Hunter Biden's family weathers a public and expansive airing in federal court of his drug addiction

FILE - First lady Jill Biden departs from federal court, June 7, 2024, in Wilmington, Del. The Biden family has gone to great lengths to support Hunter Biden as he stands trial for lying on a federal gun-purchase form when he said he didn't have a drug problem. Jill Biden, Hunter Biden's mother, has been a regular presence in court, buttressed by a rotating cast of other family members. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)


WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — In a span of less than 48 hours this past week, first lady Jill Biden shuttled from a Normandy ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in France to the front row of a Delaware courtroom, where Hunter Biden is on trial in a gun case, and then back to Paris for an elaborate state visit at Élysée Palace.

“Here we are again,” the first lady said with a laugh as she and President Joe Biden were greeted by French President Emanuel Macron and his wife, Brigette, at the palace on Saturday, the light comment an oblique nod to her transatlantic commute.

It was a manifestation of the great lengths to which the Biden family has gone to support Hunter Biden as he stands trial in Wilmington, Delaware, accused of lying on a federal gun purchase form when he said he did not have a drug problem. Jill Biden has been a regular presence in the courtroom, buttressed by a rotating cast of other family members.

“The back and forth, the push and pull, of family responsibilities, of first lady duties, of her career, of the campaign — that’s just who she is,” said Elizabeth Alexander, the first lady’s communications director.

Every family wrestles with personal challenges, and politicians are often left to navigate those dynamics in public. But the very expansive airing in court of tawdry details surrounding Hunter Biden’s addiction – in the glare of an election year — is of an order of greater magnitude. And the president’s family has shown a determination to ensure Hunter Biden does not weather it alone.

The trial resumes Monday. Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty to the charges, but he does not deny a drug problem. His memoir, “Beautiful Things,” is all about hitting bottom after his brother Beau’s death in 2015 from cancer. But his lawyers say he did not consider himself to be an “addict” at the time he filled out the gun purchase form in 2018 to buy a revolver.

BOTH PRESIDENT AND A DADJoe Biden has steered clear of the courtroom and said little about the case, wary of creating an impression of interfering in a criminal matter brought by his own Justice Department. But the president has long walked the line between public servant and father.

At just 30, the Democrat was sworn in as Delaware’s junior senator from a hospital room where his young sons were recuperating from a car accident that killed his wife and baby daughter.

In grainy black-and-white newsreels, Biden can been seen holding 3-year-old Hunter as the new senator takes the oath and 4-year-old Beau watches from a hospital bed. Joe Biden pledged then that if there was ever a conflict between “my being a good father and being a good senator,” he would resign.

The president did put out a brief written statement as Hunter Biden’s trial began.

“As the president, I don’t and won’t comment on pending federal cases, but as a dad, I have boundless love for my son, confidence in him, and respect for his strength,” he said. “Our family has been through a lot together, and Jill and I are going to continue to be there for Hunter and our family with our love and support.”

The case followed him to Normandy nonetheless, where Biden was asked in an ABC interview whether he thought his son would get a fair trial and whether the president would rule out pardoning his son if there was a guilty verdict.

Biden answered with a terse “yes” on both matters.

SHOW OF SUPPORTOver the trial’s first week, Jill Biden was in court four days out of five, missing only Thursday due to the D-Day events. Others who have taken seats in the courtroom at various points are Hunter’s sister Ashley, aunts Bonny Jacobs and Valerie Owens and his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden.

The first lady has leaned over the court railing to embrace Hunter, who has called her mom since she married Joe Biden in 1977. She has walked hand in hand with him out of the courtroom. She has listened to hours of testimony.

Hunter has not made it easy for his family, and the evidence in the case has been a highly personal tour of his mistakes and drug use, some kind of nightmare version of “This is Your Life.”

Jurors have listened to hours of testimony from his ex-wife, a former girlfriend and his brother’s widow, who between them painted a picture of strip club trips, infidelity, habitual crack use and their failed efforts to help him get clean. Jurors saw images of the president’s son bare-chested and disheveled in a filthy room and half-naked holding crack pipes. And they watched a video of his crack cocaine being weighed on a scale.

Federal prosecutors have argued the evidence was necessary to prove to jurors that Hunter Biden, 54, was in the throes of addiction when he bought the gun and therefore lied when he checked “no” on the form that asked whether he was “an unlawful user of, or addicted to” drugs.

On Friday, his eldest daughter, Naomi, 30, testified for the defense, telling jurors a hopeful story about how her father seemed to be getting better around the time of the gun purchase.

“I told him I was so proud of him,” she said softly.

But then prosecutor Leo Wise showed her texts that showed erratic behavior during that same period. Her father did not respond to her message for hours, then asked her at 2 a.m. whether her boyfriend could meet up to switch cars.

“Right now?” she responded. “I’m really sorry dad I can’t take this.”

When she got off the stand, she stopped at the defense table, pausing to hug her dad before she left the courtroom.

By Friday afternoon, the first lady was headed back to France for the state dinner.

Her transcontinental flights underscore the importance of family to the Bidens writ large, said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, an expert on first ladies and author of “Camera Girl,” about Jacqueline Kennedy.

“She understands that at the end of the day what matters is her son and his well-being and knowing he has support and knowing, also, the vulnerability of someone who has been in recovery,” Anthony said.

A FAMILIAR STORYPatrick Kennedy, a former congressman and leading voice on mental health and addiction, said Hunter Biden’s story is so common that he expected many Americans would see something familiar in it, however disturbing or embarrassing it seems. Kennedy himself struggled with drug addiction and is the son of a famous lawmaker, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.

“The disease of addiction seems to be what is on trial here,” he said, arguing that a big part of the case is the definition of sobriety. Are you sober when you are not taking drugs? Or are you sober when there has been a profound shift in your thinking that goes along with stopping the drugs?

“Half say it’s physical, and the other half say it’s mental — and truth is that it is both,” he said.

WHAT COMES NEXTThe trial is winding down. The defense is debating whether to call more witnesses on Monday, including the president’s brother James. After closing arguments, the case will go to the jury.

But Hunter Biden’s legal problems will not end there. He faces a separate trial in September in California on charges of failing to pay $1.4 million in taxes.

A plea deal had been negotiated last summer that would have resolved both the gun and tax matters, avoiding the spectacle of a trial so close to the presidential election this November. But when U.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika, who was nominated by former President Donald Trump, questioned aspects of the deal, the lawyers could not come to a resolution. The deal fell apart.

Attorney General Merrick Garland then appointed the lead investigator, former U.S. Attorney David Weiss of Delaware, as a special counsel in August. A month later, Hunter Biden was indicted.

Hunter Biden has argued he is being unfairly targeted by the Justice Department after Republicans decried the now-defunct plea deal as special treatment for the Democratic president’s son.


Long and Superville reported from Washington. AP White House Correspondent Zeke Miller in Paris, and Associated Press writers Randall Chase, Mike Catalini and Michael Kunzelman contributed to this report.