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The first witness took the stand in Hunter Biden's trial over federal gun charges

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In federal court in Delaware today, jurors heard opening statements in Hunter Biden's trial on gun charges. Prosecutors questioned their first witness. That was an FBI special agent. And they played excerpts from Biden's audiobook detailing his struggles with addiction. The defense attorney for the president's son said prosecutors had not shown evidence that Hunter Biden was using drugs at the time he bought a handgun. That's the central fact in this case. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas was in the courtroom, listening to it all. He's with me now. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: Hi. OK. So I want to start with how the prosecution made its case. What were their opening statements?

LUCAS: Well, Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Hines did the opening for the government, and he said at the beginning, no one is above the law in this country, no matter what your last name is. He said Hunter Biden chose to illegally own a gun. It was illegal because he was a drug user and an addict. And Hunter, he said, lied about his drug use on a form he filled out when buying the gun in 2018. Now, Hines showed jurors that form and the box that Hunter checked no, saying that he didn't use illegal drugs. And importantly, Hines said the evidence is going to show jurors that Hunter used drugs before he bought the gun, during that time period as well as after the gun purchase. He said witnesses will tell jurors about Hunter's drug use. That includes Hunter's ex-wife as well as his brother Beau's widow, who Hunter dated after his brother's death. And Hines said, look, addiction may not be a choice, but lying about it and buying a gun is a choice. And that, he said, is why this trial is going on.

KELLY: To which Hunter Biden's attorney said what?

LUCAS: Well, Hunter's attorney, Abbe Lowell, spoke for a longer period of time - about 50 minutes in his opening statement. And he said Hunter never used the gun. He never loaded the gun. The gun was thrown away 11 days after he bought it. And Lowell tried to focus jurors on a specific point. He said the government has to prove that Hunter knowingly made a false statement about his drug use when he bought the gun. He said they have to prove that Hunter knowingly violated the law.

And Lowell says, look, Hunter doesn't dispute that he struggled with addiction to crack cocaine, to alcohol. But Lowell said the form asks whether you are a drug user, not have you ever been a drug user. And he told jurors Hunter had finished a rehab program about a month before this gun purchase. So the question is, how did Hunter view himself when he bought the gun? That's Lowell's take. And Lowell said Hunter's actions in the time period in question around the gun purchase are not those of someone who was a crack addict.

KELLY: I mentioned that we heard from one witness today. This was an FBI special agent. Who is she? What did we learn from her?

LUCAS: Well, this is FBI special agent Erika Jensen. She's worked this case. Much of her testimony in the morning was a way to get into evidence excerpts of Hunter Biden's memoir. So prosecutors played lengthy excerpts of the audio version of the book, which was narrated by Hunter himself, in which he describes his descent into crack addiction, about how he was smoking crack every 15 minutes and trying to buy crack. Hunter's wife, as well as his half-sister Ashley Biden and Jill Biden, were in the front row of the courtroom for this. They were stone-faced through much of it, but at one point, Jill put her arm around Ashley.

Agent Jensen also read out text messages from Hunter in which he was talking about trying to buy drugs. There were email excerpts from a detox facility that he had previously attended. So she testified through most of the day. Abbe Lowell started his cross right at the end of the day - didn't get through much of that, so that's where we'll pick up tomorrow.

KELLY: We will look forward to hearing the update from you then. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.