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Hunter Biden’s ex wife and his former girlfriend testified in gun trial

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Hunter Biden's ex-wife and a former girlfriend testified today in a Delaware court room about his drug use. The president's son is being tried on federal firearm charges for allegedly lying about his drug use when he bought a gun in 2018. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been in the courtroom this week since the trial began, and he joins us now. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

SUMMERS: So Ryan, it sounds like it was a really busy day in court. I want to start with Hunter Biden's ex-wife. What did we hear from her?

LUCAS: So this is Katherine (ph) Buhle. She was married to Hunter for more than 20 years before they got divorced in 2017. They have three kids together. She was testifying today under subpoena. She wasn't on the stand for very long, only about 30 minutes. But she told jurors that she discovered Hunter was using drugs when she found a crack pipe in an ashtray on their porch in July of 2015. She said she confronted him about it, and Hunter said it was his and acknowledged smoking crack.

But Buhle told jurors she'd already had suspicions that he was using drugs because Hunter had been discharged from the Navy after failing a drug test. But she was worried for him, for their family. She said she would check his car before their daughter would borrow it to make sure that there weren't any drugs in it when their daughter was driving it. Now, on cross examination, Hunter Biden's attorney, Abbe Lowell, asked Buhle whether she'd seen Hunter use drugs. She said no, but she did tell jurors that Hunter had told her that he used drugs.

SUMMERS: OK. And today, we also heard from Hunter Biden's former girlfriend. What did she have to say?

LUCAS: Right. This is Zoe Kestan. She testified under immunity. She was 24 when she met Hunter in December of 2017 at a strip club in Manhattan where she was working. She said that during a private session when they met, he pulled out a pipe and began smoking it. She said she assumed that it was crack cocaine.

And then she described for jurors the sort of whirlwind relationship that she and Hunter had over the next 10 months. She talked about how they would spend days together or even a week at a time at luxury hotels in New York and California. She testified that Hunter was smoking crack when they were together every 20 minutes. But she said he was the same charming person when he was smoking crack as when he wasn't. It didn't affect his behavior at all, she said.

Jurors also saw photos that she took. One showed Hunter in a bubble bath with a crack pipe in his hand. She said she saw Hunter buy drugs from dealers in both California and New York. She was with him, she said, when he was cooking crack on his own in LA. But there were two points in particular that she testified about that were important for prosecutors.

SUMMERS: And what were those, Ryan?

LUCAS: Well, one, she testified that when she stayed with Hunter in California in late September of 2018, he was smoking crack cocaine. And that's important because it comes after Hunter did a stint in rehab, and it's evidence that he was using drugs again after getting out of that rehab. She also testified that she would get large sums of cash from ATMs for Hunter, a lot of which, she said, he used to buy drugs. And that's important for prosecutors because those large cash withdrawals continued through the period in October of 2018 when he bought and owned the gun.

SUMMERS: OK. So a lot going on there. How did Hunter Biden's attorney respond to all of this?

LUCAS: Well, on Kestan's testimony, he asked her whether she had any contact with Hunter in October of 2018. That's when he bought the gun and allegedly lied on the forms - the actions that he's charged with in this case. And Kestan said, no. She had no contact with him. She also acknowledged under questioning that Hunter would hand out cash - sometimes large amounts - for her to spend on herself or to pay her back for things. And that is trying to undermine the idea that all of the thousands of dollars he was taking out in cash was just to pay for drugs.

Lowell has also tried to poke holes in the testimony of the government's first witness, that's FBI special agent Erika Jensen. Lowell said yesterday that when Hunter bought the gun in October of 2018, he didn't think he had an addiction. And he got Jensen to acknowledge that Hunter's texts from October 2018 don't have a lot of talk about drug use. But there's one in particular that prosecutors pointed to on redirect that Hunter sent two days after buying the gun in which he says he was sleeping on a car smoking crack.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thank you, 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.