A lot of ink has been spilled over Hunter Biden's laptop over the last several years, but as Marcy Wheeler notes, the person who may have to answer for the Hunter Biden plea deal may not be Hunter Biden at all, but Justice Department Special Counsel David Weiss.
To understand why, a review of the current state of the (known) legal case is in order.
On August 11, as Merrick Garland was announcing that he had given David Weiss Special Counsel status, Weiss’ prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Hunter Biden. After describing that, “When the parties were proceeding to a negotiated resolution in this matter, a plea in this District was agreed upon,” the filing said that because Hunter did not plead guilty, it may have to file charges in the district where venue lies. At the same time, Weiss also moved to vacate the briefing schedule in the gun diversion.
Judge Maryellen Noreika gave Hunter a day to respond to the motion to vacate. That response, signed by Chris Clark but including Abbe Lowell on the signature line, explained that Hunter planned to fulfill the terms of the gun diversion agreement, which the government had stated was a contract between the two parties.[T]he Defendant intends to abide by the terms of the Diversion Agreement that was executed at the July 26 hearing by the Defendant, his counsel, and the United States, and concurs with the statements the Government made during the July 26 hearing,1
The Government stated in open court that the Diversion Agreement was a “bilateral agreement between the parties” that “stand[s] alone” from the Plea Agreement, and that it was “in effect” and “binding.”
But, “in light of the United States’ decision on Friday to renege on the previously agreed-upon Plea Agreement, we agree that those issues are moot at this point.” Effectively, Hunter’s team was saying they considered the gun diversion as still valid, recognized everything else was moot, and described that it was moot because the government had reneged on the terms of the deal.
Then Abbe Lowell entered his appearance in the case. And Clark moved to withdraw from the case because — given that the plea and diversion would be contested — he might have to serve as a witness.Mr. Clark’s withdrawal is necessitated by recent developments in the matter. Pursuant to Delaware Rule of Professional Conduct 3.7(a), “a lawyer shall not act as advocate at a trial in which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness unless… disqualification of the lawyer would work substantial hardship on the client.” Based on recent developments, it appears that the negotiation and drafting of the plea agreement and diversion agreement will be contested, and Mr. Clark is a percipient witness to those issues. Under the “witness-advocate” rule, it is inadvisable for Mr. Clark to continue as counsel in this case.
Noreika never actually approved Clark’s withdrawal, but the defense team filed notice that Hunter consented to the withdrawal while the docket remained active.
Meanwhile, Noreika ordered the government to reply to Hunter’s response on the briefing, and ordered Hunter to respond to the thing she failed to ask about in the first place, whether he objected to the dismissal of the charges.
Hunter’s team agreed that the charges must be dismissed, but reiterated that the court had no oversight over the diversion agreement (which had been Noreika’s complaint from the start).Without adopting the Government’s reasoning, as venue for the existing information does not lie in this District, the information must be dismissed.
Further, the Defendant’s position is that the enforceability of the Diversion Agreement (D.I. 24-1 in No. 23-cr-00061-MN) has no bearing on the United States’ Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Venue (D.I. 31 in No. 23-mj-00274-MN), and any disputes regarding the effect of the Diversion Agreement are therefore not before the Court at this time.
The government, meanwhile, filed a seven page reply attempting to claim that the government did not renege on the plea that had been negotiated in advance of its filing in June, by describing how after Hunter refused to plead guilty because Leo Wise, an AUSA who had not been involved in the original deal, claimed its scope was far narrower than Hunter understood, the parties did not subsequently agree on one to replace the signed deal Hunter entered into.First, the Government did not “renege” on the “previously agreed-upon Plea Agreement,” as the Defendant inaccurately asserts in the first substantive sentence of his response. ECF 33, Def. Resp. at 1. The Defendant chose to plead not guilty at the hearing on July 26, 2023, and U.S. Probation declined to approve the proposed diversion agreement at that hearing.
Then Noreika dismissed the charges.
David Weiss may have plenty of time to argue with Lowell, relying on Chris Clark’s testimony, that he should not be held to the terms of signed agreements he entered into in June.
But the two important takeaways from all this are, first, that Hunter Biden is stating that before the plea hearing, Weiss attempted to change the terms of the signed plea deal, and second, that Chris Clark is no longer bound by any terms of confidentiality that will allow him to prove that’s true.
These twin stories are a warning shot to Weiss — before Hunter even gets more discovery on all the other problems with this investigation — what that is going to look like.
Remember, the entire Hunter Biden "bribery scandal" has been a railroad job from the start. Merrick Garland giving David Weiss Special Counsel status is the proverbial rope for Weiss to hang himself with.
Now, normally, misconduct by a prosecutor like Weiss would be reviewed by the feckless Office of Professional Responsibility. But that’s less likely with a Special Counsel, because of the reporting structure for an SCO. And that’s particularly true here given the involvement of Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer in earlier discussions about the plea. Weinsheimer oversees OPR, and so any review by OPR presents a conflict. Indeed, Weiss may have asked to be made SCO precisely so he could escape the purview of OPR.
But to some degree that may not matter.
That’s because there are already parallel investigations — at TIGTA and at DOJ IG — into the leaking that occurred during this investigation. David Weiss was already going to be a witness in them, because Gary Shapley made claims about what Weiss said personally at a meeting on October 7, 2022, a meeting that was called first and foremost to discuss leaks.
So if Michael Horowitz wanted to subpoena Weiss to find out whether he was the senior law enforcement official denying things only he could deny, to find out whether days after being made a Special Counsel, Weiss decided to violate DOJ guidelines to which he still must adhere, the only way Weiss could dodge that subpoena might be to resign from both his US Attorney and his Special Counsel appointment.
And if Weiss and DOJ IG didn’t already have enough to talk about, there’s this passage from the NYT, with its truly epic use of the passive voice: “Mr. Weiss was quietly assigned,” by whom, NYT didn’t choose to explain.
NYT corrected their earlier error on the date of the failed plea hearing, but the date here is probably another: Both IRS agents and the FBI agent have testified that this occurred in 2019, not 2018. Indeed, Joseph Ziegler testified, then thought the better of it, in a period when Bill Barr was making public comments about all this, that Barr himself was involved, which would date it to February 2019 or later, in a period when Barr was engaged in wholesale politiciziation of the department. Who assigned Weiss to investigate Joe Biden’s son as Trump demanded it would already be a question for any inquiry into improper influence, but it’s nice for NYT to make it more of one, in a story otherwise repeatedly sourced to “a senior law enforcement official” who might know.
I don’t know whether Hunter Biden’s lawyers deliberately intended to bait Weiss into responding in the NYT. But under DOJ guidelines, he is only permitted to respond to these claims in legal filings, after Abbe Lowell makes it an issue after Weiss files an indictment somewhere, thereby confirming precisely the concerns raised in these stories and creating another avenue of recourse to address these issues.
But whether that was the intention or not, that appears to be what happened.
The Hunter Biden case is a massive example of prosecutorial misconduct, and we're going to find out how deep this particular rabbit hole goes.