President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden has been indicted by special counsel David Weiss on felony gun charges.
The charges bring renewed legal pressure on the younger Biden after a plea agreement he struck with prosecutors imploded in recent months.
The younger Biden has been charged with two counts related to false statements in purchasing the firearm and a third count of illegally obtaining a firearm while addicted to drugs. The two counts of making false statements carry sentences of up to 10 years and five years, respectively, while the possession charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years.
Prosecutors have spent years scrutinizing Hunter Biden's business endeavors and personal life -- a probe that appeared to culminate in a plea agreement the two sides struck in June, which would have allowed him to plead guilty to a pair of misdemeanor tax offenses and enter into a pretrial diversion program to avoid prosecution on a felony gun charge.
But that deal fell apart during a court hearing in July after U.S. Judge Maryellen Noreika expressed concern over the structure of the agreement and questioned the breadth of an immunity deal, exposing fissures between the two parties.
Weeks later, on Aug. 11, Attorney General Merrick Garland elevated Weiss, who was originally appointed by then-President Donald Trump, to special counsel, granting him broader authority to press charges against Hunter Biden in any district in the country.
Prosecutors subsequently informed the court that a new round of negotiations had reached "an impasse," and attorneys for Hunter Biden accused Weiss' office of "reneging" on their agreement.
Thursday's charge is unlikely to be the last. Weiss also withdrew the two misdemeanor tax charges in Delaware with the intention of bringing them in California and Washington, D.C. -- the venues where the alleged misconduct occurred. Prosecutors have not offered a timeline for those charges.
Hunter Biden's legal team maintains that the pretrial diversion agreement, which was signed by prosecutors, remains in effect. Weiss' team said the probation officer never signed it, rendering it null and void.
"As expected, prosecutors filed charges today that they deemed were not warranted just six weeks ago following a five-year investigation into this case," said Hunter Biden attorney Abbe Lowell in a statement. "We believe these charges are barred by the agreement the prosecutors made with Mr. Biden, the recent rulings by several federal courts that this statute is unconstitutional, and the facts that he did not violate that law, and we plan to demonstrate all of that in court."
The conduct described in Weiss' indictment dates back to October of 2018, when Hunter Biden procured a gun despite later acknowledging in his memoir, "Beautiful Things," that he was addicted to drugs around that time.
According to prosecutors, Biden obtained a Colt Cobra 38SPL revolver and lied on a federal form about his drug use. In documents filed by prosecutors as part of that ill-fated plea deal, prosecutors wrote that Hunter Biden abused crack cocaine on a near-daily basis.
And while the statute is clear -- it is a crime to lie on a gun application form or to possess a firearm as a drug user -- legal experts have said prosecutors could face headwinds.
A federal appeals court in New Orleans recently ruled that drug use alone should not automatically prevent someone from obtaining a gun. That ruling is not binding, since the Fifth Circuit does not cover Delaware.
But Lowell recently suggested that it could play into his defense.
"If people have paid attention, the only law that's changed [since the plea deal dissolved] has been a court of appeals in the federal system that has called that statute unconstitutional," Lowell said earlier this month in an interview on MSNBC.
Lowell also claimed that federal prosecutors in Delaware have never used this particular statute as a "standalone" crime, without attaching it to an additional charge.
While Hunter Biden's future remains uncertain, one immediate implication of Weiss' charge is clear: the elder Biden will head into the 2024 election season once again dogged by his son's legal tribulations.
The president's political foes have latched onto Hunter's overseas business dealings to level allegations depicting the entire Biden family as corrupt, despite uncovering no clear evidence to date indicating that Joe Biden profited from or meaningfully endorsed his son's work.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday said he would initiate an impeachment inquiry against President Biden over his alleged role in his son's influence-peddling. The White House has called the move "extreme politics at its worst," adding that "the president hasn't done anything wrong."
"Today's charges are a very small start, but unless U.S. Attorney Weiss investigates everyone involved in the fraud schemes and influence peddling, it will be clear President Biden's DOJ is protecting Hunter Biden and the big guy," James Comer, one of the lead committee chairs now overseeing Republicans'' impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, said in a statement to ABC News, referencing unproven allegations against Hunter Biden and his father.