House Republicans return to Washington this week, months into multiple investigations surrounding President Biden and his family and with the apparent intention of eventually opening an impeachment inquiry.
They’ve fanned the flames but have yet to find a smoking gun that implicates the president of directly benefiting from his family’s international business dealings or making policy decisions as vice president because of them.
An August House Oversight Committee GOP staff memo argued that it does not need to demonstrate direct payments to Biden in order to show corruption, an indication that the probe aims to paint a wider picture of allegations.
But as pressure for an inquiry ramps up, GOP investigators have their work cut out for them — particularly as they try to sway skeptics within their party to support such a move.
The sprawling investigation has pingponged back and forth between two main interests: the Bidens’ foreign business dealings, particularly in Ukraine, and a Justice Department investigation into Hunter Biden that whistleblowers allege was slow-walked by prosecutors.
Oversight investigators aiming bigger
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.), who is leading the probe into the business dealings, has flaunted that his panel has obtained thousands of pages of financial records and bank documents, and he said in June that his panel has gotten “100 percent of what we’ve requested.”
But he is signaling that getting information will be bumpier going forward, saying on Newsmax on Thursday that his panel has “just about picked all of the low-hanging fruit” and that he expects more resistance to requests going forward. An impeachment inquiry, he argued, could help put more legal weight behind their requests.
Comer also has yet to subpoena members of the Biden family — a step he said he plans to take that step at some point.
GOP committee aides told The Hill that the panel plans to continue shuffling through thousands of pages of bank records and suspicious activity reports it has obtained, seek more interviews with associates of the Bidens and press the administration for records from when Biden was vice president.
They have put together a timeline of the business events and released memos calculating how many millions of foreign dollars flowed to Biden family members, their associates and companies associated with them.
Democrats, though, argue that the mountain of information gathered shows the investigation is much weaker than Republicans argue.
“The voluminous evidence they have gathered, including thousands of pages of bank records and suspicious activity reports and hours of testimony from witnesses, overwhelmingly demonstrates no wrongdoing by President Biden and further debunks Republicans’ conspiracy theories,” House Oversight Committee ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said in a statement. “Rather than admit this unavoidable truth about their failed investigation, House Republicans have mischaracterized, cherrypicked, and concealed evidence and recycled long debunked conspiracy theories originally peddled by Rudy Giuliani and Trump, all in humiliating subservience to Donald Trump’s petulant demand that they impeach President Biden.”
The White House has repeatedly said that the president had no involvement in his son’s business dealings.
“After months of investigating, House Republicans have turned up zero evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden, so if Speaker McCarthy opens an impeachment inquiry simply to throw red meat to his most extreme far-right members, it will further prove this is nothing more than an evidence-free political stunt aimed at continuing to baselessly attack the President,” a White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations told The Hill.
Burisma and beyond
Many of the allegations central to the investigation of what happened while Biden was vice president were first raised during former President Trump’s first impeachment in 2019 and explored by GOP senators in 2020 — though the House GOP investigators now have used the records, and power of the majority, to verify and bolster some of the details from that time.
Investigators are far from proving the most salacious allegation that was also the basis of Trump’s interest in Hunter Biden: that then-Vice President Biden accepted a $5 million bribe in exchange for helping oust Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin over an investigation into Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company where Hunter Biden was a board member.
Biden, along with other world leaders at the time, was pushing to have Shokin removed over concerns he was failing to address corruption.
Still, the GOP has fixated on claims pushed by Rudy Giuliani and memorialized in an FD-1023 form documenting an unverified tip made to the FBI alleging that Biden accepted a bribe. The FBI has not corroborated the tip.
The revealing of the form by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Comer showed the confidential informant was relaying a conversation with Burisma head Mykola Zlochevsky insinuating he paid both Bidens $5 million.
Republicans point out that the confidential informant was paid by the FBI and is thought by both parties to be highly credible. But the informant also said that he could not speak to whether Zlochevsky’s claim was accurate, noting that exaggeration and bragging about paying off politicians was normal among Ukrainian businessmen.
Democrats have pointed to another document assembled by Giuliani’s team that purports to show Zlochevsky denying those same allegations, and a letter from Lev Parnas — who had investigated the claims for Giuliani — calling the Biden family allegations false.
In testimony to the committee, former Hunter Biden associate Devon Archer, also a member of the gas company’s board, said it was his understanding that the company thought Shokin’s removal would actually be bad for Burisma.
Republicans have heavily highlighted other portions of Archer’s testimony, particularly his recollection of numerous occasions when Hunter Biden put his father on speakerphone in front of foreign business associates, with the then-vice president greeting them. Biden also attended a dinner with his son, Archer and foreign business associates in 2014.
Archer said the conversation was limited to pleasantries, but Republicans argue this refutes Biden’s previous claims that he had never spoken to his son about his business.
Republicans continue to pull on other threads, including asking the National Archives for more records and emails from Biden’s time as vice president mentioning his son, Ukraine, business partners and more. In a recent request, Comer forecast that battles could ensue over production of those records based on which are “personal” records subject to release or not.
A focus on Hunter — or his prosecutor
The bigger bombshell for Republicans has revolved around what they say was the mishandling of the prosecution of Hunter Biden.
Testimony from two IRS agents who worked alongside the Justice Department and FBI investigators described prosecutors as hesitant to pursue the best evidence in the case and overly collaborative with Hunter Biden’s attorneys or the Secret Service outfit assigned to him.
While the two agents, Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, stop short of alleging political motivations played a part, they said the result was a landscape that favored Hunter Biden.
Some actions taken by the Justice Department since their appearance before Congress appeared to give some credence to their testimony.
As Hunter Biden’s plea deal fell apart, special counsel David Weiss suggested he may instead choose to pursue charges in Washington D.C. or California — the two locations where the whistleblowers said they found stronger evidence of tax crimes.
But another key line of the inquiry for the GOP — that according to one whistleblower Weiss sought but was initially denied special counsel status — has failed to gain much traction.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) zeroed in on testimony from Attorney General Merrick Garland that Weiss was assured he would be granted special attorney status if he requested it, suggesting that if the law enforcement official misled Congress it could be grounds for impeachment.
Garland and Weiss, however, have remained unified on that point, noting that the prosecutor never sought the status.
But recent developments have in some ways overtaken the dispute.
The evaporation of the plea deal in the case prompted Weiss to seek and be granted special counsel status as he previewed an intention to bring charges outside Delaware as soon as the end of the month.
The GOP has since intensified its focus on Weiss’s overall handling of the case and his choice to initially offer a plea deal on two tax charges as well as a requirement to enter into a diversion program related to denying drug use when purchasing a gun.
Republicans have dismissed it as a sweetheart deal.
“David Weiss and his compadres are going to be the primary driving force of Republican investigations going forward in the near future,” a source familiar with leadership thinking told The Hill, while warning other events could shift the landscape.
“However, this all depends on whether the government shuts down or not, and if the government shuts down the investigations stop.”
–Updated at 7:37 a.m.