Takeaways from Day 2 of the Hunter Biden federal gun trial

The second day of Hunter Biden’s trial laid the groundwork for both sides of the case, as prosecutors and defense attorneys battled over the fundamental issue at play: whether Biden purchased a gun while addicted to drugs.

In opening statements Tuesday, prosecutor Derek Hines made clear that President Joe Biden’s son “isn’t charged with possessing drugs,” but rather because he allegedly lied on a federal background check form.

“Addiction may not be a choice,” Hines said, but it is a choice to illegally buy a gun.

Hines continued: “We’re here because of the defendant’s lies and choices. … No one is above the law. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your name is.”

Melissa Cohen Biden, Hunter Biden’s wife, vigorously shook her head in disapproval when Hines argued that Biden knew he was an addict when he bought the gun.

Defense attorney Abbe Lowell repeatedly highlighted during his opening statement that prosecutors needed “to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hunter knowingly violated the law.”

Lowell emphasized that Biden’s “state of mind” when he purchased the gun was instrumental in the case. He also tried to humanize his client, saying that he abused alcohol and drugs “like literally millions of people in this country” and was plagued by various “traumas,” including the 1972 car crash in Wilmington that killed his mother and gave him a brain injury when he was a child.

At one point while Lowell was speaking, one juror appeared to become emotional, reaching for tissues in her bag and dabbed her eyes and her nose several times. Lowell, well into his statement, had explained how despite claims from prosecutors, the evidence doesn’t show Biden was using drugs the day he bought the gun. Lowell was also discussing the tumultuous days when Hallie Biden found the gun and threw it in a trash can outside a supermarket.

Here’s what to know from Tuesday in court:

Biden speaks – through his audiobook

The first hour of witness testimony was consumed by prosecutors playing several long passages of the audiobook Biden narrated for his 2021 memoir, “Beautiful Things.” It droned on at times, but was also filled with gripping first-person storytelling about the depths of his addiction, spurring some jurors to listen closely and take notes.

Many of those jurors said during the selection process Monday that they lost loved ones to drug overdoses and alcoholism, so Biden’s personal struggles could strike a chord.

In the excerpts played aloud in court Tuesday, chosen by the special counsel’s office, Biden described intense “feelings of shame and guilt” while crack plunged him into the “darkest recesses of your soul.” He said he had a “limitless appetite for debasement” that led to near-death experiences while he drove high in Arizona and bought drugs from homeless people in Los Angeles.

Prosecutors highlighted a part of the book where Biden said he had “four years of active addiction” from 2015 to 2019, which, importantly, would cover the time period when he bought a gun in October 2018. It’s against the law for a drug user or addict to buy or possess a gun – which is the basis of the three felonies Biden is facing.

First lady Jill Biden sat stoically while she listened to the recordings of her son airing out the worst moments of his life. She looked straight ahead at the FBI special agent on the witness stand, whom prosecutors used to introduce evidence from the memoir.

Under cross-examination by Biden’s lawyer, the FBI agent, Erika Jensen, conceded that Biden might not have been abusing drugs during the entire five-year period.

Defense strategy

Lowell laid out his version of the case and strategy moving forward in the morning opening statements and during cross-examination of the FBI agent in the afternoon.

Not only did Lowell say that prosecutors must prove Biden knowingly violated the law when he bought the gun, but the attorney also argued that many of the text messages prosecutors had cited about the attempts to get drugs were months apart from when he purchased the firearm.

During cross examination, Lowell noted that scores of the messages and pictures introduced to the jury through the FBI agent were in early 2019, months after Biden purchased the gun in October 2018.

He also pointed out several discrepancies between Biden’s memoir and text messages and travel logs presented by the FBI agent, indicating that not everything in the book – which is heavily cited by the government in its case – was completely factually accurate.

Lowell said during his opening that text messages sent around the time Biden bought the weapon – including one where Biden said he was smoking crack – were actually about him trying to avoid Hallie Biden, who he was with at the time, and not doing drugs.

In court, there were a few moments when Biden turned to his mom, his wife and his sister Ashley in the front row behind him. He mouthed words to his wife, who smiled.

Jury sees lurid texts and photos

Prosecutors also introduced a tranche of evidence that investigators obtained from Biden’s electronics, including his infamous laptop.

Their goal is to illustrate Biden abused drugs in 2018. They tried to accomplish this by playing a shirtless video of him holding what looked like a crack pipe, reading texts where he haphazardly tried to meet drug dealers in California and Massachusetts and showing his angry exchanges with his loved ones about his many personal failures.

One exchange showed a drug dealer in Los Angeles trying to cut ties with Biden, complaining that he was going “out of my way” to get him drugs, at the cost of spending time with his own family. The dealer ended the text with, “We will always be friends, bro.”

A video of Hunter Biden shirtless is seen on screen during the trial on Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware. - Bill Hennessy
A video of Hunter Biden shirtless is seen on screen during the trial on Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware. - Bill Hennessy

In other messages, Biden said he was “sleeping on a car smoking crack” at a street corner in downtown Wilmington that’s only a few blocks away from the federal courthouse where the trial is under way. His defense attorneys claimed that he might not have really been doing drugs but rather was trying to avoid his ex-partner, Hallie Biden.

Biden’s laptop has been at the center of a yearslong political saga, with his team claiming it may have contained fake emails concocted by Russia, while many Republicans heralded it as ironclad proof that he and his father got rich from corrupt overseas deals.

Prosecutors used the laptop much more narrowly, to try and prove that Biden used drugs in 2018. It was still a major moment when prosecutors unveiled the physical laptop for all in the courtroom to see. The silver MacBook has been bandied about in right-wing media for years, and the public saw it for the very first time on Tuesday.

Biden’s ex-wife likely to testify next

Lowell will continue to cross-examine Jensen, who will then go through one last round of questions from prosecutors.

During their opening arguments, prosecutors read the witnesses they expect to call during the trial in order, signaling that they would call Kathleen Buhle, Hunter Biden’s ex-wife, to the stand second.

In filings, prosecutors say that Biden’s ex-wife will testify about finding drugs or paraphernalia on multiple occasions in his car.

CNN’s Macayla Cook and Evan Perez contributed to this report.

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