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She’s Hunter Biden’s rock. She may also be his secret weapon with the jury

Hunter Biden and Melissa Cohen Biden
Hunter Biden arrives at federal court in Wilmington, Del., with his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
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To prove to jurors that Hunter Biden was an addict who lied about his drug use to buy a gun, federal prosecutors have turned to the women closest to him.

His ex-wife recalled finding a crack pipe on the porch a day after their anniversary. A former stripper turned girlfriend told the jury about their monthlong stay in a Chateau Marmont bungalow, where dealers squired cocaine through a private entrance.

Then there was Hallie Biden, who had been married to his brother Beau. In a stormy entanglement brought on by grief over Beau’s death, she briefly became Hunter’s lover.

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“I called you 500 times in the past 24 hours,” she texted Hunter two days after he bought the gun. Hunter replied that he was “smoking crack” in downtown Wilmington, Del.

Another woman in the life of President Biden’s son has listened intently through it all, holding his hand as they arrived at and left the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building in Wilmington each day last week: Melissa Cohen Biden, his wife of five years.

Always perched in the same seat — second spot in the front row, next to a Secret Service agent, a few feet from her husband — Melissa has had a clear view of the jury, her wide, blue eyes taking in the rehashing of her husband’s darkest chapter.

Surrounded by relatives, including First Lady Jill Biden, Melissa was the only family member whom defense attorney Abbe Lowell called out by name in his opening statement. Gesturing toward her, Lowell said Melissa helped Hunter face “the true depth of his trauma.”

In the theater of the courtroom — especially a trial where the prosecution’s star witnesses have been three of Hunter Biden’s former lovers — Melissa’s role is singular and potent with the only audience that matters now: the jury.

Hunter Biden and Melissa Cohen Biden depart court on Friday, June 7.
Hunter Biden and Melissa Cohen Biden depart court on Friday, June 7.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
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Her blonde hair often pulled back in a bun, Melissa hasn’t hesitated to show emotion.

When the lead prosecutor concluded his opening statement by urging the jury to find Hunter guilty, she shook her head and mouthed, “No.” She shook her head again when the prosecutor unsheathed a Macbook Pro 13 and held it up to the jury — Hunter’s infamous laptop, seized by the FBI from a Delaware repair shop. She shed a few tears during the airing of her husband’s memoir.

One headline-grabbing outburst occurred outside the presence of the jurors, in the cramped, fluorescent-lit court hallway where reporters mingle with Secret Service agents and Biden relatives.

There, Melissa confronted Garrett Ziegler, a former aide to Donald Trump whose nonprofit published a cache of Hunter’s emails, texts and redacted nude images, along with his sister Ashley Biden’s stolen diary. Hunter has sued Ziegler in L.A., saying his “unhinged and obsessed campaign” against the Biden family broke state and federal cyber-fraud laws. Ziegler has denied this.

“You have no right to be here, you Nazi piece of s—,” Cohen told Ziegler.

Ziegler later said he was minding his own business during the trial.

Hunter Biden, left, arrives to federal court with his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

“She knew about everything already, but to hear it in court, this is difficult as hell,” said Bobby Sager, a friend of Melissa who sat in trial each day, at times clutching her hand, and dined each night with her and Hunter.

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The Biden clan has shown up in force to a trial on charges that are almost never filed as a standalone case — proof to many that he’s being made an example because his father is president.

The first lady crisscrossed the Atlantic, leaving the president behind in France to be there for nearly every day of testimony, always sitting next to Melissa. The president’s sister, Val Owens, along with her husband and children, have rotated through the courtroom with a coterie of friends. Melissa has embraced each, even blowing a kiss to the first lady’s senior advisor, Anthony Bernal, during one break last week.

Lawyers and jury experts who are not involved in the case said Melissa’s supportive presence could be a powerful factor for jurors.

“The jury has to believe that he’s transformed,” even “redeemed,” said Julie Blackman, a trial strategy consultant and social psychologist who previously advised Lowell in Sen. Robert Menendez’s first criminal trial, which ended with the jury deadlocked.

“He has the proof — his wife sitting there, standing by him and standing by him despite all the things the jury is hearing that he did,” she said, noting that Melania Trump’s absence was conspicuous during her husband’s trial.

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The Bidens’ meeting in the spring of 2019 was hardly auspicious.

Hunter had just been kicked out of Petit Ermitage, an ivy-covered luxury hotel in West Hollywood, but continued lounging by the pool and smoking crack every 20 minutes, he recalled in his memoir, “Beautiful Things.”

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People he met there introduced him to their friend Melissa by scribbling her phone number on his hand. The pair met the next night at the restaurant at the Sunset Marquis hotel.

“You have the exact same eyes as my brother,” Hunter told Melissa. “I know this probably isn’t a good way to start a first date, but I’m in love with you.”

That night, Hunter divulged his crack addiction. She didn’t balk.

“Well, not any more. You’re finished with that,” she told him.

In a matter of days, Melissa transformed his life, Hunter wrote. She confiscated his phone, computer and car keys, deleted every contact whose name wasn’t Biden and reset the password on his laptop. Likening her to a jailer, he said she disposed of the drugs and enforced strict compliance.

