Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Hunter Biden’s Former Partners Testify on His Struggles With Addiction


Two of Hunter Biden’s former romantic partners — his ex-wife and an ex-girlfriend — provided vivid, at times gut-wrenching, testimony on Wednesday about the depths of his drug addiction, grief and unsustainable spending in 2018, when he claimed to be drug-free on a federal firearms form.

In his effort to prove that Mr. Biden lied about his drug use, the special counsel in the case, David C. Weiss, called Mr. Biden’s former wife, Kathleen Buhle, who remains locked in a yearslong fight with him over alimony payments after a 24-year marriage that ended in 2017. The prosecutors have set out to use testimony from at least three women to establish that Mr. Biden was a chronic drug abuser when he applied for a handgun in 2018.

Almost all the events at issue in the trial happened in 2018, when Joseph R. Biden Jr. was out of office.

Ms. Buhle’s testimony laid bare the painful personal toll of Mr. Biden’s addiction. Speaking with emotion, she described how she would scour the family car for evidence of her husband’s crack use before allowing her daughters to use the vehicle, to ensure “they were not driving a car with drugs in it.”

In a quiet, steady voice, she chronicled her shock at finding a used crack pipe in an ashtray at the family’s house in Washington on July 3, 2015 — and how their marriage disintegrated over the next two years.

“He wasn’t himself” when he took drugs, she said. He became “angry, short-tempered” — even though he tried to hide his addiction from family and friends.

The muted mood shifted abruptly a few minutes after Ms. Buhle left the stand, when a former girlfriend, Zoe Kestan, began to testify, describing Mr. Biden as a charming free-spender who loved the party-hopping high life in New York.

Her entrance produced one of the more awkward moments in a trial already brimming with them. When Leo P. Wise, a lead prosecutor, asked her to identify Hunter Biden in the courtroom for the record, he offered an uncomfortable wave, and a fleeting smile before looking down, head in hands.

Ms. Kestan, a dark-haired dancer Mr. Biden met at a gentleman’s club in 2018, said the two immediately connected — “catching feelings,” as she put it — after she sat with him in a quiet back room and clicked on a song from Fleet Foxes, an indie rock band, on her phone, to remedy the silence.

At several points, she described wanting to help him with various attempts at sobriety, even as she said she had observed him repeatedly smoking crack — chipping off small crystals from an enormous rock she said was the size of a Ping-Pong ball.

As the riveted courtroom listened, Ms. Kestan provided a nearly cinematic rendering of their drug-fueled partying during Fashion Week in Manhattan in February 2018.

She said he withdrew enormous quantities of cash from a Wells Fargo A.T.M. in Midtown Manhattan, dispatching her to take out the money by reading her a special code sent to his phone that was valid for a few minutes.

“He used cash for a lot of things, a good amount of it was for drugs,” Ms. Kestan said.

But he also gave her $800 for another purpose — to “buy clothes for his kids” from a high-end retailer.

Under cross-examination, a lawyer for Mr. Biden, Abbe Lowell, sought to challenge Ms. Kestan’s credibility, pointing out that while she was encouraging Mr. Biden to stay clean at times, at others she was introducing him to drug dealers and helping enable his habit.

The presence of Mr. Biden’s family and friends, including his mother, Jill Biden, who appeared for the third day in a row on Wednesday, has underscored how the trial is all but certain to be a painful and personal ordeal for President Biden’s family.

Hunter Biden is charged with three felonies: lying to a federally licensed gun dealer, making a false claim on the federal firearms application and possessing an illegally obtained gun in October 2018.

If convicted, Mr. Biden could face up to 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. But nonviolent first-time offenders who have not been accused of using the weapon in another crime rarely receive serious prison time for the charges.

The government’s case turns on a relatively straightforward question: whether Mr. Biden was abusing drugs when he filled out the federal firearms application claiming he was not an “unlawful user” of controlled substances.

“Addiction may not be a choice, but lying and buying a gun is a choice,” Derek Hines, a top deputy to Mr. Weiss, told jurors on Tuesday.

Mr. Lowell said he would disprove the government’s core contention that Mr. Biden “knowingly” broke the law by answering “no” on a question asking applicants whether they were using drugs at the time they sought to purchase a gun.

In his cross-examination, Mr. Lowell sought to undercut a major weakness in the government’s case: The lack of documentary evidence, in the form of texts to drug dealers or the defendant’s written accounts, that prove he was using drugs at the precise moment he bought a gun in October 2018.

The lawyer drew a sharp distinction in the handling of the gun. After Mr. Biden bought the gun, he never loaded it, never removed it from its lockbox in his truck and never used it during the 11 days he owned it, Mr. Lowell said. It was his girlfriend at the time — Hallie Biden — who found the gun, removed it from the box, placed it in a pouch that contained drug residue and tossed it in a trash can at a nearby grocery store.

The trial is one of two that Mr. Biden faces this year. The other, expected to begin in Los Angeles in September, centers on a series of tax offenses related to Mr. Biden’s failure to file returns for a number of years.



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