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Jurors in Hunter Biden trial hear more from the clerk who sold him the gun at the center of the case

Hunter Biden, left, accompanied by his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, depart from federal court, Wednesday, June 5, 2024, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Jurors in Hunter Biden’s criminal trial today are hearing more from the former gun store clerk who sold him the .38-caliber Colt revolver at the center of the case.

The clerk testified Wednesday that he watched as President Joe Biden’s son checked off “no” to the question of whether he was “an unlawful user of or addicted to” marijuana, stimulants, narcotics or any other controlled substance.

Federal prosecutors have argued Hunter Biden was in the throes of a heavy crack addiction when he bought the gun, and they’ve accused him of lying on the form. He’s been charged with three felonies: lying to a federally licensed gun dealer, making a false claim on the application by saying he was not a drug user and illegally having the gun for 11 days.

The Democratic president’s son arrived at court today with a copy of his memoir, “Beautiful Things,” tucked under his arm. The book, written after he got sober in 2021, figures heavily into prosecutors’ case: They’ve played audio excerpts for jurors in which he details his descent into drugs and alcohol following the death of his brother, Beau, in 2015.

Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty and has said the Justice Department is bending to political pressure from Republicans and he’s being wrongly targeted.

Jurors have been shown as evidence Form 4473, the firearms transaction record at the center of the case. And on Tuesday they saw the gun at the center of the case.

Gordon Cleveland, the former clerk at StarQuest Shooters & Survival Supply, on Wednesday told jurors he walked Hunter Biden through a few options before he settled on the $900 gun and he watched Biden sign the form, which includes a warning about the consequences of submitting false information.

“Everything he bought, he ultimately decided on,” he told jurors.

Much of the prosecution’s case so far has been dedicated to highlighting the seriousness of his crack addiction and showcasing to jurors bare-chested moments with ex-girlfriends, infidelity, crack pipes — judgment lapses they believe prove he was actively using when he checked off no. Prosecutors argue it’s necessary evidence to show his state of mind when he bought the gun.

The proceedings are unfolding after a plea deal collapsed that would have resolved the gun charge and a separate tax case, and spared the Biden family the spectacle of a trial so close to the 2024 election. Now, first lady Jill Biden has been spending her days in court, while President Joe Biden travels to France for the D-Day anniversary. Allies worry about the toll it will take on the president, who is deeply concerned about the health and sustained sobriety of his only living son.

And Hunter Biden’s friends and family are being called to testify.

Kathleen Buhle, who was married to Hunter Biden for 20 years, told jurors Wednesday that she discovered her husband was using drugs when she found a crack pipe in an ashtray on their porch on July 3, 2015, a day after their anniversary. When she confronted him, “he acknowledged smoking crack,” she said.

Buhle testified that even before she found the drugs, she suspected he was using. He had been kicked out of the Navy after testing positive for cocaine.

“I was definitely worried, scared,” she said. They have three children and divorced in 2016 after his infidelity and drug abuse became too much, according to her memoir, “If We Break,” about the dissolution of their marriage.

Buhle, who was subpoenaed, was on the stand for a brief 20 minutes. She remained composed but seemed upset as she recounted how she searched his car about a dozen times for drugs, whenever the children were driving it.

“Did you ever see Hunter using drugs?” defense attorney Abbe Lowell asked Buhle.

“No,” she replied.

Then prosecutor Leo Wise asked Buhle how she knew Hunter Biden was using drugs.

“He told me,” she said.

Prosecutors also called Zoe Kestan, who testified under immunity about meeting Hunter Biden in December 2017 at a strip club in New York where she worked. During a private session, he pulled out a pipe and began smoking what she assumed was crack.

“He was incredibly charming and charismatic and friendly, and I felt really safe around him,” she said. “I remember after he had smoked it, nothing had changed. He was the same charming person.”

Kestan detailed for jurors when she saw him use drugs, buy drugs, talk about drugs or possess drug paraphernalia. Prosecutors asked her where he stored his drugs and pipes, and she testified he kept them in pouches and other places, such as sunglasses cases.

On cross-examination, Kestan acknowledged that she had no contact with him in October 2018, the period when he bought the gun.

Prosecutors have also used his own words as evidence through his memoir and text messages he sent to friends and family. The memoir covers the period he bought the gun, though it doesn’t mention the weapon specifically.

Lowell has said Hunter Biden’s state of mind was different when he wrote the book than when he purchased the gun, when he didn’t believe he had an addiction. And he’s suggested Hunter Biden might have felt he had a drinking problem at the time, not a drug problem. Alcohol abuse doesn’t preclude a gun purchase.

If convicted, Hunter Biden faces up to 25 years in prison, though first-time offenders do not get anywhere near the maximum, and it’s unclear whether the judge would give him time behind bars.

He’s also facing a separate trial in September on charges of failing to pay $1.4 million in taxes.

In Congress, Republicans have for months pursued an impeachment inquiry seeking to tie President Biden to his son’s business dealings. So far, GOP lawmakers have failed to uncover evidence directly implicating President Biden in any wrongdoing. But on Wednesday, House Republicans accused Hunter Biden and the president’s brother James Biden of making false statements to Congress as part of the inquiry.

The trial is unfolding shortly after Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was convicted of 34 felonies in New York City. The two criminal cases are unrelated, but their proximity underscores how the courts have taken center stage during the 2024 campaign.

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Long reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.

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