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President Joe Biden talks with his son Hunter Biden as he arrives Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Del., June 11, 2024. (AP) President Joe Biden talks with his son Hunter Biden as he arrives Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Del., June 11, 2024. (AP)

President Joe Biden talks with his son Hunter Biden as he arrives Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Del., June 11, 2024. (AP)

Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone June 14, 2024

Some Trump backers say the Hunter Biden trial was orchestrated as a distraction. Pants on Fire!

If Your Time is short

  • Hunter Biden’s activities and business dealings have been the subject of federal investigation since at least 2018, when President Donald Trump was in office. He was convicted on gun-related charges in a jury trial led by a Trump-era appointee.

  • Experts say that under Attorney General Merrick Garland’s leadership, the Justice Department has enacted strict policies to limit communication between the White House and federal prosecutors. 

  • Hunter Biden still faces additional charges — with potentially harsher penalties — in California later this year.

Hunter Biden was convicted June 11 of three federal felony gun charges in a Delaware courtroom, where his family members, including first lady Jill Biden, listened to details about his past drug use. It all unfolded in the midst of his father’s re-election campaign.

Despite past complaints from some Republicans about a plea deal in the case they deemed too lenient that later fell apart, a new narrative has emerged: The trial was orchestrated as a distraction from the alleged crimes of President Joe Biden and his family, or to legitimize the New York conviction of former President Donald Trump.

"Hunter Biden guilty. Yawn. The true crimes of the Biden Crime Family remain untouched," conservative influencer Charlie Kirk said in a June 11 X post. "This is a fake trial trying to make the Justice system appear balanced. Don't fall for it."

Other well-known conservatives and Trump supporters echoed the claim. Former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy called it a "smoke screen to legitimize the Trump conviction & to deflect attention" from Biden family "crimes." Conservative activist Jack Posobiec on X said, "They went after Hunter on his gun stuff to make you overlook all his Ukraine stuff." And Trump campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt issued a media statement June 11 calling the trial "nothing more than a distraction from the real crimes of the Biden Crime Family, which has raked in tens of millions of dollars from China, Russia and Ukraine."

But legal experts told PolitiFact that the Hunter Biden trial was legitimate and was an example of the justice system working properly. It’s unlikely that any politician seeking reelection — let alone a U.S. president — would engineer an election-year trial and conviction stemming from their child’s history of addiction.

Hunter Biden was prosecuted by an independent Justice Department in his father’s administration. The investigation began during the Trump administration. Trump’s appointee remained in charge of it under Attorney General Merrick Garland. Garland later appointed him special counsel to prosecute the case.

Capital University law professor Dan Kobil said that had the trial been engineered by the White House, it’s unlikely three felony convictions for the president’s son was the desired outcome.

"Such a result," Kobil said, "can only harm the president and his family."

Daniel Medwed, a Northeastern University School of Law professor, said Hunter Biden’s conviction refinforces "the legitimacy of the rule of law." 

"Federal prosecutions — let alone trials — for these types of offenses may be rare, but perhaps that simply shows that no one, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, is above the law and that DOJ is committed to that principle," Medwed said.

PolitiFact reached out to Andrew Kolvet, a Kirk spokesperson, who said Hunter Biden’s conviction amounts to a judicial slap on the wrist and a distraction from what he called "other, more serious crimes." 

Evan Gotlob, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, said there’s no evidence the trial was arranged as a cover. 

"It shows that (the justice system) works," he said. "Somebody was indicted for charges, no matter how powerful their father is, and they didn’t want to plead guilty. They had a constitutional right to trial. They had their day in court. An independent jury of 12 people listened to the evidence and convicted him."

First lady Jill Biden, left, Hunter Biden and his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, walk out of federal court June 11, 2024, after hearing Hunter Biden's guilty verdict on three gun charges. (AP)

How did Hunter Biden’s trial come about?

Hunter Biden was found guilty of making false statements about his drug use in the course of purchasing a firearm — once on a federal application and once to the licensed gun dealer. His third conviction was for knowingly possessing a firearm while addicted to drugs. 

He had been under investigation since 2018 over his business dealings and tax issues in a case overseen by U.S. attorney David Weiss, a Trump-era appointee in Delaware. The two sides had reached a tentative plea agreement in which Hunter Biden would have pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor tax changes of failing to pay $100,000 in two separate years, for which prosecutors would have recommended probation. They also agreed to a "diversion" program on a gun-related charge.

But the parties abandoned the deal after U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika expressed concerns about its parameters. In August 2023, Garland tapped Weiss as a special counsel to prosecute the case, and a month later a grand jury indicted Biden on the three gun charges.

