Federal district Judge Maryellen Noreika, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, presided over a plea hearing Wednesday related to a case involving the Justice Department and President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
A revised agreement was not accepted by the judge Wednesday, and she asked both sides to file additional briefs explaining the plea deal’s legal structuring. She has the sole authority to decide Hunter Biden’s ultimate punishment.
Noreika, a former patent lawyer in Delaware, had the support of both Democratic senators from Delaware when she was nominated by Trump. Under the Senate’s so-called blue slip tradition, nominees for district court seats must have the support of the home state senators to move forward.
She was confirmed by the Senate by voice vote in August 2018.
The Justice Department had announced last month that Hunter Biden will plead guilty to two tax misdemeanors and struck a deal to resolve a felony gun charge. As part of the plea agreement, the Justice Department had agreed to recommend a sentence of probation for the two counts of failing to pay taxes in a timely matter.
Campaign donations: Federal records indicate that Noreika has donated more than $15,000 to political candidates dating back to 1999. Her political spending has gone to both parties.
On the presidential level, she gave $1,000 to then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign for the Democratic nomination. She later donated $2,300 to the eventual 2008 Republican nominee, then-Arizona Sen. John McCain. She donated to the subsequent GOP nominee as well, giving $2,500 to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012.
Noreika also financially supported Sen. Tom Cotton, a conservative Republican from Arkansas, during his campaign in 2014, when he unseated an incumbent Democratic senator. And she donated $1,000 to Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Rick Santorum in 2005.
She also donated $1,000 in 2009 to the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, the DSCC.The federal judge overseeing Wednesday’s plea hearing raised serious questions about the agreements Hunter Biden reached with prosecutors, leading her to end the proceedings without accepting his plea deal.
“Is this even constitutional?” US District Judge Maryellen Noreika said of the proposed agreement to resolve Biden’s gun possession conduct, adding that she has “concerns about the constitutionality” of the gun deal because it might violate separation of powers principles.
The felony charge revolves around alleged false statements on his application to purchase the gun in which he affirmed falsely he was not using drugs at the time. Under the proposed deal presented going into the hearing, Biden would enter a diversion program to resolve the gun charge if he abides by certain conditions for a period of time.
At Wednesday’s proceedings, the judge said she was “trying to exercise due deliverance and consideration to make sure we do not make a misstep.”
“You all are telling me to just rubber-stamp” the gun deal, Noreika said.
The gun deal is “not straightforward” and contains “atypical provisions,” the judge said.
Noreika expressed frustration that the two sides structured the deals – which also included a separate plea agreement for two tax misdemeanors — in a way where she would need to approve the gun deal, but had no powers to approve or reject the tax agreement.
The diversion agreement — which doesn’t often go to a judge — has a provision that says if there is a dispute over whether Biden breached the terms of the deal, it would go to the judge for fact finding. Noreika questioned why it would “plop” her in the middle of a deal she didn’t have a say in, and potentially block the Justice Department from bringing charges, a function of the executive branch.
Biden’s attorney said given the politicization of the case, they wanted a neutral arbiter to handle any potential disputes. The judge said she couldn’t make that decision on the fly.
“I cannot accept the plea agreement today,” Noreika said.
According to an order issued after the hearing wrapped up, the parties have 30 days to submit additional briefs on the matter.