Republicans stick to attacking criminal justice system, echoing Trump, after Hunter Biden conviction

PHOENIX (AP) — Republicans are responding to Hunter Biden's conviction on federal gun charges with some version of, “That’s it?”

Loyal to Donald Trump, they largely echoed the former president's claim that the Justice Department has treated President Joe Biden's son with kid gloves while zealously prosecuting Trump. Using the attention given to Hunter Biden's conviction for charges related to buying a gun while addicted to drugs, they pressed unsubstantiated or debunked allegations that Joe Biden — while vice president — acted to advance his family members’ foreign business interests.

The GOP's argument that Joe Biden is ordering prosecutors to target political opponents has been hurt by the Biden-led Justice Department prosecuting the president's son — with Biden declining to stop the investigation or pardon Hunter Biden. But in making that case, Republicans may be trying to deflect from Trump's own stated intentions to wield the criminal justice system against opponents if he returns to the White House.

While president, Trump tried to undercut the Justice Department investigation into his campaign's alleged ties to Russia and issued pardons to a raft of former campaign aides, friends and donors. And on the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly declared he is the victim of a “rigged” system and promised to appoint a special prosecutor to target Biden and his family.

House Republicans voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress, further escalating their battle with the Justice Department.

And Trump sent a fundraising email with the subject line, “Haul out the Guillotine!” The email claimed Trump’s critics have a “Sick Dream” to see him beheaded, the latest example of Trump's inflammatory rhetoric since his hush money conviction.

In a deal with prosecutors last year, Hunter Biden was supposed to plead guilty to misdemeanor tax offenses and avoid prosecution in the gun case if he stayed out of trouble for two years. But the deal fell apart after the judge, who was nominated by Trump, questioned unusual aspects of the proposed agreement, and the lawyers could not resolve the matter.

He was convicted Tuesday and faces a potential 25 years in prison, though as a first-time offender he is likely to get far less time or avoid prison entirely.

He still faces a trial in September in California on charges of failing to pay $1.4 million in taxes, and congressional Republicans have signaled they will keep going after him in their stalled impeachment effort into the president. The president has not been accused or charged with any wrongdoing by prosecutors investigating his son.

Biden definitively ruled out pardoning his son during an ABC News interview last week. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday did not rule out the president issuing a potential commutation that might reduce or erase a sentence while leaving the conviction intact.

Hunter Biden’s conviction came weeks after a New York jury found Trump guilty of 34 counts related to a hush money payment to a porn actor during the 2016 campaign. Trump falsely claims the verdict was “rigged.” Biden said he accepted his son’s verdict.

Trump’s campaign issued a statement calling the Hunter Biden verdict “nothing more than a distraction from the real crimes of the Biden Crime Family.” Several of his allies followed.

“Remember this was Joe Biden’s corrupt DOJ that tried to negotiate outside immunity unrelated to this case," said Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican and a contender to be Trump's vice presidential running mate. “Today is the first step in delivering accountability for the Biden Crime Family.”

Sen. J.D. Vance, an Ohio Republican and another vice presidential contender, shared a post by Ohio Republican Senate candidate Bernie Moreno saying the gun charges were meant to “insulate and protect” the president.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said the guilty verdict was “appropriate” and didn't undercut his own criticism of a two-tiered system of justice for Trump and the Bidens.

“Every case is different,” Johnson said. "And clearly the evidence was overwhelming here. I don’t think that’s the case in the Trump trial, and all the charges that have been brought against him have been obviously brought for political purposes. Hunter Biden is a separate incident.”

Democrats did not attack the Justice Department or the courts. Said Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., the No. 3 House Democrat: “Hunter Biden sat before a jury of his peers, a verdict was rendered and House Democrats believe in the rule of law, and so we respect that ruling.”

As president, Trump repeatedly sought to shape the criminal inquiry into whether his 2016 presidential campaign had conspired with Russia.

He fired the FBI director who led the investigation, berated the attorney general he appointed for recusing himself from overseeing the probe and directed his White House counsel to seek the termination of special counsel Robert Mueller. Those acts, and others, contributed to an investigation into whether he had illegally sought to obstruct the Russia inquiry; Mueller did find evidence of obstruction but declined to make a finding about whether Trump had broken the law.

More recently, Trump and allies have suggested that if elected he might advocate the imprisonment of political opponents, something he championed even before he became president.

In a Fox & Friends interview this month, he falsely asserted that he had not used the words “lock her up” in reference to Hillary Clinton and his 2016 opponent’s use of a private email server to transmit sensitive information as secretary of state. He said he could’ve sought to have her jailed but that it “would have been a terrible thing.”

He suggested things are different now that he faces four felony indictments, including the New York case that resulted in a conviction.

“And then this happened to me, and so I may feel differently about it,” he said.

The charges against Hunter Biden stem from a dark period in his life, during which he acknowledges a spiraling descent following the death of his brother, Beau Biden, to cancer in 2015. Jurors found him guilty of lying to a federally licensed gun dealer when he bought a revolver in 2018, making a false claim on the application by saying he was not a drug user and illegally having the gun for 11 days.

Many in Trump’s Republican Party are staunchly against gun control and some of his supporters have questioned whether Hunter Biden should have been tried on the gun charges.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican and high-profile Trump supporter, posted on X, “The Hunter Biden gun conviction is kinda dumb.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters at the Capitol that the gun charge was a "waste of time,” though he said other accusations related to Hunter Biden’s taxes were “serious.”

“I just think he’s being punished,” Graham said, adding the average person would be “put in drug diversion or something.”

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., made similar comments.

“Hunter might deserve to be in jail for something, but purchasing a gun is not it,” Massie posted on X. “There are millions of marijuana users who own guns in this country, and none of them should be in jail for purchasing or possessing a firearm against current laws.”

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Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Stephen Groves and Farnoush Amiri in Washington contributed to this report.

Jonathan J. Cooper And Eric Tucker, The Associated Press