WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 20: U.S. President Joe Biden hugs his wife Dr. Jill Biden, son Hunter Biden and daughter Ashley Biden after being sworn in as U.S. president during his inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today’s inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — With two days before a partial government shutdown, House Republicans held their first impeachment inquiry hearing Thursday over unproven allegations that President Joe Biden benefited from his son’s business dealings overseas.
Witnesses tapped by Republicans for the House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing acknowledged that there was no evidence showing that the president profited from his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings when he was vice president in the Obama administration.
The chair of the committee, Republican Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, has spent the last nine months holding various hearings about Hunter Biden, but those investigations haven’t revealed any direct link or that Biden made any financial gains.
Comer said that the committee will continue to “follow the money and the evidence to provide accountability.”
Democrats argued that not only have the investigations from GOP lawmakers for the past year not yet revealed any evidence linking the president, but that the hearing was a distraction from the looming government shutdown on Saturday at midnight.
The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, pulled up a countdown clock of the government shutdown on a laptop.
“If the Republicans had a smoking gun, or even a dripping water pistol, they would be presenting it today, but they’ve got nothing on Joe Biden,” Raskin said.
The White House also slammed the hearing as a political stunt.
“Today, House Republicans wasted hours peddling debunked lies, even as their own witnesses admitted there is no evidence that merits this baseless stunt,” White House spokesperson for oversight & investigations Sharon Yang said in a statement. “This flop was a failed effort to distract from their own chaos and inability to govern that is careening the country towards an unnecessary government shutdown that will hurt American families.”
The U.S. Senate is on track to clear a short-term government funding bill in the days ahead. But it’s unclear if it can happen before the deadline to avert a shutdown, or if House GOP leaders will put the bill up for a vote in that chamber.
The Republican witnesses did not provide direct information of any wrongdoing by the president, but Republicans repeatedly asked them if the allegations that Biden used his official position to enrich his family were enough for an impeachment investigation.
Those witnesses were Jonathan Turley, a conservative legal expert, Bruce Dubinsky, a forensic accountant, and Eileen O’Connor, a former Department of Justice tax attorney.
Turley said that while he supported an impeachment inquiry, he did not believe there was enough evidence for articles of impeachment. He said Republicans would need more evidence for that.
“I do not believe that the evidence currently meets the standard of a high crime and misdemeanor needed for an article of impeachment,” he said in his opening statement.
Dubinsky also said in his testimony that there was no clear evidence that the president is linked to “any improper or illicit activities.”
“In my opinion, more information needs to be gathered and assessed before I would make such an assessment,” he said.
There was one witness from Democrats, Michael Gerhardt, an impeachment expert and law school professor at the University of North Carolina.
He boiled down the impeachment inquiry to an analogy: “Hunter Biden is arrested for speeding in a car owned by his father, and the police go after the father,” he said. “I don’t think that’s how the law should work. I don’t think that’s how impeachment should work.”
Special Counsel David Weiss indicted Hunter Biden in connection with a gun purchase in 2018 in which he lied about his drug use.
Before the hearing, Republicans released bank records that had wire transfers from a Chinese businessman to Hunter Biden in 2019, and the address on the wire transfer form listed the president’s home address.
Raskin asked Gerhardt if Republicans had enough evidence for the basis of an impeachment inquiry.
“If that’s what exists for a basis of this inquiry, it is not sufficient,” Gerhardt said.
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York asked all four witnesses if they could provide first-hand witness accounts of any wrongdoing. All witnesses said no.
Democratic Rep. Maxwell Frost of Florida made similar remarks, and said that none of the Republican witnesses had provided answers.
“Let’s pull back the curtain on what’s really going on,” Frost said. “There’s no evidence of crime, only desperation and political pressure.”
Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Florida called the hearing a disaster, and said even the Republican-picked witnesses concluded that there was no evidence.
“Boy, that is awkward,” he said. “When you sling mud, you gotta have mud.”
Republicans argued that Hunter Biden used his family name as a brand to gain access to influential people.
GOP Reps. Mike Turner of Ohio and Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin accused Hunter Biden of “influence peddling.”
Turley told lawmakers that the big question when it comes to Hunter Biden’s business dealings is,“Did the president know?”
“The only way you’ll be able to get that is to follow this evidence,” Turley said.
Republican Ways and Means Chair Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, who is not on the committee but gave a brief statement, also accused the Justice Department of protecting “the Biden family brand.”
Comer said based on the witnesses’ testimony, the next step for the committee is to request bank records. At the close of the hearing, Comer said he plans on issuing subpoenas for bank records of Hunter Biden, the president’s brother James Biden, and “their affiliated companies.”
“This committee, under my leadership, does not launch investigations based on predetermined conclusions,” Comer said. “This is how an investigation is supposed to work.”
Raskin said that the whole “hearing has been dominated by the word ‘if.’”
“You don’t impeach a president over hypotheticals,” he said.
No formal vote
Democrats such as Reps. Katie Porter of California and Raskin also criticized the fact that the House has not held a formal vote to begin an impeachment process.
Earlier this month, GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced that Comer, with assistance from House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan of Ohio and Smith, would lead the impeachment inquiry.
The inquiry allows for McCarthy to skirt a floor vote, as it’s unclear if he has 218 votes for the House to launch a formal probe. The announcement comes as a far-right group of Republicans have pushed for an impeachment investigation and have threatened McCarthy’s position as speaker.
Gerhardt said that one of the guardrails of the impeachment process is that a majority of the House is on board.
“(McCarthy’s) members are demanding an impeachment, but through months and months of investigating our president have not revealed yet any evidence that he himself has committed crimes, but Speaker McCarthy wants to keep his job, so he is set on delivering an impeachment inquiry whether or not there is any evidence,” Porter said.
Democratic Reps. Summer Lee of Pennsylvania and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan raised concerns that the committee was focusing its energy on the impeachment inquiry rather than the looming government shutdown.
Lee called it a “sham” hearing.
“I care about the 7 million babies, children, mothers across this country who after Sunday will lose access to food and formula — over 10,000 in my district alone,” she said.
Tlaib said that thousands in her district will be harmed if a government shutdown happens.
“Republicans are literally just putting aside and saying no, we’re gonna do this instead,” she said. “We’re gonna go and bring the campaigning, the ugliest toxicity that our families don’t need right now into this chamber instead of doing what we need to do, which is making sure we have a functional government that provides for our families,” she said.
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