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Close-knit Bidens turn out for Hunter’s criminal trial

Close-knit Bidens turn out for Hunter’s criminal trial

WILMINGTON, Del. — On October 12, 2018, former Vice President Joe Biden crowded into an SUV with a small group of advisers and headed to Bath County High School in Owingsville, Ky., for a campaign rally with a local congressional candidate. In Wilmington, Del., Hunter parked his father’s black Cadillac SUV outside a gun shop, and returned to it with a Colt Cobra revolver.

The elder Biden’s trip that day was one of dozens he made in the runup to the midterm elections as he built a political case that led him to the White House. His son’s outing more than 500 miles away may ultimately land him in jail.

That juxtaposition is at the heart of a distressing what-if for the Biden family: had Joe Biden not run for president, or sought a second term, might his son have avoided not only a potential prison sentence, but also a public deconstruction of one of the most difficult periods of his life?

Since Hunter Biden’s criminal trial began on Monday, the Biden family has sought to send the message that for them this is a family affair, not a political one. While former President Donald Trump’s criminal trial in a New York, and subsequent conviction, became a rallying cry for his 2024 campaign, Hunter Biden’s trial in Delaware has prompted a blanket of support from close friends and family as his father’s campaign keeps a distance.

“Of course the family is there en masse” one close family friend who has been in court with the Bidens every day told NBC News. “Imagine if this was your son, your brother. This is their family. Their beloved family.”

The show of force began with First Lady Jill Biden taking a seat in the courtroom behind her son each day until leaving late Wednesday afternoon to travel to France to attend a D-Day commemoration ceremony with her husband. The first lady then left less than 24 hours later to return to Wilmington ahead of her son’s trial resuming on Friday, and she’s scheduled to return to Paris on Saturday for a state visit.

The whirlwind transatlantic shuttling underscores the family’s concern about the toll Hunter Biden’s trial — the first of two scheduled for this year — could take. While in France, the president and first lady frequently asked aides for updates on the trial in between official events, according to a person familiar with the requests.

As Jill Biden was flying across the Atlantic overnight Wednesday, the president’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, took a red-eye flight from the West Coast to take the first lady’s seat in court on Thursday, next to Hunter Biden’s wife, Melissa Cohen-Biden.

The rotating cast of allies inside the courtroom has included Hunter Biden’s sister, Ashley, and several of his close friends. Others represent the network of friends and supporters his father accumulated over more than five decades in politics, including Rev. Dr. Christopher Bullock, the pastor of the Canaan Baptist Church of New Castle, a member of the NAACP’s leadership and a union chief.

Together they bowed their heads on the fourth floor of a federal courthouse named for the man Biden defeated in 1972 to win his first Senate election. And ahead of Wednesday’s proceedings they prayed that “God would bless this process and justice would be done.”

Bobby Sager, a friend of Hunter Biden for the past two years, told NBC News he had dinner with Hunter, his wife and their son Tuesday night — eating slices of pizza as they watched the 4-year-old named after Biden’s late brother running around, “doing something cute at all times.”

“They are both doing remarkably well,” Sager insisted. “What I care about is giving them hugs and letting them know lots of people love them very much.” On Thursday night, Hunter Biden and his youngest daughter, Maisy, were seen enjoying pizza outside a popular downtown Wilmington food hall.

Still, several years of public attention — and attacks from political opponents — has at times taken a toll on the family. Outside the courtroom on Tuesday, Melissa Cohen-Biden angrily confronted Garrett Ziegler, a former Trump aide who was attending the trial, calling him a “Nazi,” which she told NBC News was in response to antisemitic “slurs” she said he’s used to describe their family. Ziegler denied making such comments and told NBC News he is not a Nazi.

The trial also has exposed painful crosscurrents within the Biden family.

Some family members who mourned together after Beau Biden’s death in 2015 have testified about the dark moments that followed. Kathleen Buhle, Hunter’s ex-wife, testified Wednesday that she believed he relapsed just over a month after his brother died.

Hallie Biden, Beau’s widow, discussed how she started smoking crack cocaine after she and Hunter began a romantic relationship.

“It was a terrible experience that I went through, and I’m embarrassed and I’m ashamed of that period of my life,” she said.

None of President Biden’s grandchildren have attended proceedings yet, though Peter Neal, the husband of Hunter Biden’s eldest daughter, Naomi, accompanied Jill Biden to court on Monday. Naomi Biden may be called as a defense witness.

Hunter’s well-being was an X-factor five years ago when Joe Biden was considering whether to run 2020. His family members, in a meeting convened by his grandchildren in early 2019, raised the question of whether they were prepared for the public scrutiny that might come, including ways in which then-President Trump or his supporters might go after them.

In his memoir, Hunter Biden wrote that during the 2020 campaign, the biggest debate he’d have with his father was, “Who should apologize to whom?”

“Whenever I apologized to him for bringing so much heat onto his campaign, he responded by saying how sorry he was for putting me on the spot, for bringing so much heat onto me, especially at a time when I was so determined to get well,” he wrote.

After that book was released, Joe Biden told CBS News that it “gave me hope reading it,” praising “the honesty with which he stepped forward and talked about the problem.”

“I’ll bet there’s not a family you know that doesn’t have somebody in the family that had a drug problem or an alcohol problem,” he said.

This week, Hunter Biden’s own voice reading that book was introduced as evidence by the prosecution against him, contributing to their case that he lied when attesting on a background check form that he was not an addict at the time he purchased that revolver. Ashley Biden and her mother both appeared to wipe away tears as they listened to Hunter Biden’s voice describe his addiction, holding their heads up and looking at Hunter.

A source close to the president said it was unlikely Biden, who is scheduled to return to Wilmington from Europe on Sunday, would attend the trial himself.

The president spent significant time with his son leading up to the trial and was just miles away from the courthouse most of Monday as jury selection began. On Thursday, during an interview in France with ABC News, Biden drew a distinction with Trump, who has blamed his legal troubles on a biased justice system and plans to appeal his felony convictions.

Asked if he would accept the outcome of his son’s trial, Biden answered simply: “Yes.”

Asked if he’d rule out a pardon for his son if convicted, the president answered again tersely: “Yes.”

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