Hunter Biden Trial Day 2: Lawyers offer dueling narratives of addiction and recovery in opening statements

WILMINGTON, Del. — In a cadence that at times evoked a fish gasping for air, a lead prosecutor for the special counsel, Derek Hines, worked Tuesday to hammer into place the government’s narrative that Hunter Biden was a high-functioning drug addict who lied to friends and family and ultimately broke the law when he checked a box on a government background check form that he was not a drug user during the purchase of a handgun in 2018.

Hines leaned heavily on Hunter’s own words to characterize his habits and addiction leading up to and after the purchase, later bringing in the prosecution’s first witness, an FBI agent, who explained how the government authenticated key pieces of evidence, including files extracted from a laptop Biden abandoned at a Wilmington computer repair shop.

Several jurors took notes as the prosecution played excerpts from Biden’s 2021 memoir, “Beautiful Things,” including a retelling of his first attempt to buy crack cocaine from a homeless woman in Franklin Park in Washington, D.C.

Yet that telling came under repeated stress.

Tensions also rose early in the day outside of the proceedings as Hunter’s wife, Melissa Cohen-Biden, approached former Trump White House aide Garett Ziegler in the hallway outside the courtroom. Gesturing towards him, Cohen-Biden pointed her finger and said, “You have no right to be here, you Nazi piece of s—.”

Ziegler has disseminated data from a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden that documented, in vivid detail, scenes from the throes of his addiction — some of which have now materialized as evidence against him.

Here’s what you missed on Day 2 of the trial:

Dueling narratives

Arguing that the prosecution’s heavy-handed timeline was focused everywhere but the critical period — barely more than one week — during which Biden owned the gun, and whether he knowingly lied when he attested to not using drugs, his attorney, Abbe Lowell, replayed key events from Hines’ account offering a counter-narrative that delicately unpicked the government’s stitching and rewove it into a story of a man in recovery who was prodded into the rushed firearm purchase at the center of the historic case against him.

Lowell spoke to the jurors directly as he walked them through these moments: Bored as he awaited the processing of a new cellphone, Hunter Biden ambled into a store with “an interesting name” where a salesman and self-described “whale hunter” approached, and ultimately “led” the president’s son to buy a Colt Cobra revolver, as well as ammo, a speed loader (to alleviate the “downside” of having to load every cartridge individually) and even a BB gun.

Lowell indicated that Biden was rushed to finalize the sale, which necessitated the completion of the background form, with more than a dozen checkboxes, at the center of the case.

The salesman’s associate “also wanted to get this sale done as quickly as he could,” Lowell said.

Days later, upon learning that his brother’s widow had recovered the firearm from his truck, throwing it in a trash can “in front of Janssen’s grocery store,” Biden immediately sought to retrieve it.

Lowell argued that Biden’s decision to stow the truck at her home overnight instead of the Best Western where he was staying showed foresight as he prepared to drive to Washington the next day to see his daughter, Maisy Biden.

“This is not a place that you would consider leaving a good truck to be broken into and especially if you knew there was a gun locked in its steel case inside,” said Lowell. Later, Lowell said that Biden only opened its lock box once after buying the gun.

In the government’s telling, Biden was still an addict when the gun was purchased and thrown in a trash can, and Hines showed the jury how Biden texted Hallie Biden, the widow of his brother Beau, in disbelief: “The f—ing FBI … It’s hard to believe anyone is that stupid … who in their right mind would trust you would help me get sober?”

By Lowell’s account, when Hunter texted Hallie the day after he bought the gun that he was “off MD avenue … waiting for a dealer named Mookie,” and a day later that he was “sleeping on a car smoking crack on 4th Street and Rodney,” it was because the relationship had frayed and not, Lowell implied, because Biden was necessarily doing those things.

Lowell also said that it was not unusual for Biden to withdraw large sums of cash. And he worked to distance Biden from prosecutors’ discovery of cocaine on the pouch in which the gun was found.

“It was Hallie,” with whom Hunter was in the midst of an “intense” relationship, “and not Hunter” who had placed the gun, bullets and loader into a bag from her home that, when prosecutors tested it years later, showed cocaine residue, Lowell said.

Tensions over evidence

Judge Maryellen Noreika dealt the defense blow after blow in quick succession, overruling Lowell’s attempt to admit into evidence several exhibits that seemed to call the defense’s account of events into question, including a video pulled from Biden’s phone

The first, a text message from Hallie to Biden, explained how she discovered the gun.

“It was opened, unlocked, and windows down, and the kids search your car,” Hines read into the court record.

Noreika also moved to admit a redacted version of a video that showed Biden “unclothed” that the defense argued should be withheld because it was dated after the alleged crime.

“No need for commentary,” the judge said. “All right, it’s admitted.”

Moments later, the judge admitted a December 2018 message into evidence in which Biden used a vulgar term to call Hallie “selfish” and “self-righteous” and said she “actually truly works against my getting sober,” before adding, “I’ll f—— get sober when I want to get f—— sober.”

Later, Lowell pressed the prosecution’s first witness, FBI agent Erika Jensen on whether Biden held the same furious back-and-forth exchanges with drug dealers that Hines had shown the jury from periods of Biden’s binges. The witness could not say.

The exchange played for the jury “was four or five months” before Biden purchased the gun, Jansen said.

“On the 13th, before you turn to a different date, that doesn’t say anything about drugs that day, does it?” Lowell said, referring to messages between Biden and Hallie the day after he bought the gun. “I’m looking at the 13th just as an example.”

Special counsel David Weiss observed the proceedings from the corner of the room, his eyes fixed on Lowell.

Image: hunter biden day 2 (Matt Slocum / AP)Image: hunter biden day 2 (Matt Slocum / AP)

Image: hunter biden day 2 (Matt Slocum / AP)

During cross-examination, the defense attorney also probed prosecutors’ reliance on Biden’s account in his memoir of a “relapse” to suggest he was taking drugs again. Jansen could not definitively say whether Biden was talking about a drug or alcohol relapse. She agreed that Biden had made many liquor store purchases during October 2018.

Yet Biden appeared upbeat, greeting one reporter in the courtroom with a fist bump and later joking to another that she was a “troublemaker.”

Biden and his wife hugged and kissed each time they passed each other during breaks in the proceedings.

Jurors sit through testimony surrounding addiction

Lowell reminded the jurors they had “promised to be fair and impartial, consider all the evidence carefully, and follow the law and the rules.”

You must hear every shred of evidence before you make up your minds, “not just start with the idea that if the prosecutors brought those charges, they might be right,” he said.

He said they would have to check “not guilty” on a verdict form today because of the presumption of innocence. 

One juror wore a look of bemusement as Hines delivered the prosecution’s opening statements. That expression faded after more than an hour of replaying an excerpt from Biden’s memoir read by him aloud and detailing his drug binges. Other jurors held their faces in their hands. One woman closed her eyes and another man looked up at the ceiling.

Elsewhere in the room, allies of the defense, closer to President Joe Biden’s age than his son’s, gazed straight ahead or looked toward the floor.

Biden’s abandoned laptop

Cohen-Biden began shaking her head as soon as Hines held up the laptop and, at times, exchanged whispers with Kevin Morris — an entertainment lawyer who is helping to pay Hunter Biden’s legal fees and who was seated next to her. She continued to shake her head as Jensen explained how the FBI extracted data from the laptop and what the data showed.

Biden displayed little emotion as images and text messages that were taken in the throes of his addiction appeared before him.

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