Home U.S. News Garland Appoints Weiss as Special Counsel in Hunter Biden Inquiry

Garland Appoints Weiss as Special Counsel in Hunter Biden Inquiry

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Garland Appoints Weiss as Special Counsel in Hunter Biden Inquiry

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Friday elevated the federal prosecutor investigating President Biden’s son Hunter to the status of special counsel after negotiations to revive a plea agreement on tax and gun charges foundered — a signal that the yearslong inquiry has entered a new and unpredictable stage.

Mr. Garland, who made the announcement at the Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington, named David C. Weiss, the U.S. attorney in Delaware who has handled the case since 2018, as special counsel. Around the same time, prosecutors filed court papers indicating that they had reached an impasse with defense lawyers over a proposed plea deal that would have settled tax and gun charges against Hunter Biden, making clear that Mr. Biden might now face a new criminal indictment and a possible trial.

The announcement marked a stunning reversal: Just last month, Mr. Weiss rebutted a claim by a former Internal Revenue Service official that he had asked to be made special counsel — and Mr. Garland scoffed at the idea of appointing him to such a post, saying Mr. Weiss actually possessed more power as a sitting U.S. attorney.

But on Tuesday, Mr. Weiss — who has come under criticism after his plea deal with Mr. Biden fell apart after a contentious court hearing last month — phoned Mr. Garland to request the authority. The designation gives him the power to pursue charges in any jurisdiction he chooses without seeking the cooperation of local federal prosecutors.

Mr. Weiss said the investigation had now “reached the stage” where the powers of a special counsel were necessary to continue, Mr. Garland said.

“The appointment of Mr. Weiss reinforces for the American people the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters,” Mr. Garland said. “I am confident that Mr. Weiss will carry out his responsibility in an evenhanded and urgent manner and in accordance with the highest traditions of this department.”

Mr. Weiss becomes the third special counsel appointed since Mr. Garland took office in March 2021, joining Jack Smith, who is overseeing the investigations in former President Donald J. Trump, and Robert K. Hur, who is examining President Biden’s retention of sensitive documents from his tenure as vice president.

The announcement means that while Mr. Trump, who is leading the Republican primary, will be dogged by three — possibly four — criminal cases as he runs for president, the elder Biden’s supporters will have to worry about both the special counsel investigation into classified documents and whether the case against his son will become more serious.

Mr. Weiss plans to remain as the top prosecutor in Delaware, but could hire additional staff in Delaware, Washington and other jurisdictions, according to the two people with knowledge of the matter.

As special counsel, he would not be subject to day-to-day supervision by any official at the department, but would be required to inform Mr. Garland and his team of any major developments and decisions in the matter, according to federal regulations.

Perhaps most important, Mr. Weiss would be required to submit a comprehensive report of his findings to Mr. Garland, who said he intended to release as much of that document as he could, within the confines of department policy.

Mr. Garland did not take any questions at his news conference. Several reporters shouted versions of the same to query as he walked away: Did he still have confidence in Mr. Weiss after the failure of the plea agreement, which would have resulted in no prison time for the president’s son?

The appointment on Friday all but ensures that a yearslong investigation into a wide array of conduct in Hunter Biden’s life — including his foreign business dealings, drug use and taxes — will continue even longer. The investigation appeared to be coming to an end weeks ago, until a federal judge in Delaware refused to approve the proposed plea deal.

The decision is likely to anger the president and Democrats. They have privately complained about the attorney general, who they believe moved too slowly to investigate Mr. Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election and should not have appointed a different special counsel to investigate whether President Biden has mishandled classified documents.

Hunter Biden’s lawyer, Christopher Clark, said he expected “a fair resolution” to the case whether it is charged in Delaware, Washington or elsewhere.

“This U.S. attorney has diligently been investigating my client for five years, and he had proposed a resolution which we fully intend to pursue in court,” Mr. Clark said in a statement. “It is hard to see why he would have proposed such a resolution if there were other offenses he could have successfully prosecuted, and we are aware of none.”

In June, Mr. Weiss and Mr. Clark signaled that they had reached a plea deal that suggested the investigation would end. Around that time, House Republicans brought forth two I.R.S. agents who worked on the investigation and claimed that there had been political interference.

Late last month, a federal judge in Wilmington, Del., put the plea deal on hold, expressing a range of concerns until both parties addressed them. Mr. Clark and the Justice Department prosecutors overseeing the case had distinctly different understandings of the immunity Hunter Biden would receive from the deal.

House Republicans quickly signaled the special counsel appointment would not alleviate their criticism of the investigation into Hunter Biden.

“This is just a new way to whitewash the Biden family’s corruption,” said Russell Dye, a spokesman for Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “Weiss has already signed off on a sweetheart plea deal that was so awful and unfair that a federal judge rejected it.”

Speaker Kevin McCarthy said the House Republicans’ investigation will continue regardless of what the Justice Department does.

“This action by Biden’s D.O.J. cannot be used to obstruct congressional investigations or whitewash the Biden family corruption,” he wrote on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter. “If Weiss negotiated the sweetheart deal that couldn’t get approved, how can he be trusted as a Special Counsel?”

Since the announcement of the plea deal, Republicans in Congress have sharply criticized the government, accusing the Justice Department of cutting a “sweetheart deal” with the president’s son as they conduct their own investigation in an effort to tie his overseas business dealings to Mr. Biden. They have interviewed Hunter Biden’s former business partner and published summaries of WhatsApp messages and unproven allegations from an informant. They have accused the Justice Department of failing to follow tips that could lead to the president and demanded an accounting of specific steps the agency took — or did not take — in the investigation.

The two I.R.S. investigators testified before Congress against the Justice Department over its handling of the case, describing how they believed their work was stymied and delayed during the Trump and Biden presidencies.

One allegation made by the I.R.S. agents was that Mr. Weiss had sought to bring charges against Hunter Biden in Washington and California but was rebuffed after prosecutors in those jurisdictions declined to partner with him. Mr. Weiss has maintained he can obtain special attorney status to bring cases in states outside of Delaware should he make such a request of Mr. Garland.

House Republicans have also issued subpoenas to six banks, detailing millions that were paid to Hunter Biden and his business partners from overseas companies. They also interviewed a former business partner who offered an unflattering portrait of Mr. Biden’s actions.

The business partner, Devon Archer, also suggested questionable judgment on the part of President Biden, who, while vice president, repeatedly allowed himself to be in the presence — either physically or by phone — of business associates of his son’s who were apparently seeking connections and influence in government, according to Mr. Archer’s testimony.

Even so, Mr. Archer said he knew of no wrongdoing by the president.

Mr. Archer has already testified before the Delaware grand jury investigating the case and was granted immunity as part of that investigation, his lawyer said.

Chris Cameron contributed reporting.

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