Saturday, 30 September 2023

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Whistleblowers claim bias in case against US president’s son

WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES — Republicans pressed unsubstantiated claims of US government bias against conservatives on Wednesday, bringing two whistleblowers before Congress to condemn the handling of a criminal probe of President Joe Biden’s son.

Opponents of the 80-year-old Democratic leader made bitter complaints of unequal justice when Hunter Biden reached a plea deal in June to avoid jail time over unpaid taxes and false claims on a firearms application in 2017 and 2018.

The Republican-led House Oversight Committee heard from two tax agents who accused the Justice Department of “slow-walking” the case to run out the clock on some potential charges, and of putting the younger Biden “on the path to a sweetheart plea deal.”

One of the whistleblowers, Internal Revenue Service supervisor Gary Shapley, said the Justice Department had prevented the probe into 53-year-old Biden from building a bigger case, although lead prosecutor David Weiss denies this.

Shapley said Weiss, a Delaware-based US attorney appointed by then-president Donald Trump in 2018, was denied “special counsel” status that would have allowed him to pursue more serious charges in Washington DC and California.

He alleges that Weiss said in an October 2022 meeting he was not authorized to make final charging decisions in the case.

Shapley, who first raised the allegations before a separate committee earlier this year, brought up multiple occasions when he said prosecutors had voiced hesitation about taking actions that might influence the 2020 election.

Fellow whistleblower Joseph Ziegler, a 13-year IRS special agent with the Criminal Investigation Division, echoed Shapley’s concerns.

“It appeared to me, based on what I experienced, that the US Attorney in Delaware in our investigation was constantly hamstrung, limited, and marginalized by DOJ officials as well as other US attorneys,” Ziegler said.

Political cover

The case made by Republicans has been undermined, however, by Weiss’s repeated denials of the allegations. Parts of the complaints date back to 2020 in any case, when Trump was still president.

Weiss says he never sought special counsel status and Attorney General Merrick Garland has told Congress that the Delaware prosecutor had full latitude to pursue any charges he wished, in any venue.

Some Republicans have argued that the differing accounts make an impeachment inquiry into Garland necessary, but Democrats counter that internal disagreements among investigators of the type outlined by the whistleblowers are commonplace.

Hunter Biden’s business dealings, especially during the time his father was vice president, have been a major target of Joe Biden’s political opponents, and continue to be probed by congressional Republicans.

The hearing was part of a wider campaign by Republicans to convince voters that the federal government is “weaponized” against Biden’s adversaries and conservatives more broadly.

Democrats say probes into Biden’s family and administration — which have yet to turn up evidence of wrongdoing by the president — are designed to give political cover to Trump, who is running for reelection but faces prosecution on multiple fronts.

The twice-impeached former president said on Tuesday he expected an imminent indictment in the Justice Department’s probe into the 2021 Capitol insurrection and the broader plot to subvert his election defeat to Biden.

Hunter Biden — who has admitted having drug problems in the past, is the only surviving child of Joe Biden’s first marriage, which ended tragically in 1972 when his wife and baby daughter were killed in a car accident.

He is due to appear in court on 26 July after agreeing to plead guilty to two federal tax charges and admitting to illegally possessing a gun despite having a history of drug use.


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