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On Trial’s 2nd Day, Prosecutors Use Hunter Biden’s Memoir Against Him

The first day of testimony in Hunter Biden’s trial on gun-related charges kicked off Tuesday with the surreal sound of the defendant’s own voice ringing through the courtroom, narrating his descent into drug addiction, when prosecutors played the audiobook of his memoir.

It ended with bitter written words: expletive-laced, panicked texts to Hallie Biden, his brother’s widow and his onetime girlfriend, berating her for disposing of a handgun and warning, presciently, that it might set off a federal investigation.

The government’s case against President Biden’s son — for all the drama, media swirl and complex political dynamics — is pretty straightforward legally: proving that Mr. Biden was abusing drugs when he filled out a federal firearms application claiming he was not an “unlawful user” of controlled substances.

Prosecutors stressed that point in their 15-minute opening argument before a packed courtroom that included Jill Biden, the first lady. Lying on a federal gun application is illegal and “nobody is allowed to lie, not even Hunter Biden,” said Derek Hines, a top deputy to the special counsel, David C. Weiss.

“Addiction may not be a choice, but lying and buying a gun is a choice,” Mr. Hines said.

“Nobody is above the law,” he added, echoing language the Justice Department has repeatedly used to justify its prosecutions of former President Donald J. Trump.

Almost all the events covered in the trial happened in 2018, when Joseph R. Biden Jr. was out of office.

Mr. Biden’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said he would disprove the government’s core contention that Mr. Biden “knowingly” broke the law by answering “no” on a question asking applicants whether they were using drugs at the time they sought to purchase a gun.

Mr. Lowell drew a sharp distinction in the handling of the gun as well as other stand-alone prosecutions of violations on a gun application, which often entail violence or other criminal activity. After Mr. Biden bought the gun, he never loaded it, never removed it from its lock box in his truck and never used it during the 11 days he owned it, Mr. Lowell said.

It was his girlfriend at the time — Hallie Biden — who found the gun, removed it from the box, placed it in a pouch that contained drug residue and tossed it in a trash can at a nearby grocery store.

“Did you take that from me, Hallie?” Mr. Biden texted after learning she had removed the gun from the lock box because she feared he might kill himself with it. He went on to suggest that the weapon might be discovered by the F.B.I., which he referred to using an expletive.

Mr. Lowell suggested he might sharply question Ms. Biden’s version of events on cross-examination.

If prosecutors began with a focused outline of their case, their presentation soon slowed with the testimony of their first witness, an F.B.I. agent who served as a kind of docent. The agent, Erika Jensen, guided the jury through exhibits and played extended audio clips of Mr. Biden reading chapters of “Beautiful Things,” his autobiography, detailing his addiction to crack cocaine at the time he bought the gun.

The sound of Mr. Biden’s voice echoing through the courtroom, as he listened tight-lipped, was jarring and initially transfixed the courtroom. But after about a half-hour, attention drifted, even, it seemed, among prosecutors.

At one point, Mr. Hines asked Ms. Jensen, “We’re still in Chapter Eight, right?”

The trial, which is expected to last about a week, promises to be an excruciating personal ordeal for the Biden family.

On Tuesday, Mr. Hines said prosecutors planned to summon Hallie Biden and another woman Mr. Biden was romantically involved with, Zoe Kestan, in addition to his former wife, Kathleen Buhle. He also plans to call Gordon Cleveland, an employee at the Delaware gun store where Mr. Biden bought his weapon, and two expert witnesses who will testify on drug residue and other forensic evidence.

Mr. Biden is charged with three felonies: lying to a federally licensed gun dealer, making a false claim on the federal firearms application used to screen applicants and possessing an illegally obtained gun in October 2018.

If convicted, Mr. Biden could face up to 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. But nonviolent first-time offenders who have not been accused of using the weapon in another crime rarely receive serious prison time for the charges.

He faces a separate trial in Los Angeles this fall on tax charges.

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