Hunter Biden’s legal team denied Tuesday night that they lied to court officials to get filings from a senior Republican lawmaker removed from the public docket, blaming the dispute on an “unintentional miscommunication” on the eve of their client’s plea hearing.
Their denials came in response to US District Judge Maryellen Noreika, who is presiding over the case and threatened them with sanctions amid accusations that a member of their staff “misrepresented…who she worked for” while successfully requesting the removal of the GOP filing.
The dispute “appears to stem from an unfortunate and unintentional miscommunication between a staff member at our firm and employees of the Court,” Hunter Biden’s lawyers told the judge.
Hunter Biden is set to plead guilty Wednesday morning to two federal tax misdemeanors, for failing to pay taxes on time in 2017 and 2018. The plea deal will also resolve a felony gun charge if Hunter Biden abides by court-imposed rules, according to court filings. CNN has previously reported that prosecutors are expected to recommend no jail time.
The court filing at the center of Tuesday’s dizzying dispute came from Rep. Jason Smith, the Republican chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. He asked to intervene in the case, encouraged Noreika to “consider” recent claims from IRS whistleblowers that the probe into President Joe Biden’s son was tainted by political interference, and submitted transcripts of their testimony.
“The Defendant appears to have benefited from political interference which calls into question the propriety of the investigation of the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Smith’s attorney wrote in a court filing, which went on to say, “it is critical that the Court consider the Whistleblower Materials before determining whether to accept the Plea Agreement.”
Noreika has the power to reject the plea agreement that was negotiated between Hunter Biden and the Justice Department, though that would be a surprising and unexpected move. The House committee and Smith are not parties in the case.
After Smith’s so-called amicus motion was filed on the public docket, a member of Hunter Biden’s legal team called the court clerk and “represented that she worked with” Smith’s attorney and “requested the amicus materials be taken down,” according to a lengthy order from the judge, which was posted Tuesday afternoon.
The judge, who said she consulted with the clerk’s office to figure out what happened, said, “It appears that the caller misrepresented her identity and who she worked for in an attempt to improperly convince the Clerk’s Office to remove the amicus materials from the docket.”
The judge’s timeline of events apparently contradicts some of the explanations given by Hunter Biden’s lawyers.
Earlier in the day, Hunter Biden’s lawyers claimed the clerk took Smith’s filing down “on their own accord,” according to court filings. They maintain that Smith’s filing violated legal rules by disclosing Hunter Biden’s “personal tax information” and that they called the clerk to inquire about sealing the material.
Smith’s committee heard testimony from two IRS agents who helped lead the probe. They claimed Justice Department officials undercut their attempts to scrutinize Biden family members, slow-walked requests for subpoenas and search warrants, and blocked the US attorney who oversaw the probe from bringing the felony tax evasion charges that they had recommended.
The relevant parties – including US attorney David Weiss, Attorney General Merrick Garland and other senior Justice Department officials – publicly refuted the whistleblowers’ claims of politicization, which included alleged incidents dating back to 2020 when Donald Trump was president.
Weiss, a Trump appointee, has offered to publicly testify about the matter to Congress this fall.
Responding the judge’s threat of sanctions, Hunter Biden’s lawyers argued that they weren’t warranted because “there was no misrepresentation” made to the court, and that the entire incident was “completely unintentional.”
Jessica Bengels, a staffer of the law firm representing Hunter Biden who had reached out to the court earlier on Tuesday, said in an affidavit submitted to the judge that she never told anyone that she was working with attorneys representing the Republican committee chairman.
“I am completely confident that I never indicated that I was calling from Mr. Kittila’s firm or that I worked with him in any way,” Bengels said in the affidavit, referring to Smith lawyer Ted Kittila.
Bengels said she had two phone calls with two court clerks, and said “there may have been some confusion” between the officials that led to a “mistaken understanding” about her identity.
According to earlier court filings, a court clerk said their office had been told by Bengels that she “worked with” Kittila.
It appears likely that the matter will come up at Wednesday’s highly anticipated plea hearing.
Also on Tuesday, the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which isn’t a party in the case, urged Noreika to postpone Wednesday’s plea hearing so she could “obtain additional information” directly from the Justice Department that might address the lingering questions about whether there was any political interference in the probe.
This headline and story have been updated with additional developments.