Shortly after his father won the 2020 presidential election, Hunter Biden announced that he’d learned his tax affairs had been the subject of federal investigation since 2018. Since then, Joe Biden has repeatedly sought to distance himself from any appearance of influence over the Justice Department’s investigatory or prosecutorial processes — especially involving his son.

In a statement after the conviction, Joe Biden said that he "will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter continues an appeal."

Biden said he would neither pardon his son nor commute his son’s sentence.

What are Republicans accusing Hunter and Joe Biden of doing?

Kolvet, Kirk’s spokesperson, listed unregistered foreign lobbying and money laundering as examples of more serious crimes that Hunter Biden should be investigated for, that may be also linked to his father. 

"Whistleblowers have indicated that Hunter Biden received special treatment from the DOJ, that investigations into more serious crimes were obstructed, and the statute of limitations on suspected criminal activities were allowed to lapse," Kolvet said. "Those allegations deserve serious investigations."

In July 2023, two IRS agents assigned to the Hunter Biden case testified before the House Oversight Committee and accused the Justice Department of "slow-walking" the investigation, a claim Garland and Weiss denied.

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On June 11, House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., called the Biden verdict a step toward accountability, but accused the Justice Department of covering for Joe Biden in his family’s "corrupt influence peddling schemes." 

Comer has led a monthslong House investigation into Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings. He also spearheads an impeachment inquiry into the president that the House launched in December. The investigation included releasing bank records that Comer claimed show millions of dollars in payments to Hunter Biden and other Biden family members and reimbursements Joe Biden received from personal loans to his son and brother. 

But so far, none of these investigations have implicated the president in criminal activity or wrongdoing. The impeachment inquiry so far has resulted in two criminal referrals by the House Republicans to the Justice Department, accusing Hunter and James Biden, the president’s brother, of making false statements to Congress.

Didn’t Republicans want a Hunter Biden trial?

Many of the same conservatives critical of the conviction had also been critical of the plea deal, arguing it was too lenient. Some urged Garland to appoint a special counsel, then criticized his choice — Weiss — because Weiss was the prosecutor who had orchestrated the plea deal.

In July 2023, Kirk was among the plea deal’s critics, calling it a "slap on the wrist."

And although former Trump adviser Stephen Miller argued in June 2023 that the proposed plea was a "sweetheart deal" meant to protect the president, he also was unhappy with the convictions, calling them "a giant misdirection." "This is all about protecting Joe Biden and only Joe Biden," Miller wrote in an X post.

Medwed said the claims are an example of the "dog catching the car."

"Haven't Republicans been clamoring for years that Hunter Biden should be investigated, prosecuted, and convicted?" he said. " And now that he has been, for several felonies, including illegal firearm possession, that's somehow not enough?"

Hunter Biden isn’t out of legal trouble

Separately, Hunter Biden faces trial beginning Sept. 5 in California over federal tax charges. He’s accused of avoiding at least $1.4 million in income taxes from 2016 to 2019 and faces six misdemeanor counts and two felony counts.

The Justice Department said in a December press release announcing the tax charges that Weiss’ investigation continues. When Biden’s plea deal fell apart, prosecutor Leo Wise confirmed after questions from the judge that the investigation was "ongoing" and that charges related to the Foreign Agents Registration Act could still be brought in the future.

That law, known as FARA, requires agents of foreign governments seeking to influence U.S. policy to register with the Justice Department.

Conviction not evidence of White House interference, experts say

Trials on gun charges like Hunter Biden’s are rare, experts told PolitiFact. A 2018 Government Accountability Office report supports that. 

About 112,000 firearm transactions were denied in fiscal year 2017 by the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives referred about 12,700 of those denials to field offices for further investigation and U.S. Attorney’s Offices had prosecuted 12 of those cases by June 2018, the report said.

But Hunter Biden’s prosecution isn’t evidence of any improper coordination between the Justice Department and President Biden, experts told PolitiFact.

Most federal prosecutions, not just in gun cases, result in plea deals, rather than trials, Gotlob said. Hunter Biden rejected a plea deal and the Justice Department had strong evidence in the gun case, he said.

"Assertions that the trial of Hunter Biden was a fake, without credible supporting evidence, to quote the late Justice (Antonin Scalia) ‘tax the credulity of the credulous,’" Kobil said.

Although it’s possible for the Justice Department to coordinate with the White House —  President Richard Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, went to prison for his role in the 1972 Watergate scandal — Kobil said the Justice Department has developed a "strong tradition of independence from the president."

