President Biden’s son Hunter has unexpectedly pleaded not guilty to two tax crimes after a plea deal fell apart in court.
The 53-year-old appeared in Delaware after being charged with evading $100,000 (£77,000) in taxes from income of over $1.5m in 2017 and 2018.
He had previously reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty in exchange for two years’ probation.
However, the agreement unravelled on Wednesday over multiple concerns, such as it apparently giving Biden protection against future charges.
At one point Biden answered “yes” when asked if he was pleading guilty, before later pulling back.
The judge, Maryellen Noreika, raised issues about the wording of the deal and gave the two sides 30 days to explain why she should accept it.
The agreement had been reached following much negotiation and covered a separate felony charge of Biden possessing a gun while being a drug user in 2018.
Under its terms, that case would be wiped from his record.
However, the judge said technical issues needed resolving – including her role in enforcing the deal – before it could be approved.
She was also concerned that it included a non-prosecution clause for crimes outside of the gun charge.
“It seems to me like you are saying ‘just rubber stamp the agreement, Your Honour’,” she told lawyers.
“This seems to me to be form over substance.”
Judge Noreika also asked Biden to be more specific about his business relationships and questioned him on the last time he had used drugs or alcohol – and if he was undergoing addiction treatment.
He answered 1 June 2019, and said he was not actively having treatment but was part of a substance abuse support programme.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre later said: “Hunter Biden is a private citizen, and this was a personal matter for him.
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“As we have said, the president, the first lady, they love their son, and they support him as he continues to rebuild his life.”
Republicans have called Biden’s agreement with prosecutors a “sweetheart” deal, accusing prosecutors of a double standard considering the charges they are pursuing against Donald Trump.
They have also long accused Hunter Biden of using his father’s power for personal profit in business dealings in Ukraine and China.
Although an investigation by US Attorney David Weiss has yet to find any evidence to back it up.