WASHINGTON — U.S. Attorney David Weiss was appointed special counsel in the ongoing probe of the president's son Hunter Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday.
Weiss will be responsible for the “ongoing investigation" of President Joe Biden's son "as well as for any other matters that arose or may arise from that investigation," the Justice Department said in a statement. Weiss, who was already overseeing the Hunter Biden probe and is based in Delaware, asked to be appointed special counsel on Tuesday and Garland agreed it was "in the public interest" to do so, the attorney general said.
The move was announced shortly before prosecutors from Weiss's team revealed in a court filing the plea talks over tax and gun charges against the president's son had broken down and the case would likely have to go to trial in California or Washington, D.C. Later Friday, prosecutors suggested they could bring different charges against Hunter Biden in the new case.
DOJ noted that Weiss was nominated by then-President Donald Trump in 2017 and confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate in 2018.
Garland said the appointment "reinforces for the American people the Department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters."
In a statement, Hunter Biden's lawyer Chris Clark said, "Whether in Delaware, Washington, D.C. or anywhere else, we expect a fair resolution on behalf of our client."
He said Weiss "has diligently been investigating my client for five years and he had proposed a resolution which we fully intend to pursue in court. It is hard to see why he would have proposed such a resolution if there were other offenses he could have successfully prosecuted, and we are aware of none. We are confident when all of these maneuverings are at an end, my client will have resolution and will be moving on with his life successfully."
Hunter Biden agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges related to his failure to pay income taxes earlier this year. But while standing in court last month waiting to enter the plea, the agreement fell apart over confusion about a separate gun charge.
The judge asked the parties to hammer out the agreement and return later, leaving Hunter Biden to enter a not-guilty plea while it's litigated.
Lawyers for Hunter Biden had also indicated they believed that the plea agreement would settle all matters facing the president's son, but prosecutors said that other investigations continued.
"After the hearing, the parties continued negotiating but reached an impasse. A trial is therefore in order," prosecutors said in their Friday filing.
In another filing later in the day, prosecutors suggested Biden could be facing new charges. "The Government, in the exercise of its prosecutorial discretion, is considering what tax charges to bring in another district and may elect to bring the same charges set forth in the instant information or different ones," the filing said.
Two sources familiar with the situation told NBC News the White House had no advance notice of the special counsel appointment.
Documents in the failed plea agreement were made public last week.
The White House declined comment, referring reporters to the Justice Department and Hunter Biden's lawyers.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the chair of the House Oversight Committee who's been investigating the Biden family's business dealings, blasted Weiss's appointment as "part of the Justice Department's efforts to attempt a Biden family coverup."
"The Biden Justice Department is trying to stonewall congressional oversight as we have presented evidence to the American people about the Biden family’s corruption," Comer said.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, also ripped the appointment despite previously calling for a special counsel.
“David Weiss can’t be trusted and this is just a new way to whitewash the Biden family’s corruption. Weiss has already signed off on a sweetheart plea deal that was so awful and unfair that a federal judge rejected it," said his spokesperson, Russell Dye.
Dye added that “We expect the Department to fully cooperate with our investigation, including not interfering with the 11 transcribed interviews we have requested" from DOJ and FBI officials involved in the probe "and David Weiss upholding his commitment to testify."
In a July 25 letter to House Republicans, Weiss offered to publicly testify before Congress in late September or early October.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., echoed Comer and Jordan, tweeting, "This action by Biden’s DOJ cannot be used to obstruct congressional investigations or whitewash the Biden family corruption. If Weiss negotiated the sweetheart deal that couldn’t get approved, how can he be trusted as a Special Counsel?"
Under the terms of the now-scrapped deal, Hunter Biden would have pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of failing to pay his taxes in return for prosecutors recommending a sentence of probation. A separate felony gun possession charge for illegally owning a Colt Cobra .38 Special handgun would have been dropped in two years if Biden honored the terms of what’s known as a diversion agreement.
In a plea hearing last month, a Trump-nominated judge declined to sign off on the deal, saying she wanted more information from the two sides about some “atypical provisions,” including one that could theoretically have protected Biden from other tax-related crimes.
Garland has named two other special counsels since he took over the Justice Department in 2021.
In November 2022, Garland named Jack Smith as a special counsel to conduct two investigations into former President Donald Trump: his role in the effort to overturn the 2020 election and his handling of classified documents after leaving office.
Smith has secured two indictments against Trump, the first in a Florida court that accuses him of mishandling national secrets and the second earlier this month in a Washington, D.C. court, which accuses him of defrauding the U.S. in the bid to prevent the transfer of power.
In January, Garland named Robert Hur to investigate classified documents that were found in President Biden's office and residence. The documents were from his time as vice president.
NBC News reported earlier Friday that the president's attorneys and Hur have been negotiating for about a month over the terms under which he would be interviewed.