House Republicans start making their case for President Biden impeachment inquiry at first hearing

House Republicans are making the case for pursuing an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden

Farnoush Amiri,Lisa Mascaro,Eric Tucker
Thursday 28 September 2023 16:29 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

House Republicans launched their first formal impeachment hearing Thursday against President Joe Biden saying they intend to “provide accountability” as they make their case to the public, their colleagues and skeptics in the Senate.

The chairmen of the Oversight, Judiciary, and Ways and Means committees are using the first hearing of their impeachment inquiry to review the constitutional and legal questions involved. They are trying to show what they say are links to his son Hunter’s overseas businesses, though key witnesses said they do not yet see hard evidence of impeachable offenses.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky, the Oversight chairman, said in opening remarks the lawmakers have “a mountain of evidence” that will show that the elder Biden “abused his public office for his family's financial gain.”

Comer said the panel will continue to “follow the money and the evidence to provide accountability” to the American people.

It’s a high-stakes opening act for Republicans as they begin a process that can lead to the ultimate penalty for a president, punishment for what the Constitution describes as “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The hearing comes days before a potential government shutdown and while House Republicans face deep resistance in the Senate from Republicans who worry about political ramifications of impeachment — and who say Biden’s conviction and removal from office is a near impossibility.

As the hearing began, Democrats displayed a screen showing the days, hours and minutes left until the government shuts down as Congress struggles to fund the government before Saturday’s deadline.

“We’re 62 hours away from shutting down the government of the United States of America and Republicans are launching an impeachment drive, based on a long debunked and discredited lie,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the Oversight panel.

Raskin questioned the legitimacy of the hearing since the House has not voted to formally launch the impeachment inquiry. He said Republicans are rehashing five-year-old allegations from Donald Trump, who is Biden’s chief rival in 2024, first raised during the 2019 Trump impeachment.

“They don’t have a shred of evidence against President Biden for an impeachable offense,” he said.

The hearing Thursday is not featuring witnesses with information about the Bidens or Hunter Biden's business work. Instead, the panel heard testimony from outside experts in tax law, criminal investigations and constitutional legal theory.

A top Republican witness, Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who is an expert in impeachment issues, said he believed the House had passed the threshold for an inquiry but that the current evidence was not enough for charges.

“I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment,” Turley said.

Democrats, who decry the investigation as a political ploy aimed at hurting Biden and helping Trump as he runs again for president, brought in Michael Gerhardt, a law professor who has also appeared as an expert in previous impeachment proceedings.

In detailing the reasons Republicans say they have to impeach Biden, Gerhardt concluded: “If that’s what exists, as a basis for this inquiry, it is not sufficient. I say that with all respect.”

Gerhardt said, “A fishing expedition is not a legitimate purpose.”

In the run-up to the hearing, Republicans unveiled a tranche of new documents and bank records that detail wire transfers from a Chinese businessman to Hunter Biden in 2019. Hunter Biden had listed his father’s address on the wire transfer form, which Republicans say provided a clear link to the president.

Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Hunter Biden, said the address on the wire transfer, which he says was a loan, was listed to the president's Delaware home only because it was the address on Hunter Biden's driver's license and "his only permanent address at the time.”

“Once again Rep. Comer peddles lies to support a premise — some wrongdoing by Hunter Biden or his family — that evaporates in thin air the moment facts come out,” Lowell said in a statement.

Republicans have been investigating Hunter Biden for years, since his father was vice president. And while there have been questions raised about the ethics around the family's international business, none of the evidence so far has proven that the president, in his current or previous office, abused his role, accepted bribes or both.

House Republicans are also looking into the Justice Department investigation into Hunter Biden's taxes and gun use that began in 2018. Two IRS whistleblowers came forward to Congress in the spring with claims that department officials thwarted their efforts to fully investigate Hunter Biden and that the agents faced retaliation when they pushed back.

“The Biden Justice Department protected the Biden family brand.” said Rep. Jason Smith, a Missouri Republican and Ways and Means chairman.

What Smith did not mention was that that message occurred during the Trump Justice Department and was likely in keeping with the agency’s practice of avoiding overt investigative steps concerning political candidates in the immediate run-up to an election.

The claims have since been disputed by the Department of Justice, the IRS and FBI agents who worked on the case.

The central focus of the testimonies have been surrounding an Oct. 7, 2022, meeting that agents from both the IRS and FBI had with David Weiss, U.S. attorney for Delaware, who has been charged with investigating Hunter Biden.

Gary Shapley, a veteran IRS agent who had been assigned to case, testified to the Ways and Means Committee in May that Weiss said during that meeting that he was not the “deciding person whether charges are filed” against Hunter Biden.

Two FBI agents who were in attendance told lawmakers this month that they have no recollection of Weiss saying that.

But Republicans have pointed to a failed plea deal over the summer as proof that Hunter Biden received preferential treatment because of who his father was.

“They tried to put together this sweetheart deal,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the Judiciary chairman.

The impeachment inquiry hearing is taking place as the federal government is days away from what is likely to be a damaging government shutdown that would halt paychecks for millions of federal workers and the military and disrupt services for millions of Americans.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced the impeachment inquiry this month after he yielded to mounting pressure from his right flank to take action against Biden or risk being ousted from his leadership job.

The hearing Thursday is expected to be the first of many as House Republicans explore how this inquiry will end and whether or not they will pursue articles of impeachment against the president.

It's unclear if McCarthy has support from his slim Republican majority to impeach Biden, as rank-and-file lawmakers have expressed reservations about the inquiry. If Biden was impeached, the charges would then be sent to the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority and the president would likely be acquitted in a trial.

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