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Takeaways from Day 1 of Hunter Biden’s firearms trial

It was impossible to escape the presence of the first family, their influence and their long history hovering over the courtroom.

The Biden family members seated in a court in Wilmington, Delaware, for the start of Hunter Biden’s gun trial Monday share many of the hardships as the jurors who will weigh the fate of the president’s son. Hunter Biden is himself a former drug addict, on trial accused of illegal gun possession and making false statements. He is divorced and remarried. He has experienced death, as when his brother died of a brain tumor in 2015.

Hunter Biden is also the president’s son, a distinction that was impossible to ignore as, time and again, jurors name-dropped members of the Biden family during jury selection or coyly conceded that, yes, they had once donated to a political campaign — and yes — it had been to the “Bidens.”

Peering over peach-colored eyeglasses, Biden sat upright as dozens of potential jurors filed through U.S District Judge Maryellen Noreika’s court during an at times grueling selection process. Noon had passed when Hunter’s lead attorney, Abbe Lowell, gently asked, “For the schedule, are we thinking, I forget if there was supposed to be a lunch break today or not?”

Seated behind him were not only the attorneys, reporters and sketch artists who typically fill the courtroom in high-profile cases but also first lady Jill Biden, who embraced her son, his half-sister and even his son-in-law.

It was a gripping scene in a historic case in which the president’s son could face up to 25 years in jail. The first lady described the charges as “cruel” in an interview with MSNBC this year. She sat directly behind her son, eyeing the proceedings closely and offering support to him and other family members.

At times, she shook her head, as she did when a former police officer, a potential juror, described following the case in the news. The first lady also at times placed an arm around Melissa Cohen Biden, Hunter’s wife.

“We’ll be here tomorrow,” Cohen Biden mouthed quietly to the defense party at the end of the day.

Here’s what you missed on Day 1 of Hunter Biden’s trial:

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Jury sworn in

As voir dire began Monday morning, dozens of potential jurors were in the benches of Noreika’s courtroom. By its close, a jury of 12 — six men and six women — and four alternates had been sworn in. The group included an Obama voter, gun owners and people who have seen addiction up close.

The jurors — who said they get their news from a mix of sources, including broadcast, cable and even YouTube — are barred from researching and talking about the case. That includes one impaneled juror who relayed that she learned the trial would be underway from her father early Monday en route to the courthouse.

Noreika told the panel to ignore targeted advertisements, or pop-up ads, as they use the internet, warning that “even foreign governments” may seek to “influence” or “persuade” them during the trial.

During the selection process, Lowell parsed jurors’ personal views about firearms, including whether they felt it appropriate for drug users or alcoholics to ever have access to them. Lowell also sought clarity about what exactly people who expressed some knowledge of the case understood — and where they got their news from.

If they or family members had purchased guns, they were asked about whether they had been walked through background checks. Biden faces three criminal counts related to his purchase of a gun in which he did not reveal his drug addiction.

A potential juror grew prickly after she recounted having learned “there was supposed to be a deal” in the case last year, “then the deal wasn’t accepted by the judge.” Lowell suggested she was equivocating about whether she could be impartial and moved to strike her for cause.

“When you say you think you could be fair and impartial, that gives people heartburn,” Lowell said. “I know she corrected herself afterwards, and then she said, ‘I guess.’”

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Another potential juror who vowed to be impartial talked about believing U.S. government agencies such as the Justice Department and the FBI had pursued politicized cases, including those involving former President Donald Trump, and cited the so-called Steele dossier and Trump’s recent conviction in a hush money case in New York. That person was not chosen.

Biden family shows up

Before Biden stepped foot in court Monday, a powerful quorum of allies and family members stood ready to surround and support him. First to arrive were Hunter’s half-sister, Ashley, and Kevin Morris, an entertainment lawyer who is helping to pay Biden’s legal fees.

Peter Neal, Biden’s son-in-law, swapped notes on a legal pad with Morris. Morris could be seen writing on sticky notes that he handed off to the defense. There was also Jack Owens, Biden’s brother-in-law, duly recognized by a potential juror who tended a bar that Owens, the brother of Joe Biden’s sister, Valerie, would frequent in nearby Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

Joe Biden’s longtime friend Richard “Mouse” Smith, the president of Delaware’s NAACP branch, was also among the group’s ranks. Smith, who has known the president since they met at a Delaware pool as teenagers, embraced Hunter Biden during a break in the morning proceedings.

A source familiar said to expect a “steady stream” of friends and family in attendance throughout the trial.

Also present was David Weiss, the Trump-appointed special counsel, who arrived in the courtroom after the first break and was present until the end. He observed the room, looking up at either the ceiling or the jury or at the media.

It was impossible to miss the contrast to Trump, whose high-profile aides and defenders flooded into the courtroom behind him at his New York hush money trial last month. Days passed before members of Trump’s family joined him in the courtroom of Judge Juan Merchan, who presided over that case. Melania Trump, his wife, never appeared.

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Delaware degrees of separation

A former police officer described himself as an acquaintance of Jill Biden’s from their time working at the same school. “And I’ve met her husband,” added the man, who was not impaneled.

Asked what he knew about the case, another man said Delaware was not a place where local news slips under the radar. “I live in Delaware; you can’t swing a cat without hearing something,” he said.

Others claimed to be more closely associated with the Biden family, not merely passing colleagues but family friends, the sort you might say “hello” to socially, a woman said. She added that her husband was “very good friends with Beau,” Hunter Biden’s late brother, as she choked up.

Another juror, who described playing a squash tournament at Wilmington Country Club with Beau Biden in 2010, said he had coached Beau’s son “a couple of times” in baseball, basketball and flag football. His wife is also “very friendly” with Hallie Biden, Beau Biden’s widow, because of their connection from a private college preparatory school in the area, he said.

“The connection at Tatnall School is strong,” the man said. He conceded the connection would make it difficult for him to be impartial.

Sometimes, that familiarity was more pedestrian, such as when a potential juror who was struck told Lowell about his familiarity with the location of the grocery store where Hunter Biden’s gun was found.

But it was impossible to escape the presence of the first family, their influence and their long history hovering over the courtroom.

At one point, Noreika repeated a statement made by a woman who said she sort of knew the Bidens and felt for Hunter: “You don’t think it’s easy being the president’s son?”

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