The President’s Son: A Routine Gun Case, but Abnormal in Every Way

The President’s Son: A Routine Gun Case, but Abnormal in Every Way


When the federal prosecutor, Derek Hines, began his opening statement with the words “no man is above the law,” it signified the only rhetorical acknowledgment to the jury that the trial of Hunter Biden was not an ordinary gun charge.

Mr. Hines seemed intent on trying a seemingly run-of-the-mill case of a drug addict charged with illegally purchasing a firearm. In doing so, however, it was as if he had instructed the 12 jurors, in the manner of the wizard in “The Wizard of Oz,” to pay no attention to the extraordinary spectacle plainly in view.

Pay no attention to the defendant’s last name, the most famous one in Wilmington. Pay no attention to the first lady, Jill Biden, sitting in the front row behind the defendant, whom she raised as her own son. Pay no attention to Mr. Biden’s famous attorney, Abbe Lowell, or to the millionaire Hollywood lawyer also in the front row, Kevin Morris, who is largely bankrolling his friend Mr. Biden’s legal defense.

And pay no attention to the 50 or so members of the media taking up most of the spectator space — among them a documentary film team paid for by Mr. Morris.

The 12 jurors were left to deduce these matters on their own. Several of them stole glances at the defendant, as if trying to square the image of the 54-year-old man in the dark suit, flag lapel pin and tortoiseshell reading glasses with the crack addict described in the testimony. At one point, Mr. Biden flashed a genetically familiar broad smile while talking to Mr. Lowell during a courtroom break.

For the most part, however, the defendant looked the somber part of a man facing up to 25 years in prison. He sat impassively, listening along with the jury to his own voice reciting the audio version of his memoir, “Beautiful Things,” including the observation, “We’ve all been inside rooms we can’t afford to die in.”

Though the narrator was referring to a succession of Los Angeles hotels, including the Chateau Marmont, where Mr. Biden once spent weeks doing crack, he could just as easily have been referring to Courtroom 4A of the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building in Wilmington, Del.

Jill Biden, dressed in a pale green suit, maintained a reflective if somewhat stricken countenance throughout the morning. (She attended the congressional picnic at the White House later in the day, and left in the evening with the president for the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of D-Day in France.)

In the courtroom, after Mr. Lowell’s opening statement, she said quietly, “That was good,” to the two women on either side of her: Ashley Biden, her daughter, and Mr. Biden’s wife, Melissa Cohen Biden.

During a break, Mr. Biden’s wife angrily confronted a courtroom spectator, Garrett Ziegler, a former Trump White House aide who has published on his company website purported excerpts from Ashley Biden’s diary and is being sued by Mr. Morris for doxxing his personal information.

“You have no right to be here,” Melissa Cohen Biden said to Mr. Ziegler, adding an epithet.

A few minutes later in the presence of several reporters, Ms. Biden, who is Jewish, suggested that Mr. Ziegler had expressed antisemitic views about her and other Democrats, adding, “I doubt he makes those derogatory slurs about Jared Kushner.”

The presence of Mr. Ziegler, who did not respond to a request for comment, was a reminder of how fervently the president’s critics have anticipated the trial of his son as payback for former President Donald J. Trump’s conviction last week in his Manhattan hush-money trial and the three other trials he currently awaits, including two cases brought by the Justice Department.

Still, for them, the prospect of cheering on the Biden administration’s Justice Department in a nonviolent gun ownership case is terra incognita, just as it is for the jury that will decide the fate of a Wilmington native son.



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