Hunter Biden and his lawyers walked into a courtroom prepared to enter a plea deal with the Justice Department last week. The deal fell through.
President Joe Biden’s son was prepared to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and to lying on a gun purchase form. The DOJ lawyers and the younger Biden’s attorneys were ready to sign off on the deal in court, but U.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika said she had no intention to “rubber-stamp” the deal.
Mike Howell, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project, says the plea deal granted the president’s son “global immunity for all other conduct.” Asked if he would sign onto the deal if that immunity agreement was removed, Hunter Biden said “no,” according to Howell. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
The Justice Department was offering him “a ‘get out of jail free’ card for any future charges that may be brought,” Howell says.
Howell joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain the role the Oversight Project played in uncovering the details of the plea deal, and what’s likely next for Hunter Biden.
Listen to the podcast or read a portion of the transcribed interview below:
Virginia Allen: It is my pleasure to welcome to the show today Mike Howell. Mike is the director of the Oversight Project here at The Heritage Foundation. Mike, thanks for being with us.
Mike Howell: Hey, thanks for having me.
Allen: So, we’ve talked a little bit about the Oversight Project on the show before, but it is one of the newest initiatives of The Heritage Foundation. Go ahead. Give us just a quick overview of what you-all do.
Howell: Absolutely. So, the Oversight Project is a recognition that oversight and investigations is where the game’s at right now. I mean, Congress has been broken for a very long time. Major legislation does not pass, only budget-related things. The administrative state basically creates policy in this country.
And so the institutional Right, of which Heritage is a huge part, needs to reflect that we can’t just be pumping the Capitol Hill with policy papers. We need to actually bring some receipts on things.
And as a former Hill investigator and attorney who then went into the Trump administration to defend against this type of stuff, I came to the realization that the outside did not support those efforts in the way that the Left does. The Left is light-years ahead of us in this.
I mean, if you just look at what they were able to do to the country during the Trump years in terms of just developing a Russia hoax out of whole cloth, pumping the intelligence community with fake news that turned into actual criminal prosecutions, things that are still happening today, they’re playing a completely different game.
So we’ve been sitting back writing papers and arguing about policy while they’ve been taking advantage of power.
And so we built a team here comprised of investigators and litigators and what we do is investigate. We got a lot of very talented people with great backgrounds who go out and find facts, talk to people, and then we take advantage of information laws.
I mean, the big one is the FOIA law, Freedom of Information Act, and then state-level information laws and other legal options available to us, and go there and actually aggressively litigate these things.
Because that’s the problem, is, in a perfect world, the way the system was set up, it was supposed to be an administrative system. You as a citizen and I should be able to request any documents we want out of the government so long as they aren’t classified or otherwise privileged.
And it’s 2023, we have ChatGPT, we have backend searches, massive computing power. It should be the easiest time in the world to get information out. But the administrative state has basically forced it into a judicial process. They’ll ignore you on the administrative side and you have to have lawyers to sue, so your everyday citizen can enforce those rights.
So that’s what we do. We go in and we litigate these things aggressively, get the information out, get it to its highest and best value, and try to drive the oversight and investigations agenda.
Allen: I like to think of the Oversight Project as a good dose of sunlight. So with that in mind, let’s take a little bit of time and talk about Hunter Biden and some of the latest news we are seeing on Hunter.
So on Thursday, on “The Daily Signal Podcast” Top News edition, we had your colleague Kyle Brosnan on to talk a little bit about the situation that we’re seeing play out in a courtroom. In Delaware this past week, we saw that Hunter Biden was ready to sign off on a plea deal and that plea deal fell through.
So let’s start all the way at the beginning. What are the charges that Hunter Biden is facing here?
Howell: So, he was facing two tax charges for failure to pay taxes and a gun charge. He lied about being addicted to all sorts of drugs and under the influence as he possessed a gun. And so those are the three charges that they actually brought against him. And then they were pleading him down to basically misdemeanor and diversion agreements. Really a slap on the wrist type stuff.
But I mentioned tax and guns. The thing the American people are concerned about is all of this evidence they’ve been confronted with on an international pay-to-play scheme involving people who are adverse to the U.S. and the most corrupt regions of the world with Joe Biden, the president of the United States, being the product that was sold in this international, tens of millions of dollars, pay-to-play scheme. And the fact that they brought—they being the [Department of Justice]—such lesser charges was absurd.
And so what their game plan was, and we sniffed this out, was they were using that plea deal to also grant global immunity for all other conduct. And so if you plead guilty to a tax thing, we will give you future immunity. Basically, won’t bring charges on any of the international pay-to-place scheme to include foreign registration laws, all the like. An investigation which is still allegedly ongoing, according to the government, by the way.
So they were offering in the middle of an investigation into all the other things, which I don’t believe is really forcefully ongoing, a “get out of jail free” card for any future charges that may be brought.
And so this is what we brought to the attention of the federal judge in Delaware. We were able to put together a 850-page amicus brief. We were the first ones to file such a brief.
