Takeaways from Day 3 of Hunter Biden’s firearms trial

WILMINGTON, Del. — Three new witnesses took the stand in Hunter Biden’s gun trial on Wednesday, recalling in vivid color the defendant’s spiral into drug addiction, foiled attempts at entering rehab, and fateful purchase of a firearm in late 2018, a year when his use of crack cocaine went out of control. 

Joining Biden for the third day were first lady Jill Biden; his wife, Melissa Cohen-Biden; close ally Kevin Morris; and other longtime friends and family members.

Hunter Biden watched closely as his ex-wife testified to how he left the family home after she discovered his drug use, and a former girlfriend recounted how he smoked crack “every 20 minutes” and about the pain and deception she felt as he began to disappear for nights on end. Biden’s missing gun was also shown to the jury.

David Weiss, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney who was named a special counsel investigating Biden by Attorney General Merrick Garland last year, fixed his gaze on the witnesses and prosecutors, occasionally tilting his gaze towards Abbe Lowell, Biden’s lead defense attorney, and the rows of Biden’s supporters who filled the rows behind him.

That evening, Biden, in a light blue denim shirt, and his wife entered a food hall in downtown Wilmington. A handful of employees and patrons approached him gingerly for photos and kind words. Secret Service agents milled around the room as Biden scoped out the offerings. 

Quickly, more friends arrived, including Rob Buccini and Kevin Morris, who have been in court every day with Biden.

After spending the day in court watching the proceedings intently, Cohen-Biden struck a lighter mood, calling out for her husband and chatting with staff.  

“There’s Naomi,” said Biden’s wife, apparently referring to Biden’s daughter with Buhle. Cohen-Biden, who was wearing sweatpants and a taupe sweater, strode over to a high-top table in the corner where Biden was joined by two police officers and the rest of the group.

Others soon trickled in.

“Abbe,” Buccini, a longtime Biden friend, called out to Lowell as another friend approached Lowell’s legal team, high-fiving David Kolansky and saying that he did not recognize the group, who were dressed down in sweatshirts and other athletic wear.

Most people did not notice Biden or did not seem to care, though when they did, he displayed the easygoing charm that his former girlfriend said drew her to him even as Biden disappointed her by spending night after night chasing drugs.

Biden and his entourage’s easy nature has been on display throughout the trial, filing in and out of the courtroom with reporters, with one ally even beckoning a journalist from the middle of a courtroom pew for a private conversation out of earshot as proceedings were ongoing Tuesday. Biden gave a different reporter a friendly double-tap on the arm as he walked out during an afternoon break.

Later, the defendant appeared to make eye contact with a former girlfriend as she walked off the witness stand, and Cohen-Biden wore a soft smile as the woman passed by.

It’s a dynamic that Judge Maryellen Norieka appeared to worry could potentially compromise the integrity of the jury.

During a sidebar, Norieka said that three of the jurors had encountered Cohen-Biden in the restroom during a break that morning, briefly crossing paths. Norieka instructed her team that the jury must not be left unaccompanied, she said.

Here’s what you missed on Day 3:


While Kathleen Buhle, Biden’s ex-wife, said she never witnessed him using drugs, she explained that in 2015, after she found what turned out to be a crack pipe at their Washington home, he confessed to her that he had started smoking the drug.

Buhle testified she continued to find drug paraphernalia and even drug remnants in the ensuing months, including in her then-husband’s car, which she began cleaning periodically to ensure their kids would not be driving with drugs when they borrowed it. She testified that he was using drugs in 2018.

Buhle and Biden’s relationship began to crumble amid his drug use, and she later alluded to a vindictive streak, as when he refused to release her phone number from a family phone plan following their divorce — and began using the number himself. 

Next, Zoe Kestan, a girlfriend of Biden’s, took the stand and replayed in granular detail Biden’s near-ceaseless crack use from when the two met in late 2017 through September 2018, a stretch that took them from dinners at Lucien and Fannelli’s Cafe to a more than monthlong stay at Los Angeles’s Chateau Marmont, an Airbnb and other hotels. 

Kestan said his efforts to get off drugs, including through an experimental frog venom treatment, were unsuccessful, and she watched as he began seeking out powder cocaine and cooking it into crack himself when he lost trust in his dealer. She explained a system that allowed Biden to give a dealer access to his bank account without handing over his debit card, and which Biden sometimes used with her to give her cash.

Kestan spoke movingly of how her feelings for Biden grew over time. She hoped he would get off drugs and sought to help him.  

But she also described long stretches in which Biden seemed intent on diving deeper into addiction. The two were in a romantic relationship for much of 2018, spending time together in New York and Los Angeles, and later, Massachusetts.

In late 2018, Biden was smoking crack when Kestan went to stay with him while he was undergoing an experimental treatment for depression in Newburyport.

While Kestan said she did not use crack herself, she testified to helping Biden find drugs in Providence, Rhode Island, where she had graduated from art school just a few years before. Lowell later probed the details of an immunity deal that she had struck with prosecutors.

“Your immunity is not because you’re supposed to worry about lying, right? It’s because you told the prosecutors about things that you did that violated laws for which they gave you immunity, right?” Lowell said.

During a side-bar that could not be heard by the jury, Leo Wise, a prosecutor for the special counsel, said it was a question Kestan did not have to answer.

“Whether she needed it or whether he requested if for exposure, for what, I don’t know,” Wise said.

Like Buhle, Kestan was called to testify under subpoena. 

The final witness was the gun salesman who had sold Biden the weapon at the center of the case and who testified to watching Biden complete the form from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on which he said he was not a drug user. The defense team has questioned the integrity of the form and its custody after Biden’s purchase of the gun, but Gordon Cleveland, the clerk, gave a detailed accounting of the transaction and said he witnessed Biden fill it out.

Hallie Biden, the widow of Beau Biden and his on-again-off-again girlfriend, will take the witness stand on Thursday, one of six remaining witnesses the prosecution plans to call before resting their case at the end of the day, assistant special counsel Derek Hines said Wednesday. 

Sowing doubt

Whether Biden was a drug user at the time of his gun purchase and ownership is challenging to prove, and the defense worked to sow enough reasonable doubt into the government’s narrative of the case to help sway the jury. 

Lowell has continued to probe the prosecution’s claims that Biden knowingly lied when he purchased the firearm in October 2018 and checked a box to say that he was not a drug user, questioning the form’s handling before and after he completed it. 

While Kestan recalled weeks and months of Biden’s drug use in excruciating detail, she had little to offer the prosecution in the timeframe that matters most: the stretch between Biden’s Oct. 12 purchase and when Hallie Biden found the gun on Oct. 23. 

Earlier that day, jurors took notes as Erica Jensen, an FBI special agent, spoke about the handling of the government gun form and ultimately stated that she had no direct knowledge of how it was completed by Biden. Jensen, under questioning by Lowell, said months passed before the government obtained Biden’s laptop after he abandoned it at a Wilmington repair shop.

If convicted, the president’s son could face up to 25 years in jail.

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