Hunter Biden’s Former Partners Describe Toll of His Drug Abuse


Two of Hunter Biden’s former romantic partners, his ex-wife and an ex-girlfriend, provided vivid and gut-wrenching testimony on Wednesday about his out-of-control addiction to crack in the weeks and months before he claimed to be drug-free on a federal firearms form.

Relaying their divergent experiences with President Biden’s son, the two women — Kathleen Buhle, his wife of 24 years, and Zoe Kestan, whom he met in 2017 — painted a composite portrait. They depicted a family man who was both falling into an abyss of addiction and living a lavish, party-hopping high life in New York and Los Angeles.

A third woman in Mr. Biden’s life, Hallie Biden, the widow of his late brother Beau, could be called as a witness for the prosecution as early as Thursday, the fourth day of Mr. Biden’s trial on charges he lied on an application to obtain a gun in October 2018.

Of the three, she was closest to Mr. Biden when he bought the gun, and is likely to offer the most complete accounting of actions laid out in his indictment over whether he had lied on a federal gun application.

David C. Weiss, the special counsel who has also brought more serious tax charges against Mr. Biden in California, has turned to women closest to Mr. Biden to document his drug use, revisiting some of the most embarrassing episodes in the Biden family’s recent history — in the heart of an election year.

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

Mr. Biden’s lawyer Abbe Lowell, spent much of Wednesday pointing out inconsistencies in the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses. He also emphasized a lack of evidence in text exchanges and writings from his client that Mr. Biden was smoking crack cocaine during the month in which he filled out the gun application.

The presence of Hunter Biden’s family and friends, including Jill Biden, the first lady, who appeared for the third day in a row on Wednesday, has underscored how the trial is all but certain to be a painful and personal ordeal for the president’s family.

Ms. Kestan’s entrance into the packed fourth-floor courtroom produced one of the more awkward moments in a trial brimming with jarring juxtapositions.

When Leo J. Wise, a lead prosecutor working for Mr. Weiss, asked her to identify Hunter Biden in the courtroom for the record, he offered an uncomfortable wave, and a fleeting smile before looking down, head in hands.

Ms. Kestan, a designer who has done a range of jobs in New York with artists and textile designers, met Mr. Biden at a gentleman’s club in December 2017. The two immediately connected — “catching feelings,” as she put it — after she sat with him in a quiet back room and clicked on a song from Fleet Foxes, an indie rock band.

When they met, Mr. Biden was 48 and Ms. Kestan was 24 — exactly half his age.

At several points, she described wanting to help him with various attempts at sobriety, even as she said she had observed him chipping off small crystals from an enormous rock of crack she said was the size of a Ping-Pong ball.

Ms. Kestan said she immediately saw that he had a serious problem with drugs, having experienced firsthand addiction problems with people in her life. Getting him into rehab, she added, was “always part of the conversation.”

As a riveted courtroom listened, Ms. Kestan provided a nearly cinematic rendering of their drug-fueled partying during Fashion Week in Manhattan in February 2018.

She said he withdrew enormous quantities of cash from a Wells Fargo A.T.M. in Midtown Manhattan, dispatching her to take out the money by reading her a special code sent to his phone that was valid for a few minutes.

“He used cash for a lot of things, a good amount of it was for drugs,” Ms. Kestan said.

But he also gave her $800 for another purpose — to “buy clothes for his kids” from a high-end retailer.

Under cross-examination, Mr. Lowell sought to challenge Ms. Kestan’s credibility, pointing out that while she was encouraging Mr. Biden to stay clean at times, at others she was introducing him to drug dealers and helping enable his habit.

And he emphasized that while she witnessed him using drugs the month before he purchased a Colt .45 revolver, Ms. Kestan was not with him in October, when he returned to Delaware to see his family.

Ms. Buhle’s earlier testimony, by contrast, laid bare the painful personal toll of Mr. Biden’s addiction on his family.

In a quiet, steady voice, she chronicled her shock at finding a used crack pipe in an ashtray at the family’s house in Washington on July 3, 2015 — and how their marriage disintegrated over the next two years.

“He wasn’t himself” when he took drugs, she said. He became “angry, short-tempered” — even though he tried to hide his addiction from family and friends.

Speaking with emotion, she described how she would scour the family car for evidence of her husband’s crack use before allowing her daughters to use the vehicle, to ensure “they were not driving a car with drugs in it.”

The trial’s third day ended on a less dramatic note: the prosecution’s questioning of the man who sold Hunter Biden his gun at StarQuest Shooters & Survival Supply in a Wilmington, Del., strip mall across town from the courthouse.

The salesman, Gordon Cleveland, said he approached Mr. Biden about a minute after he had entered the store, to ask him what he was looking for. Mr. Cleveland, who worked full time for the city, said he did not immediately recognize the scion of his state’s most famous family, but was impressed by Mr. Biden’s black Cadillac.

“I like guns and I like cars,” he said, in a rare moment of levity.

Mr. Cleveland said he watched Hunter Biden answer “no” to the question at the center of this case: Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?

Mr. Biden did not hesitate before answering or ask for any clarification, and did not seem confused by the question, he added.

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

If convicted, he 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 has already been indicted by two federal grand juries in different jurisdictions. But House Republicans are urging the Justice Department to bring even more charges against the president’s son. In a criminal referral sent on Wednesday, the chairmen of three House committees recommended that both Mr. Biden and his uncle James Biden be charged with making false statements to Congress during recent testimony.

But other Republicans have questioned why Mr. Biden is facing trial on the gun charges.

“I don’t think the average American would have been charged with the gun thing,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told reporters this week. “I don’t see any good coming from that.”

He added that by contrast, Mr. Biden’s trial on tax-related charges in Los Angeles, which is scheduled to start in September, was appropriate.

Trey Gowdy, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina who also served as a federal prosecutor, suggested that the prosecution of a former drug addict who had committed to recovery sent the wrong message.

“I did gun prosecutions for six years,” he said this week during an appearance on Fox News. “I bet you there weren’t 10 cases prosecuted nationwide of addicts or unlawful drug users who possessed firearms or lied on applications. Why are you pursuing this one?”

Prosecutors working for Mr. Weiss have said that holding Hunter Biden accountable is essential for ensuring the principle that no one is “above the law.”

Mr. Weiss, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Delaware, filed the charges in the gun case after a plea deal fell apart last July.

Mr. Lowell has argued that his decision to bring the charges were the result of a Republican pressure campaign to target Hunter Biden to weaken his father’s re-election campaign.

Luke Broadwater contributed reporting from Washington.

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