President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, has been criminally charged with three counts of lying when buying a firearm, after a proposed plea deal collapsed.
The indictment marks the first time the child of a sitting president has been criminally prosecuted.
A planned plea bargain to resolve gun and tax-related charges he faced abruptly fell apart in July.
All three counts relate to Mr Biden, 53, allegedly lying on forms while buying a gun when he was a drug user.
Prosecutors allege he falsely claimed that he was “not an unlawful user of and addicted to any stimulant narcotic drug” when he purchased a Colt Cobra Special revolver at a Delaware gun store in October 2018.
At the time, Mr Biden was a heavy user of crack cocaine.
Under US federal laws, it is a crime to lie on such documentation, or possess a firearm while a drug user.
If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison, the justice department said in a statement. Actual sentences for federal crimes are usually less than the maximum possible penalties.
It is still unclear when and where Mr Biden’s initial court appearance will take place.
Mr Biden’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, suggested the charges had been influenced by “Republicans’ improper and partisan interference in this process”.
He said his client “did not violate the law” and that his brief possession of an unloaded gun was never a threat to public safety.
“But a prosecutor, with all the power imaginable, bending to political pressure presents a grave threat to our system of justice,” said Mr Lowell.
Cornell Law School professor Randy Zellin told the BBC he believes that Mr Biden is unlikely to serve any time in prison and a plea agreement is likely.
“It’s a nonsense case,” he said. “Nobody got hurt. It’s a victimless crime. He’s never been in trouble before. Is this really how we want to waste judicial resources?”
In June, a two-part agreement was reached between prosecutors and Mr Biden’s legal team, which later collapsed.
Under the terms of that agreement, he would have been charged with two misdemeanour counts for failing to pay his taxes on time in 2017 and 2018.
He would also have been forced to admit to illegal possession of a firearm and agree to drug treatment and monitoring to avoid a felony charge and potential imprisonment.
But US District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika said she could not “rubber stamp the agreement”, adding that the proposed resolution of the gun-related offence was “unusual”.
Thursday’s charges are the first brought by justice department special counsel Davis Weiss, who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland in August.
Mr Weiss’ office had previously said he was seeking to indict Mr Biden by 29 September.
The younger Mr Biden’s legal woes have become a political lightning rod as his father seeks re-election, although he has never held a position in the White House or his father’s administration.
Earlier this week, Republicans in the US House of Representatives announced an impeachment inquiry into President Biden.
Among the accusations being levelled against the elder Mr Biden are that he lied about his involvement in his son’s business dealings while serving as vice-president from 2009-17.
Two tax investigators also claimed the justice department stymied the investigation into Hunter Biden’s tax return. The department has denied the claims.
On X, the platform formally known as Twitter, House Oversight Committee chairman James Comer – the man leading the indictment inquiry – said the charges against Hunter Biden were a “very small start”.
“But unless US Attorney Weiss investigates everyone involved in the fraud schemes and influence peddling, it will be clear President Biden’s DOJ is protecting Hunter Biden and the big guy”.
(With additional reporting from Brandon Livesay)