Garland instituted a "general policy of non-communication between the Justice Department and the White House," Kobil said. So much so that press reports have highlighted significant White House-Justice Department tensions.

Medwed said the Justice Department "is famously proud of its independence and often touts its nonpartisan orientation, at least in most administrations." 

"The idea that President Biden could somehow be pulling the strings from behind the curtain strikes me as bizarre and out of tune with how DOJ actually operates," he said.

Our ruling

Kirk and other well-known conservatives including Posobiec, Ramaswamy and Miller posted on X to say that Hunter Biden’s trial and conviction were contrived to divert attention from what they described as other Biden family crimes.

Hunter Biden’s activities and business dealings have been the subject of federal investigation since at least 2018, when Trump was in office. He was convicted on gun-related charges in a jury trial led by a Trump-era appointee following a failed plea deal that conservatives also criticized as being too lenient.

Joe Biden, Hunter’s father, has repeatedly sought to distance himself from the prosecutorial process. And experts say that under Garland’s leadership, the Justice Department has enacted strict policies to limit communication between the White House and federal prosecutors. The president has not challenged the conviction, which came after more than a week of testimony about his son putting his drug addiction ahead of relationships and responsibilities. Joe Biden has said he will neither pardon his son’s crime nor commute his sentence.

Republicans have sought to expose what they allege to be criminal behavior by the president linked to his family members. So far, none of the investigations, including a presidential impeachment inquiry, have produced clear evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden.

Hunter Biden still faces additional charges — with potentially harsher penalties — in California later this year. If anything, experts said, Hunter Biden’s conviction shows the judicial system worked as it should, unswayed by the influence of one of the world’s most powerful leaders.

We rate absurd claims that the trial was orchestrated in an election year as Pants on Fire!

PolitiFact Chief Correspondent Louis Jacobson contributed to this report.

Our Sources

Charlie Kirk, X post, June 11, 2024 (archived)

Charlie Kirk Threads post, June 11, 2024

Charlie Kirk, X post, July 9, 2023 (archived)

Jack Posobiec, X post, June 11, 2024 (archived)

Vivek Ramaswamy, X post, June 11, 2024 (archived)

Stephen Miller, X post, June 11, 2024 (archived)

Laura Ingraham, X post with Stephen Miller interview, June 21, 2023 (archived)

Rep. James Comer, X post, June 11, 2024 (archived)

Phone interview, Evan Gotlob, partner at Saul Ewing and former Assistant U.S. Attorney, June 12, 2024

Email interview, Dan Kobil, Capital University law professor, June 12, 2024

Email interview, Daniel Medwed, Northeastern University Law Professor, June 12, 2024

The New York Times, Republicans Wanted a Special Counsel Investigation of Hunter Biden. Now Many Oppose It., Aug. 12, 2023

The New York Times, John N. Mitchell Dies at 75; Major Figure in Watergate, Nov. 10, 1988

U.S. Government Accountability Office, Few Individuals Denied Firearms Purchases Are Prosecuted and ATF Should Assess Use of Warning Notices in Lieu of Prosecutions, September 2018

CNN, Republicans on Capitol Hill criticize DOJ charges against Hunter Biden and vow to continue investigating the president’s son, June 20, 2023

CNN, Pro-Trump media figures dismiss Hunter Biden conviction as ‘fake trial’ to ‘cover up’ other supposed crimes, June 11, 2024

ABC News, Trump campaign, Republicans seize on Hunter Biden verdict to ramp up attacks on father , June 11, 2024

The New York Times, Hunter Biden Conviction Undercuts a Trump Narrative, and a Fund-Raising Pitch, June 11, 2024

Politico, White House frustration with Garland grows, Feb. 9, 2024

The Wall Street Journal, Ties Between Joe Biden and Merrick Garland Deteriorate From Distant to Frigid, Sept. 16, 2023

U.S. Department of Justice, Memorandum: Department of Justice Communications with the White House, July 21, 2021

U.S. Department of Justice, Grand Jury Returns Indictment Charging Robert Hunter Biden with Three Felony Tax Offenses and Six Misdemeanor Tax Offenses, Dec. 7, 2023

House Oversight Committee, Letter to Merrick Garland and David Weiss, June 5, 2024

PolitiFact, Hunter Biden guilty on gun charges; here’s what it means and what’s next, June 11, 2024

PolitiFact, With Biden impeachment probe now authorized, what’s next?, Dec. 14, 2023

PolitiFact, Largest share of foreign payments went to Biden associates, not kin, House GOP memos show, Sept. 18, 2023

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Some Trump backers say the Hunter Biden trial was orchestrated as a distraction. Pants on Fire!

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