4 big takeaways from 1st day of testimony in Hunter Biden's gun trial

Messages from the infamous laptop were among the evidence introduced Tuesday.

ByLucien Bruggeman ABCNews logo
Wednesday, June 5, 2024
Prosecutors play audio of Hunter Biden reading his memoir to set scene at his federal gun trial
Hunter Biden has been charged with three felonies stemming from the purchase of the Colt revolver when he was, according to his memoir, addicted to crack.

WILMINGTON, Delaware -- Testimony in the gun trial of Hunter Biden began Tuesday as jurors for the first time heard the president's son describe in his own voice the years he spent battling "nonstop" drug addiction.

The younger Biden faces three counts of lying on a federal form about his drug use to procure a firearm in 2018, and attorneys for the two parties on Tuesday established the central question confronting jurors: whether he "knowingly" lied.

Multiple Biden family members attended the proceedings for a second day in a row, including first lady Jill Biden and President Joe Biden's daughter, Ashley Biden. In the coming days, several other Bidens are expected to take the witness stand, including Hunter Biden's ex-wife, his brother's widow, his uncle, and perhaps even his daughter.

Testimony resumes Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. ET.

Here are four big takeaways from Day 2 of the proceedings.

Contours of the case take shape

Government prosecutors and defense counsel sparred in opening statements Tuesday morning about whether Hunter Biden knowingly lied on a federal gun form -- the act underpinning the three felony counts he now faces.

Prosecutor Derek Hines told jurors they should make "no distinction for Hunter Biden or anybody else" as they weigh the case against the president's son. Biden is on trial "because he chose to lie" on the ATF Form 4473 about his drug use.

"No one is allowed to lie on a federal form like that," Hines said. "Not even Hunter Biden."

Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Biden, rebutted the premise that Hunter Biden "knowingly" lied, suggesting instead that his client misunderstood the form and was not actively abusing drugs at the time.

RELATED: Prosecutors spend first day of testimony in Hunter Biden's gun trial detailing his drug problems

"He did not knowingly violate these laws," Lowell said, since there was "nothing on the form about the definition of a user."

Lowell told the jury that Hunter Biden was using alcohol at the time of the gun purchase, but that his drug use "did not start until later." During the time in 2018 that Hunter Biden was in Delaware, where he purchased the gun, his behavior was "totally inconsistent" with how he presented when he was on drugs.

"He spoke with his father, his uncle, his daughters," Lowell said, suggesting they would have noticed if he was "smoking crack every 15 minutes," in the manner that Hunter Biden described in his memoir, "Beautiful Things."

"There is no such thing as a high-functioning crack addict," Lowell told jurors.

Hunter Biden is heard in his own words

Hunter Biden may never take the witness stand in his own defense -- but that did not prevent jurors from hearing his voice.

Prosecutors played excerpts from the audiobook of Hunter Biden's memoir -- which Hunter Biden himself narrated -- over booming loudspeakers in the courtroom for jurors to hear. His words depicted in vivid detail his "nonstop debauchery" as a crack addict in early 2018, just months before he purchased the Colt Cobra firearm.

Hunter Biden, in the audio excerpts, described a "crack-filled cross-country odyssey" in 2017 and recounted how his abuse of crack ramped up to the point where he was using it "every hour, every day."

It wasn't just jurors who heard Hunter Biden's painful memories. His family -- wife, stepmother, and half-sister -- also listened from their seats in the gallery. First lady Jill Biden and her daughter Ashley Biden sat shoulder-to-shoulder for much of the day, often leaning their heads against one another.

At one point, as Hunter Biden recalled a particularly debaucherous 12-day "roll" in Los Angeles, the first lady lifted her left arm and draped it around her daughter's shoulders.

Prosecutors also introduced several text messages into evidence, including one Hunter Biden sent to his brother's widow, Hallie Biden, as their romantic relationship was falling apart.

"I'm liar and a thief, and a blamer and a user, and I'm delusional and an addict, unlike the beyond and above all addicts that you know, and I've ruined every relationship that I've ever cherished," he wrote.

Infamous laptop introduced into evidence

Prosecutors introduced into evidence the infamous laptop that emerged in the news ahead of the 2020 presidential election, after Hunter Biden allegedly left it with a Wilmington, Delaware, computer repairman.

Attorneys for Hunter Biden had previously attempted to preclude the laptop as evidence in the trial, arguing that they have "numerous reasons to believe the data had been altered and compromised before investigators obtained the electronic material." But special counsel David Weiss argued in court filings that attorneys for Hunter Biden had not "provided any evidence or information that shows that his laptop contains false information," and the judge agreed to admit it as evidence.

With that in context mind, prosecutors said they cross-referenced every email, WhatsApp message, iMessage, and text message they found with Apple Inc. to establish the credibility of the data.

RELATED: What to know about the federal gun trial Hunter Biden faces this week

"Ultimately, in examining that laptop, were investigators able to confirm that it was Hunter Biden's laptop?" Hines asked FBI witness Erika Jensen.

"Yes," she replied.

Jensen explained that investigators identified a serial number on the laptop that "matches the Apple subpoena records ... of this particular device to the iCloud account at a particular date."

Prosecutors also showed jurors an invoice for $85 from the Wilmington computer repair shop where Hunter Biden dropped off the laptop for repair, which had been sent to an email address belonging to Hunter Biden.

Biden family members could take stand next

The trial will resume Wednesday when Jensen continues her cross-examination. Lowell said he had at least one additional topic to cover before turning her back over to the government.

After Jensen, prosecutors suggested that Hallie Biden, the widow of Hunter Biden's brother Beau Biden, would take the stand next, followed by Hunter Biden's ex-wife Kathleen Buhle.

Lowell on Tuesday also said that James Biden, the president's brother, would take the stand for the defense -- as might one of his Hunter Biden's daughters.