only filed material that the committee had already released publicly online.
The judge agreed to keep the information sealed for a day to consider the issue.
The dust-up came hours before Biden is expected to plead guilty to misdemeanour tax charges in an agreement that allows him to avoid prosecution on a gun charge if he meets certain conditions.
Republicans have decried the agreement as a “sweetheart deal” and heard from two IRS agents who claimed the long-running investigation was “slow walked” and the prosecutor overseeing it was refused broader special counsel powers.
Delaware US Attorney David Weiss, a Trump appointee, denied that in a letter to Congress, saying he had “full authority” over the probe and never requested special counsel status.
A spokeswoman for Mr Weiss directed queries back to the court clerk’s office.
Published: by Radio NewsHub