By Farnoush Amiri, Lisa Mascaro and Eric Tucker
House Republicans launched a formal impeachment hearing Thursday against President Joe Biden, promising to “provide accountability” as they probe the family finances and business dealings of his son Hunter and make their case to the public, colleagues and a skeptical Senate.
The chairmen of the Oversight, Judiciary, and Ways and Means committees used the opening hearing of their impeachment inquiry to review the constitutional and legal questions involved. They are trying to show what they say are links to Biden's 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 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, coming in the midst of a potential federal government shutdown, 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 more than five-hour hearing comes as House Republicans face scattered resistance to an impeachment inquiry from their own ranks to an impeachment inquiry and deep reluctance in the Senate from Republicans who worry about political ramifications and 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 as the day began.
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 raised by Donald Trump, who is Biden’s chief rival in 2024, during the former president's 2019 impeachment over Ukraine.
“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. Instead, the panel heard from outside experts in tax law, criminal investigations and constitutional legal theory.
A top Republican-called 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.”
Still, questions remain as Republicans dig into the Biden family finances and Hunter Biden, who has acknowledged being a drug user during much of the time under scrutiny.
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.
One former business partner of Hunter Biden has told House investigators the son was selling the “illusion of access” to his father.
Turley told the lawmakers the question remains, “Was the president involved?”
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 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.
The White House issued statements throughout the hearing saying nothing can distract from the Republicans' inability to govern as hours moved toward a shutdown.
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 they faced retaliation when they pushed back.
The claims have since been disputed by the Department of Justice, the IRS and FBI agents who worked on the case.
“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 the discussions occurred during the Trump Justice Department and were likely in keeping with the agency’s practice of avoiding overt investigative steps concerning political candidates in the immediate run-up to an election.
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 egged on by Trump and with mounting pressure from his right flank to take action against Biden or risk being ousted from his leadership job.
Trump is the only president to be twice impeached, first over accusations he pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden and later over accusations that he incited the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol. He was acquitted in both cases by the Senate.
The hearing Thursday is expected to be the first of many as House Republicans explore 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. If Biden was impeached, the charges would then be sent to the Senate for a trial.