“I couldn’t go to the bathroom without her following me inside,” Hunter wrote.

She fended off the dealers who wanted their “cash cow” back, changed his phone number and found a mid-century modern rental high in the Hollywood Hills where they could start their new life.

On May 17, 2019, they were married in a rooftop ceremony by the owner of Instant Marriage L.A. They had known each other less than two weeks.

“Honey,” Hunter said his father told him, “I knew that when you found love again, I’d get you back.”

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How wealthy Hollywood attorney Kevin Morris joined forces with Hunter Biden to help the president’s son face his legal and personal problems.

Jan. 4, 2024

By then, Melissa was 32 and had lived in L.A. for more than a decade, friends recalled. Born in South Africa, she had been placed in a “children’s home” as a toddler before Zoe and Lee Cohen, a Jewish couple in Johannesburg with three sons, adopted her.

She came to L.A. on a gap year and planned to go to India, Hunter wrote, but instead married Jason Landver, who was from a Westside family in the jewelry business. He filed for divorce in 2014 after three years.

In his book, Hunter described Melissa as an activist and “aspiring” documentary filmmaker who spoke five languages. Before meeting him, she had tried unsuccessfully to raise $30,000 for a documentary, “Tribal Worlds,” which an online crowdfunding profile described as a “series on the past present & future of humanity told through the lens of African tribal communities.”

“She’s such a sweet girl, so smart, so present,” said Melissa Curtin, a travel writer and former teacher who has known Cohen for about 18 years. When they met in the aughts, Cohen was single and part of a group of friends who hit the Hollywood clubs and headed to Malibu for the Fourth of July. Curtin said Cohen radiates energy that is “magnetic” and cares about animals and conservation.

“In real life, she is sweet, dynamic, fun and funny — I miss hanging out with her,” Curtin added.

President Joe Biden with his grandson, Beau Biden, and First Lady Jill Biden in 2022.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)
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Seven weeks shy of her first anniversary with Hunter, shortly after stay-at-home orders were imposed in March 2020, Melissa gave birth to their son at Cedars-Sinai. He’s the namesake of both Hunter’s late brother and the president: Joseph Robinette Biden IV, or Beau.

Curtin said she last saw Melissa at the Malibu Farmers Market during the pandemic, ensconced by Secret Service agents dressed in plainclothes “as Malibu guys.”

“She has a happy life and a happy kid, and it seems great, minus all the other stuff,” Curtin said.

Melissa said as much in 2019, telling ABC News, “Things have not been easy externally, but internally, things have been amazing.”

Since their marriage, the couple has been in the eye of a storm: Millions in unpaid alimony to Hunter’s first wife, Kathleen Buhle. Confirmation that prior to their marriage, he had fathered a daughter with a former stripper who worked as his assistant. An impeachment inquiry centered on his overseas business dealings. Daily attacks by Trump and his allies. And then, the revelation of reams of Hunter’s personal data, purportedly from the laptop he dropped off at the Delaware repair shop — eliminating whatever privacy he had left.

Throughout, paparazzi have trailed them strolling in the Grove at Christmastime, getting lunch at the Waldorf-Astoria, hiking, shopping at Whole Foods in Malibu, eating pizza.

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Hunter Biden, left, with defense attorney Abbe Lowell.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Nothing has compared to the trial, where press from around the world snap Melissa’s every move from the doors of the courthouse to the black SUVs that chauffeur the couple.

“It’s difficult to be put through this and hear various people testifying,” said Sager, the friend of the couple. He singled out prosecutors’ questioning of Zoe Kestan, the former stripper who detailed a bicoastal love affair in which she helped Hunter buy cocaine in Rhode Island while he was undergoing drug treatment.

Leo Wise, one of the prosecutors, asked Kestan to state how old she was at the time of the relationship: 24.

“How old was he?” asked Wise.

“Twice my age, so 48,” Kestan said. She had earlier noted that Hunter’s daughters were close to her age.

Afterward, in describing the exchange, Sager made a point that many Biden allies have made about the effort to prosecute Hunter: “What’s the point of that? It just seems cruel.”

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The jury will begin deliberating this week as to whether Hunter should be convicted of three felonies: for lying on a federal background check form to buy a gun in October 2018, lying to a firearms dealer and owning a gun for 11 days when he was an unlawful drug user. Prosecutors are unspooling Hunter’s sordid past in an attempt to prove he was an illicit drug user, contrary to what he wrote on the form.

A second trial is scheduled for September in Los Angeles on alleged tax crimes, with prosecutors accusing Hunter of failing to timely pay taxes on more than $7 million in income and misclassifying lifestyle expenses as business costs. (He has since paid all his taxes and penalties.)

In all matters, Melissa’s presence can only help Hunter, said jury expert Lee Meihls, who has consulted for the defense or prosecution on 500 trials, including the acquittals of Robert Blake and Michael Jackson and the recent convictions in L.A. County of Danny Masterson and Robert Durst.

“It’s a way of making an emotional connection between Hunter Biden and the jurors — because this is personal,” Meihls said, adding that some jurors need that connection as they filter evidence and make a decision. “This is his wife. He’s having his dirty laundry being exposed, and she’s still there — she’s not running away from him.”

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