The political arena in 2023 brought some standout courtroom moments, with cases involving a former president, the current president's family, and sitting members of Congress.
With the ramifications of each case still looming ahead of the 2024 presidential year, let's look back to the top four political courtroom moments of 2023.
Hunter Biden plea deal falls apart
President Biden's son Hunter left federal court on July 26, 2023 after his pre-arranged plea deal with the Justice Department fell apart. The dissolution of the deal followed surprising revelations that Hunter Biden is still under investigation for possible Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) crimes.
Under the agreement, Hunter Biden would have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor tax charges and avoided a full prosecution on a gun charge if he stayed out of trouble for two years. He's accused of having a gun for 11 days in 2018, a period where he has acknowledged using drugs, despite a law prohibiting "habitual drug users" from owning guns.
Judge Maryellen Noreika did not accept the plea agreement, questioning its constitutionality and the broad immunity Hunter Biden would have received, leading Hunter Biden to plead "not guilty" instead.
Since the dissolution of that deal, federal prosecutors have filed three felony gun counts in Delaware and, in December, nine tax counts in California alleging he schemed to avoid paying $1.4 million in taxes between 2016 and 2019.
Trump takes the stand in civil trial stemming from New York Attorney General Letitia James lawsuit
Former President Trump took the stand on Nov. 6, 2023, in the non-jury civil trial stemming from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit alleging he defrauded banks and inflated the value of his assets. The 2024 GOP front-runner has repeatedly cast James’ years-long investigation and lawsuit as a "disgrace" and an attack on his business and his family.
Taking the stand, Trump deemed the case "a political witch hunt," insisting that he was worth billions more, not less, than his financial statements said. Trump said that any misstatements were immaterial mistakes and that disclaimers effectively told recipients not to count on the numbers. The disclaimers said, among other things, that the statements weren't audited.
"This is not a political rally," Judge Arthur Engoron bristled at Trump at one point, complaining that Trump was giving speeches instead of answering questions and urging defense lawyers to "control" the former president.
The trial neared its conclusion after more than 10 weeks when testimony from 40 witnesses wrapped up in early December. Closing arguments are set for Jan. 11.
The suit threatens Trump’s real estate empire and is attempting to stop him from doing business in his native state, alleging he overvalued real estate holding including his Trump Tower penthouse in New York and Mar-a-Lago residence and resort in Florida, as well as golf courses, hotels, a Wall Street office building and more.
The trial included testimony from three of Trump's adult children: Donald Jr., Eric and their sister Ivanka, who was their fellow executive vice president at the Trump Organization before she left the company for the White House. Former Trump fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen took the stand for James’ office.
George Santos charged in federal court
Then U.S. Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., pleaded not guilty on May 10, 2023, in the Eastern District of New York, hours after an initial 13-count indictment was unsealed against him.
Santos faces a host of charges that he defrauded donors to his campaign, lied to Congress about his wealth, received unemployment benefits while employed and used campaign contributions to pay for personal expenses like designer clothing.
"The reality is, it’s a witch hunt," Santos told reporters outside the courthouse afterward, accusing President Biden and his family of receiving deposits from foreign destinations without legal consequences.
Santos pleaded not guilty again in October to additional charges that he made tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges on credit cards belonging to some of his campaign donors. He was ultimately expelled from Congress on Dec. 1, 2023, after a damning House ethics report, and a special election has been scheduled for Feb. 13, 2024, to choose his replacement. Democrats have put forward Former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, while Republicans named former IDF soldier Mazi Melesa Pilip as their candidate.
Bob Menendez indictment
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., his wife Nadine, and three New Jersey businessmen were charged in September in connection to a years-long corruption scheme in which the high-ranking Democrat allegedly agreed to use his position to benefit the Egyptian government in exchange for hundreds of thousands of bribes, including gold bars, cash and a luxury convertible.
A defiant Menendez has refused calls from his own party members – from Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy to local officials – to resign, and has pleaded not guilty to those charges, filed in the Southern District of New York, as well as additional charges of acting as a foreign agent tacked on by the Justice Department in October.
Authorities who searched Menendez’s home last year found more than $100,000 worth of gold bars, as well as over $480,000 in cash — much of it hidden in closets, clothing and a safe, prosecutors say. Photos in the indictment show cash that was stuffed in envelopes in jackets bearing Menendez’s name. Investigators also say they discovered a Google search by Menendez for the value of a "kilo of gold," and DNA of one man prosecutors say bribed him on an envelope filled with thousands of dollars.
Fox News' Brianna Herlihy, Jake Gibson, Brooke Singman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.