Hunter Biden plea deal: Are Republicans right that he got a 'slap on the wrist'?

Republican leaders contrasted Biden's arrangement with the charges facing Donald Trump and say the president's son got favorable treatment from prosecutors.

Hunter Biden.
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Republicans are criticizing the plea deal Hunter Biden made with the Justice Department, arguing that he got off easy while former President Trump faces federal charges that they say are politically motivated.

"If you are the president's leading political opponent, the DOJ tries to literally put you in jail and give you prison time. If you are the president's son, you get a sweetheart deal," House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters.

Rep. James Comer, the Republican in charge of the House Oversight Committee, likewise compared Hunter Biden’s punishment to “a slap on the wrist.”

Some Republicans made claims that went far beyond any facts.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., tweeted that Hunter Biden “probably won’t do a day of time — while DOJ charges Trump as a spy and tries to put him in prison forever.”

Hawley’s claim that Trump is being “charged as a spy” is, at best, an exaggeration. While Trump has been charged under the Espionage Act for retaining secret documents after leaving the presidency and refusing to hand them back to the government, he has not been accused of spying.

It’s also unclear whether Trump would face any jail time at all, even if convicted of a crime. Other federal employees convicted of similar crimes in recent years have faced, on average, just over four years in prison. A former president, however, is no average federal employee.

Hawley’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Comparing Hunter Biden and Trump

Donald Trump with his defense team.
Former President Donald Trump with his defense team during his arraignment in New York City on April 4. (Seth Wenig/AP/Bloomberg) (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Here are the differences between Hunter Biden’s plea deal and the charges against Trump.

Trump has refused to plead guilty as Biden did, resisting the advice of multiple advisers and attorneys to seek a settlement. Trump has insisted he is innocent, despite indications in the indictment that he misled his own attorneys as part of an alleged plot to obstruct the government’s attempts to recover top-secret documents.

The charges against the two men are also different. Hunter Biden has agreed to plead guilty to two charges of willful failure to pay taxes in 2017 and 2018, while also admitting to illegally possessing a firearm while “knowing that he was an unlawful user of and addicted to a controlled substance.”

But conservatives always wanted more than tax evasion charges against Hunter Biden. For years, many of them have insisted that Hunter Biden’s questionable overseas business dealings created a conflict of interest for his father, especially when he served as vice president.

No evidence of criminality by President Biden has been produced, but Republicans continue to throw out theories of possible corruption that so far have, one after another, crumbled under minimal scrutiny.

One other issue: An IRS agent who was involved in the Hunter Biden investigation has complained that the probe was “slow-walked” and has testified before the House Ways and Means Committee behind closed doors.

On the other hand, some have pointed out that one of Trump’s longest-serving political aides, Roger Stone, reached a similar plea deal over unpaid taxes in 2022. Like Hunter Biden — who has repaid at least $2 million to the government — Stone repaid $2 million in back taxes and avoided jail time.

Some conservatives dismiss Trump’s excuses

Bill Barr.
Former Attorney General Bill Barr in 2022. (Win McNamee/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Not all conservatives have defended Trump, even if they have concerns about inequities in the justice system.

The most prominent voice in this camp is former Attorney General Bill Barr, who served in the Trump administration from 2019 to 2020.

“Trump has been the victim of witch hunts by obsessive enemies willing to do anything to bring him down,” Barr wrote in an op-ed for the Free Press this week.

But, Barr added, “Trump’s indictment is not the result of unfair government persecution. This is a situation entirely of his own making.”

“On leaving office, Trump illegally removed from the White House hundreds of some of the most sensitive national defense documents that the country possesses” and “exposed the country to intolerable risk,” Barr wrote. “But the pivotal fact — and what ultimately led the DOJ to charge Trump — was the department’s conclusion that Trump personally engaged in an outrageous course of deception to obstruct the grand jury’s inquiry.”

Barr even argued that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should have been investigated far more aggressively by the Justice Department in 2016, and that there has been a “double standard” at times.

“It is not clear to me that giving Trump a pass would be the best way of restoring the rule of law and putting the double standard behind us,” Barr wrote.