Chairman Jason Smith of the Ways and Means Committee filed one a little after us, but we basically said, “Judge, you got to pump the brakes on this for a whole host of reasons, with that being the biggest.”
Also, and this gets complicated, but this is why we have an Oversight Project, we’re suing in D.C. for a set of communications between this supposedly independent investigation and main DOJ.
So what that means is the political interference into the Hunter Biden investigation they admitted to us because we sued them and forced this admission, there’re 2,500-plus pages of communications between the supposedly independent investigation and David Weiss, the attorney bringing it, and then folks at main Justice and elsewhere. And so there shouldn’t be that many communications if it was actually independent.
Allen: Mike, let me just make sure I’m understanding this correctly. So what happened was the DOJ and Hunter Biden’s attorneys essentially worked out a deal that would provide cover for Hunter Biden in any future, possibly coming down the line legal trouble that Hunter Biden might be facing. And the Oversight Project found that and flagged it to the judge who was looking at this case, correct?
Allen: OK. So you were in the courtroom in Delaware when this all went down. Talk a little bit about the atmosphere, what it was like and what did the the judge say?
Howell: Absolutely. It was a wild time, made for TV. Now, they don’t let cameras into federal courthouses. So it’s a shame only the 50 or so people that were in there saw this up close and in person.
But essentially, the judge started out—it was like a three-hour deal, I would say, all said and done, but there was a whole host of unusual and peculiarities with this plea deal. And the judge basically walked through those.
And at first they tried to argue that they were presenting a plea deal that the judge had no discretion over. Her role was to be the rubber stamp. And I think that brought some offense to the judge. It was highly unusual in that regard.
Then, as they started working through the deal itself, came across this provision, the global immunity provision, if you will, and the judge asked if there’s any other ongoing investigations. And DOJ basically had to admit, “Yeah, we do have other stuff.” And the judge said, “Well, would this plea deal prevent you from charging any of that other stuff?” And they said, “Yeah, that’s the purpose of the plea deal, essentially.”
And then Hunter was asked by the judge if he would sign the plea deal without that in there and to which he said “no.” And at that point the deal was going down, it was a sinking ship, there was full panic going on, tons of running around, side conversations, Hunter’s huge legal team, DOJ.
And the atmosphere changed because I think you go into court and you see people on two sides of two separate tables, and you expect them to be adverse to each other. It’s the government and the people charging an individual for breaking their laws. You expect it to be an adverse process. That’s our legal system.
But what was kind of exposed there is they were on the same team. They all wanted this to go away. They wanted the deal done and they wanted to wipe their hands clean of this and prevent this from dragging on and having any political impacts.
So when it was found out that this provision would not stand the deal, things fell apart and they fell apart pretty quickly. It was a great sight to see.
Allen: So what happens next? And what kind of deal would a judge likely accept in the situation?
Howell: There’s three options in descending order of probability. They have about, I think, 30 days to get back to the judge. And so they’re going to try to get a new plea deal together, one that can pass muster with the judge. I expect that it absolutely cannot contain a provision for this global immunity.
Also, the form in which they presented it, they worked in a whole bunch of other ways to weasel the system that the judge pointed out that are rather technical.
But what they basically mean is removing discretion for future Hunter-related activities. I expect they’re negotiating very hard and trying to figure out a plea deal that they think can get as much of Hunter’s liability away that the judge will accept.
So they’re trying to meet that sweet spot, but the whole purpose of them going to Delaware on Wednesday was to absolve Hunter from future prosecution.
So now that that’s out, what can they do? And this is where the other options come in. Understanding that this plea deal was essentially a pardon through another means. To put it simply, Joe Biden didn’t have the political guts to take the heat for pardoning his son. He promised everyone he wouldn’t do it.
So what he had happen was DOJ work up this corrupt bargain, which was essentially a plea deal, so they could just drop the charges. The DOJ has that discretion, obviously it would be a political wildfire. And then finally, Joe could just pardon Hunter. And a lot of people have been speculating about that.
Obviously, there’s a lot of talk about whether Joe is physically capable of running, whether it’s politically the right decision. Speculations out there that if he does do that, it could be a time for Joe to step aside.
But regardless of what option there is that they do go with, we’re on this, we snipped out what was going on, we were there, we flagged it. We’ll flag the next thing.
We will continue to work closely to get this information out to make sure members of Congress have this information as they consider, potentially, impeachment investigations. I mean, [House Speaker Kevin] McCarthy said they were looking at an impeachment inquiry, which is a lesser thing.
And so we’re going to be fighting in the courts where the House has not been, frankly, I mean, Chairman Smith had personal lawyers represent his committee’s interest, but the House as an institution was not there. And so we’re going to fill that void. We built a team that is capable of doing this, and so we’re going to run to the fire. And that’s what the Oversight Project does.
Allen: Mike Howell, director of the Oversight Project at The Heritage Foundation. Mike, thanks for being with us.
Howell: Hey, thanks for having me on.
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