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Biden family’s most intimate personal struggles put on display in court

As President Joe Biden engages in the fight of his political life in a campaign focused on democracy and the rule of law, the most intimate details of his family’s ongoing personal tragedies have been publicly dissected in a courtroom over the last week.

Hunter Biden’s struggles with addiction after the death of his brother Beau Biden have been the focus of hours of testimony during his trial for federal criminal charges, putting some of the Biden family’s most personal problems on full display. The president’s son has pleaded not guilty to three felony counts connected to a gun he purchased in October 2018.

For decades, the president has navigated the sometimes-competing demands of his political career and being a father, particularly when it comes to Hunter Biden. Part of the president’s enduring brand has been his ability to relate to the personal tragedies of others because of what his family has suffered, including the death of his first wife and daughter in a 1972 car crash that severely injured Beau and Hunter, and Beau’s 2015 death from brain cancer.

The effect Beau Biden’s death had on his younger brother has been a focus in court. At issue in the case is whether Hunter Biden lied when he asserted he wasn’t an “unlawful user of, or addicted to” drugs on a form when he purchased a revolver in October 2018. Jury deliberations began Monday afternoon.

In the government’s opening arguments, prosecutor Derek Hines argued “no one is above the law” regardless of their family name, echoing the Biden campaign’s response to Trump’s guilty verdict last month.

To convince the jury that Hunter Biden was actively using drugs around October 2018, prosecutors laid bare the broken relationships and desperate measures he took to access drugs, through testimony of people close to him and, at times, with his own words. Prosecutors have also showed the laptop Hunter Biden left at a Delaware computer repair shop in 2019 – infamously at the center of many GOP attacks on the president and his son – and have used text messages pulled from the computer to make the case that Hunter was using drugs when he bought the gun.

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On the first day of testimony, prosecutors played clips from the audiobook recording of Hunter’s 2021 memoir “Beautiful Things.” For nearly an hour, jurors, several of whom had lost loved ones to addiction, listened as Hunter described the depths of his addiction, from being ripped off by fellow drug addicts to roaming homeless encampments in Los Angeles to buy crack.

The most emotional parts of the trial involved the testimony from those closest to Hunter Biden, including his daughter Naomi, his ex-girlfriend and his brother’s widow Hallie Biden and his ex-wife, Kathleen Buhle.

Though the questions they faced were aimed at determining whether Hunter was using drugs in 2018, the effect Hunter’s drug use had on their own lives was inescapable.

On the third day of the trial, prosecutors called Buhle, who was married to Hunter for more than two decades until their divorce was finalized in 2017, to the stand. She testified about drugs and paraphernalia she found in Hunter’s car multiple times, including in 2018, when she would check it before their daughters used the vehicle.

Buhle, who was ordered to testify under a subpoena, told the court that she learned of Hunter Biden’s drug use in 2015. He moved out of their home after she discovered a crack pipe, but the couple didn’t officially separate until she learned of his infidelity. The two did not interact while she was in the courtroom.

Hallie Biden, who was dating Hunter Biden at the time he bought the gun, was another key witness for the prosecution. The two grew close in the wake of Beau Biden’s death and publicly announced their relationship in March 2017. President Biden said in a statement on behalf of himself and his wife that Hunter and Hallie had their “full and complete support and we are happy for them.”

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Their complicated on-and-off again relationship is at the center of the charges. Hallie Biden took the gun Hunter Biden is accused of illegally possessing out of his car and tossed it in a dumpster near a Wilmington, Delaware, grocery store. She testified that Hunter Biden introduced her to crack in 2018 and she abused the drug until quitting in August 2018. She said that she encouraged him to get sober.

“It was a terrible experience that I went through,” she told the court. “I’m embarrassed, and I’m ashamed and I regret that period of my life.”

Critically, she testified that on October 23, she found the gun and drugs as she cleaned out Hunter Biden’s truck.

Abbe Lowell, Hunter Biden’s lawyer, stressed the importance of his client’s frame of mind when he made the purchase and whether he “knowingly” violated the law when he bought the gun. Lowell connected Hunter’s addiction to the string of tragedies that have defined him and the family for decades, including the accident that killed his mother and sister.

If Hallie Biden was the prosecution’s star witness, the defense hoped that Naomi Biden, Hunter Biden’s daughter, would help blunt the impact of her testimony.

Naomi Biden described a visit she took to see her father in the summer of 2018 while he was in rehab in Los Angeles after not seeing him “in a really long time,” she said. She brought her partner, now husband, to meet him.

“He seemed like the clearest he had been since my uncle died,” she told the court. “He seemed really great.”

Naomi Biden also testified that she didn’t see evidence of drug use in her father’s car when she borrowed it in October 2018. She said he seemed clear headed when they met up and she was “hopeful” about his sobriety efforts. Prosecutors, however, confronted Naomi with a series of texts from the time, when Hunter Biden seemed difficult to reach.

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“I’m really sorry dad I can’t take this,” she texted her father, adding that she just wanted to “hang out with you.”

After her testimony, Naomi Biden was seen wiping away tears as she left the courtroom.

For many, both inside and outside the courtroom, Hunter’s struggles with addiction and the toll it has taken on the family were deeply familiar. Several of the jurors said they knew people who had struggled with addiction.

During jury selection, potential jurors grew emotional at times as they described relatives who had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction and tried to get sober. One said her parents’ alcohol addiction would help her understand Hunter’s case better. Another, who prosecutors objected to, said his daughter is a recovering addict and “everyone deserves a second chance.”

Weathering adversity together has become part of the Biden brand. The president has not shied away from supporting Hunter Biden over the years, even as he’s faced legal troubles over his taxes and the gun charges, or as House Republicans attempt to use his son’s business dealings against him. That family support has been on full display in court, where he has been surrounded by family members: his stepmother, first lady Dr. Jill Biden; his sister Ashley Biden; his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden; his aunt, Valerie Biden; and various longtime family friends. President Biden wasn’t in the courtroom, but made clear where he stood as the trial began.

“I am the President, but I am also a Dad,” Biden said in a statement at the start of the trial. “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.”

Last week, the president ruled out pardoning his son.

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