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The trial of Hunter Biden enters its second week


Federal prosecutors rested their case Friday in the federal gun trial of Hunter Biden. The case stems from a cult revolver the president's son bought in October 2018. He is charged with lying about his illegal drug use when he bought the gun, as well as an illegal possession of a firearm by a drug user or addict.

NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas was in the courtroom in Wilmington, Del., all week, and he joins us now. Hey, Ryan.


DETROW: So over the course of the past week, how have prosecutors built their case against Hunter Biden?

LUCAS: Well, they've showed the jury a lot of Hunter's text messages in which he talks about buying drugs, using drugs. They've also called around 10 witnesses to testify. Among those, there are three in particular who stand out, three women who were romantically involved with Hunter Biden at one point or another. There's his ex-wife, Kathleen Buhle, an ex-girlfriend, Zoe Kestan, as well as his brother's widow, Hallie Biden. All three women testified about Hunter's drug use.

Kestan and Hallie Biden, in particular, both told the jury they saw Hunter frequently smoke crack cocaine. They were with him, they said, when he bought it from dealers. And Kestan also said that she saw him mix it and cook it himself. Jurors also heard from the gun store salesman who sold Hunter the revolver back in 2018. And he testified that Hunter himself filled out the federal form that you have to fill out in order to buy a gun. And he said Hunter checked the no box on the question that asks if you are a drug user or addict.

DETROW: How have Hunter Biden's attorneys tried to counter all of this?

LUCAS: Well, his attorney, Abbe Lowell, has attacked the government's case in a couple of ways. He's repeatedly pointed out that prosecutors have produced a whole bunch of evidence of Hunter's drug use before and after he bought the gun but not the period when he bought the gun and owned it. He got both Kestan and Hallie Biden to say on cross-examination that they did not see Hunter use drugs in October of 2018, when he owned the gun.

Now, there are two text messages Hunter sent Hallie Biden in the days immediately after he bought the gun in which he talks about drugs, and those are a problem for the defense. In one of them, Hunter tells Hallie Biden that he's behind a stadium waiting for a dealer named Mookie. And in the other, he tells her that he was sleeping on a car smoking crack. But on cross-examination, Hallie Biden said Hunter would sometimes lie about where he was, and she said she didn't know on those occasions whether he really was smoking crack.

DETROW: So just to be clear here, the defense is not disputing that he was a drug addict. They're arguing he wasn't using drugs when he bought the gun.

LUCAS: That's correct. They're very upfront about Hunter's struggles with addiction. Jurors even heard audio excerpts from Hunter's own memoir, which Hunter himself narrates, in which he goes into painful detail about his downward spiral into crack cocaine.

DETROW: And this is the president's son on trial. These are incredibly personal, embarrassing details about the Biden family. We have seen how this case has been politicized, and in a number of different ways, by Republicans attacking Joe Biden. What's it been like in the courthouse?

LUCAS: Prosecutors have tried to present this as kind of a regular gun case, and in some ways it is, but in other ways it very, very much is not. There's a bank of news cameras outside the entrance to the courthouse. Part of the road is blocked off. There are police cars, Secret Service. When you walk into the courthouse, on the wall to your right is a photo of President Biden, the defendant's father. That is not the case in every criminal case across the country, of course.

First Lady Jill Biden, has been in the courtroom several days. Hunter's wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, has been in the front row every day. Friends and other family members are there. Hunter's sister, Ashley Biden, has been there to show her support as well. And this has been a difficult trial for them, having to hear, as you said, about Hunter's addiction, having his ex-wife testify, Beau's widow testify. And then on Friday, Hunter's own daughter, Naomi Biden, she took the stand to testify in her father's defense. She was clearly uncomfortable on the stand having to talk about her relationship with her father and her father's struggles with crack cocaine.

DETROW: I do want to ask, because we have seen this political context of Republicans in Congress trying to tie Hunter Biden to Joe Biden, and that has been more the case in kind of the other criminal challenges that Hunter Biden is facing in other investigations. But has anything about the president himself come up in all of the evidence about the Biden family and the real struggles here with drug addiction?

LUCAS: He has not come up in any substantive way in the course of this trial. On Friday, he did come up when Naomi Biden was talking about borrowing pop's Cadillac. That would be Joe Biden. But that's really the main instance when we heard talk about Joe Biden. Other than that, he has not been a figure at all in this trial.

DETROW: Worth noting President Biden gave an interview to ABC News as the trial was going on. He was asked, would he pardon Hunter Biden if he's convicted? Biden said he would not. The trial is ongoing. What can we expect this week?

LUCAS: Well, the judge sent the jury home early on Friday afternoon. Hunter Biden's attorney said that they will decide over the weekend whether Hunter himself will take the stand. If he does, that could prolong things, of course, but he would be the last defense witness. The government could then put on a short rebuttal, and then we'd have closing arguments. And the case would be sent to the jury, so he could have a verdict by early to the to the middle of this week.

DETROW: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thank you so much.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.