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Judge to weigh Hunter Biden plea deal that enflamed critics

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(WILMINGTON, Del.) — President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden will appear in a Delaware courthouse Wednesday to formally agree to the plea deal he negotiated last month with federal prosecutors — a resolution to a yearslong probe that enflamed his father’s political adversaries.

The younger Biden in June agreed to plead guilty to a pair of misdemeanor tax charges and enter into a pretrial diversion program that will allow him to avoid prosecution on a separate felony gun charge.

U.S. Judge Maryellen Norieka will have the opportunity to either reject or accept the terms of the deal on Wednesday morning.

News of the plea agreement reached last month animated GOP partisans to new heights, with critics decrying the deal’s terms as a “sweetheart deal” that would undermine faith in the justice system.

In April, IRS whistleblowers Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, both longtime tax investigators, accused senior Justice Department officials of mishandling and slow-walking their probe — a sentiment at odds with what the Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney David Weiss, who led the investigation, has himself said.

Republican lawmakers have since threatened to impeach Attorney General Merrick Garland over his handling of the matter, and they continue to press for an explanation from Weiss, who has said he will discuss the case with members of Congress “at the appropriate time.”

Some conservative groups have pushed for Norieka to delay Wednesday’s hearing or reject the plea agreement outright — a decision that some experts say would be a departure from the norm.

“Generally speaking, it is very unusual for a judge to reject a plea agreement,” said Belmont University law professor Lucian Dervan. “In the vast majority of cases, judges accept the pleas that are presented to them in a belief that they reflect a negotiated settlement between the prosecution and the defendant.”

According to the agreement, the younger Biden has agreed to acknowledge his failure to pay taxes on income he received in 2017 and 2018. In exchange, prosecutors will recommend probation, meaning he will likely avoid prison time.

For the gun charge, he will agree to pretrial diversion, with the charge being dropped if he adheres to certain terms.

“I know Hunter believes it is important to take responsibility for these mistakes he made during a period of turmoil and addiction in his life,” Christopher Clark, an attorney for Hunter Biden, said in a statement last month. “He looks forward to continuing his recovery and moving forward.”

At Wednesday’s plea hearing, which will also be Hunter Biden’s initial appearance in the case, the court is expected to learn more about the underlying facts of the investigation and could weigh in on details of the plea agreement. If Norieka approves the deal, she would then schedule a date for sentencing, likely for some time in the coming months.

Norieka was appointed to the federal bench by Trump, but her nomination was endorsed by two Democratic U.S. lawmakers, Delaware Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper, according to paperwork Norieka filed as part of her confirmation process.

Despite the possible closing of this chapter in Hunter Biden’s legal saga, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., has signaled House Republicans’ intent to continue following unproven investigative leads that Comer says tie President Biden closer to his son’s foreign business endeavors.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated Monday that President Biden “was never in business with his son.”

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