Politics

President offers love and pride for his son's addiction recovery after Hunter Biden's guilty verdict

WILMINGTON, Del. — (AP) — President Joe Biden kept his distance from the courtroom where his son Hunter Biden stood trial on felony gun charges to avoid any appearance of meddling but his quick statement reacting to the jury's guilty verdict Tuesday spoke to where his heart has been all along.

“Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today,” Biden wrote. “So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery.”

Biden aides and allies have privately worried about the toll a guilty verdict would take on the 81-year-old president, for whom personal loss has been closely intertwined with his public life. They say the president is less worried about any personal political cost he might incur and more concerned as the father of a son who is only a few years removed from the throes of severe drug addiction.

Joe Biden left Washington for his Delaware home on Tuesday afternoon, where Hunter Biden, his wife Melissa and their toddler Beau awaited the president on the tarmac. Joe Biden gave his son a big hug, and hugged Melissa, too. He ran his hand through Beau’s hair and kissed the top of his head, the president's emotions clear on his face. The family lingered on the tarmac for a few minutes before they got into separate cars and headed to the residence.

Joe Biden had spent more time than usual in Wilmington while the trial was underway, part of a family show of support for Hunter. He departs for Italy on Wednesday morning to attend the Group of Seven summit.

Federal law grants Hunter Biden Secret Service protection unless he declines it. While the Secret Service conducts routine background investigations on those who come in close contact with the president, the conviction would not impact his ability to be near his father.

It was clear that the president's son's legal drama had caused at least some confusion at the White House. After the verdict was announced, the White House canceled press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s scheduled briefing and announced that Biden would helicopter to Wilmington, Delaware, for the unplanned overnight visit with his family. A bus with Biden staff and reporters drove with lights and sirens from the White House in an effort to meet the president's arrival in Wilmington.

The verdict came shortly before the president delivered a speech on his administration’s efforts to limit gun violence and toughen enforcement of gun laws at a conference hosted by the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund in Washington. Biden called for tougher rules on gun purchases in his remarks, without giving any mention of the conviction of his son on firearms charges hours earlier.

First lady Jill Biden was in the courtroom nearly every day — and made a 24-hour commute back from France to be there for testimony on Friday — but she just missed being there when the verdict came down on Tuesday. She arrived back to the courthouse just minutes after the foreperson three times intoned "guilty." A collection of other family members were there throughout the trial.

The president himself did not attend court but was closely following the proceedings, with updates often coming from the first lady. Yet, every day as Hunter Biden arrived to the courthouse, he passed a portrait of his father hanging on the wall as he walked through the doors.

Hunter Biden, in his own statement, like his father spoke to family ties and the process of recovery.

“I am more grateful today for the love and support I experienced this last week from Melissa, my family, my friends, and my community than I am disappointed by the outcome," Hunter Biden said in a statement, mentioning his wife first. "Recovery is possible by the grace of God, and I am blessed to experience that gift one day at a time.”

The trial was a highly personal tour of Hunter Biden's drug use and mistakes. Jurors listened to hours of testimony from Hunter Biden's ex-wife, a former girlfriend and his brother's widow, who between them painted a picture of strip club trips, infidelity, habitual crack use and their failed efforts to help him get clean. Jurors saw images of the president's son bare-chested and disheveled in a filthy room and half-naked holding crack pipes. And they watched a video of his crack cocaine being weighed on a scale.

Prosecutors argued the evidence was necessary to prove to jurors that the 54-year-old was in the throes of addiction when he bought the gun, and therefore lied on a gun-purchase form when he said he was not illegally using or addicted to drugs.

“The evidence was personal. It was ugly, and it was overwhelming,” prosecutor Leo Wise argued. “It was also absolutely necessary.”

Wise encouraged jurors during deliberations to weigh the evidence. Then he swept his hand across the room, directing them to look at the gallery and the clutch of Biden family members seated in the courtroom.

“All of this is not evidence,” he said. “People sitting in the gallery are not evidence.”

Tuesday's verdict, meanwhile, hardly ends the first son's legal problems. He's likely to be sentenced sometime before the November presidential election, and his lawyers have suggested he may appeal the verdict. And he's set to stand trial in September in California on federal tax fraud charges.

Even Republican critics acknowledged the pain for the Biden family.

“Anybody who has a child, I have children of my own, anybody who has children, this is devastating to them,” said Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa.

___

AP writer Aamer Madhani contributed to this report from Wilmington, Delaware. AP's Dan Huff contributed to this report.

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