David C. Weiss, the federal prosecutor in Delaware who has led the criminal investigation of Hunter Biden, on Monday rebutted a key element of testimony to Congress by an Internal Revenue Service official who said that Mr. Weiss complained about being blocked from pursuing the case the way he wanted.
In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Weiss said that he had never asked Justice Department officials to give him special counsel status to pursue the case, contradicting testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee by the I.R.S. official, Gary Shapley, who said Mr. Weiss had sought that status and been turned down.
Mr. Weiss suggested that Mr. Shapley might have misunderstood him during an October 2022 meeting. Mr. Weiss, the U.S. attorney for Delaware, who was appointed to the role under President Donald J. Trump, said in the letter that he had approached a department higher-up about the possibility of requesting status as a special attorney, not as a special counsel.
A special attorney is a less significant designation within the Justice Department than a special counsel. It would have allowed him to bring charges against Mr. Biden, the president’s son, in jurisdictions other than Delaware but would not have given him the broader leeway and independence that comes with the special counsel designation.
“To clarify an apparent misperception and to avoid future confusion, I wish to make one point clear: In this case, I have not requested special counsel designation,” Mr. Weiss told Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Instead, Mr. Weiss said he “had discussions with departmental officials regarding potential appointment” as a special attorney, “which would have allowed me to file charges in a district outside my own without the partnership of the local U.S. attorney.”
Mr. Weiss added in the letter to Mr. Graham that he had “never been denied the authority to bring charges in any jurisdiction.”
Mr. Weiss has sought to defend the integrity of the five-year investigation after a plea deal announced last month under which Mr. Biden will plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and accept terms that would allow him to avoid prosecution on a separate gun charge.
Republicans have assailed it as a “sweetheart deal” for the president’s son and have used Mr. Shapley’s testimony to promote the idea that political interference played a role in the outcome. Speaker Kevin McCarthy has left open the possibility of pursuing impeachment charges against Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.
In Monday’s letter — a follow-up to a less detailed response he sent to House Republicans in late June — Mr. Weiss backed up an earlier statement by Mr. Garland that he had been given full authority in the case. At the same time, Mr. Weiss acknowledged publicly for the first time that he had considered seeking a way to bring potentially more serious tax charges against Mr. Biden outside Delaware.
Mr. Weiss, who has described the Hunter Biden investigation as “ongoing,” did not say if he had followed through and requested to be appointed special attorney to the career official who served as his contact at Justice Department headquarters.
Nor did he explicitly address a key assertion made by Mr. Shapley: that Biden-appointed U.S. attorneys in California and Washington had blocked Mr. Weiss from prosecuting Hunter Biden on felony tax charges stemming from a period when the president’s son was earning millions working with foreign-controlled businesses and investors.
The investigation was initiated by the Trump Justice Department in 2018 and eventually handed to Mr. Weiss, a Republican whose reputation for nonpartisanship had earned him the support of Delaware’s two Democratic senators during his confirmation a few months earlier.
After President Biden was elected, the department’s interim leadership kept Mr. Weiss in place and in charge of the inquiry. Mr. Garland, after being confirmed, continued that arrangement and was eager to avoid any suggestion of political meddling.
Mr. Shapley, testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee in May under what Republicans said were whistle-blower protections, said he and other investigators had witnessed Mr. Weiss saying last year that he would not be the “deciding official” regarding whether to prosecute Mr. Biden. Mr. Shapley said that Mr. Weiss had been turned down when he sought special counsel status after being told by local prosecutors that he could not bring charges. House Republicans released the testimony last month.
Mr. Shapley recounted arguing in meetings with Mr. Weiss and other prosecutors to aggressively pursue charges against Hunter Biden stemming from his failure to pay taxes in 2014 and 2015, two years not covered under Mr. Biden’s agreement to plead guilty on the misdemeanor tax charges. During those years, Mr. Biden was earning income from work for a Ukraine-based energy company and Chinese clients that Mr. Shapley suggested was being channeled through entities that had a presence in Washington and the Los Angeles area.
In mid-2022, Mr. Weiss reached out to the top federal prosecutor in Washington, Matthew Graves, to ask his office to pursue charges and was rebuffed, according to Mr. Shapley’s testimony. A similar request to prosecutors in the Central District of California, which includes Los Angeles, was also rejected, Mr. Shapley testified.
A second former I.R.S. official, who has not been identified, told House Republicans the same story. That episode was confirmed independently to The New York Times by a person with knowledge of the situation.
Mr. Shapley, who oversaw the agency’s role in the investigation of Mr. Biden’s taxes, also told House committee aides that his criticism of the Justice Department led to him being denied a promotion. In his testimony, he blamed Mr. Weiss for criticizing him to his superiors.
Mr. Weiss denied that charge in a June 30 letter to Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, saying that he “did not retaliate” against Mr. Shapley.
Glenn Thrush covers the Department of Justice. He joined The Times in 2017 after working for Politico, Newsday, Bloomberg News, The New York Daily News, The Birmingham Post-Herald and City Limits. More about Glenn Thrush
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