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A lawyer defending US president Joe Biden’s son Hunter in a federal criminal case is seeking to withdraw as counsel because he might become a witness, marking the latest turn of events in fraught legal proceedings.
Christopher Clark on Tuesday filed a motion in a Delaware court requesting to be removed from the case involving tax and firearm charges, to which Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty.
The case against Hunter Biden seemed near a conclusion last month, after he had agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanour counts of wilful failure to pay federal income tax. He had also agreed to enter a “pretrial diversion agreement” in relation to a separate charge accusing him of possessing a firearm as an unlawful or addicted user of a controlled substance.
But in a surprise move, a judge in Delaware questioned the terms of the deal after raising questions about the firearm offence.
Federal prosecutors said in a court filing last week that further plea negotiations with Hunter Biden were now “at an impasse” and that they believe the “case will not resolve short of a trial”.
The negotiation and drafting of the collapsed agreement appears to be “contested,” Hunter Biden’s lawyers said in a court filing on Tuesday. Should that become the focus of future battles, Clark could run afoul of the “witness-advocate rule”, the filing said, which bars lawyers from acting as counsel for cases in which they may also be called to testify.
Clark is a “percipient witness to those issues,” the filing said. Hunter Biden’s legal team stressed that he still has ample representation. That includes Abbe Lowell, another lawyer who said at the weekend that a trial was “not inevitable”.
US prosecutors said in a court filing on Tuesday that they did not “renege” on the plea agreement, detailing a back-and-forth exchange with Hunter Biden on different proposals in recent weeks until “the parties were at an impasse”.
US attorney-general Merrick Garland last week named David Weiss — the US attorney for the district of Delaware who has led the criminal probe into Hunter Biden so far — as special counsel, raising the stakes in the politically sensitive case and giving Weiss greater independence to pursue his investigation.
Garland at the time said he had made the appointment at Weiss’s request, in light of the “extraordinary circumstances relating to this matter”. He added that the investigation remained ongoing.
In his motion, Clark said his withdrawal would not “cause a substantial hardship to Mr Biden because counsel from the other firms that have entered an appearance will continue to represent Mr Biden in this matter”.
A representative for Hunter Biden declined to comment.
The case has become politically difficult for Joe Biden, who is campaigning for a second term in 2024. Republicans have seized on the Hunter Biden charges to allege corruption within the president’s family and have launched separate investigations in Congress.