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Hunter Biden could face same foreign lobbying charges that jailed Donald Trump associates

Hunter Biden could face new federal charges related to his failure to register as a foreign agent while he was cutting lucrative deals with Ukraine, China and other countries where his politically-powerful father held sway. 

Prosecutors Wednesday said there is an ongoing probe of President Biden’s son that potentially includes offenses related to the Foreign Agent Registration Act or FARA. 

Prosecutors made the statement during a federal court proceeding where Hunter Biden was slated to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and agree to a deal to spare him a felony gun charge.

The agreement fell apart when U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika, amid legal briefs from critics asking her to reconsider the deal, began asking questions. 

She forced prosecutor Leo Wise to acknowledge the Justice Department is investigating Hunter Biden for other potential charges, including charges related to FARA violations. 

The 1938 law requires special registration with the Justice Department by anyone who works on behalf of a foreign country to influence U.S. policy or public opinion.

Mr. Wise did not provide details about a Justice Department investigation. Some legal experts questioned whether an investigation is truly underway or simply threatened if Hunter Biden does not complete a diversionary program related to the gun charge. 

But Mr. Wise’s statement comes amid mounting evidence that Hunter Biden used his father’s political clout to help secure massively profitable deals with China, Ukraine, Russia and perhaps additional countries that wanted to influence U.S. policy.

While rarely used before 2016, the Justice Department ramped up FARA prosecutions beginning in the Trump administration. They used the once-obscure law to charge several Trump associates, including his former national security advisor, Michael T. Flynn, campaign manager, Paul Manfort, and Trump’s inaugural committee chairman, Tom Barrack.

Mr. Barrack was initially jailed for three days in 2021 before posting a $250 million bond. He was charged with failing to register as a foreign agent on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. A jury later acquitted him of all charges.

Mr. Manafort entered a guilty plea on multiple charges and was sentenced to 73 months in prison, including the statutory maximum of 60 months for conspiracy to violate FARA. 

Mr. Manafort served less than two years in prison. He was released to home confinement in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. President Trump pardoned him in December 2020. 

Mr. Flynn, charged with secretly lobbying on behalf of Turkey, never served jail time after withdrawing a guilty plea that came with a recommended six-month jail sentence.

The Justice Department eventually moved to drop the case and Mr. Flynn was pardoned by Trump in November 2020.

Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani said Mr. Wise may be dangling a prosecution under FARA to ensure Hunter Biden agrees to the terms of the diversion agreement for the gun crime.

When the judge asked about the details, the deal unraveled because defense lawyers believed the investigation was closed and included a guarantee of no new charges, including those related to foreign lobbying. 

“Prosecutors want to keep open the possibility of additional charges if he doesn’t comply with the terms of the diversion,” Mr. Rahmani said. “They’re trying to hang that over his head. The defense disagrees.”

The judge asked lawyers to provide her additional details of the agreement and, in the meantime, she has refused to endorse the plea deal. 

The case has drawn national attention and legal briefs filed by those who oppose the plea deal, including House Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith, Missouri Republican. 

Mr. Smith and other critics of the plea deal said it gave Hunter Biden a slap on the wrist for crimes that put similar offenders behind bars.

The plea deal came amid revelations from a long-hidden FBI memo detailing a paid informant’s claim that Hunter Biden and his father split a $10 million bribe from the CEO of the Ukraine energy firm Burisma. According to CEO Mykola Zlochevsky, the money was paid in exchange for Mr. Biden’s efforts to oust a Ukrainian prosecutor investigating the Burisma. At that time, Mr. Biden was vice president in the Obama administration and spearheading U.S. policy in Ukraine.

Mr. Smith’s legal brief included information provided by two IRS whistleblowers who say Hunter Biden was given preferential treatment by prosecutors who slow-walked the case and avoided felony charges. 

The political pressure may have made it far more difficult for Judge Noreika on Tuesday to agree to the deal without asking for more details, including whether the agreement would shield Hunter Biden from further prosecution and whether prosecutors were investigating FARA violations. 

During the court proceeding Tuesday, the judge sought details from the president’s son about his work with foreign companies. 

He provided details about his employment on the board of Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, which paid him up to $1 million a year, as well as CEFC, a Chinese energy firm tied to the Chinese Communist Party, which paid millions of dollars to Biden family members and their close circle of business associates. 

The judge asked Hunter Biden whether he understood he owed taxes and he responded, “Yes, your honor.” 

Mr. Rahmani said if even prosecutors put a FARA investigation on the back burner, Hunter Biden could be vulnerable to prosecution under a future Republican administration.

“If the administration changes,” Mr. Rahmani said. “It’s very likely that he’s going to be prosecuted for all sorts of things.”

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