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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Sam Levine in New York

Republicans struggle to provide proof of wrongdoing at Biden impeachment inquiry

House Oversight Committee holds first hearing in the impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden.
The House oversight committee holds first hearing in the impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Republicans struggled to put forward any evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden during a hearing on Thursday that’s part of a newly launched impeachment inquiry.

The hearing did not go well for Republicans, who control the US House and allege Biden was connected to his son’s business dealings that could have resulted in bribery and corruption. They have been investigating the matter for months and have yet to produce evidence linking the president to his son’s financial affairs. They failed to do so again on Thursday. Instead, the strategy appeared to be to lay the groundwork to justify a longer fishing expedition.

The three Republican witnesses who testified on Thursday all conceded they did not have firsthand knowledge of any criminal activity by Biden. Two of those witnesses, Jonathan Turley, a conservative law professor, and Bruce Dubinsky, a forensic accountant, acknowledged that the information put forward so far by the committee did not amount to corruption.

“I have previously stated that, while I believe that an impeachment inquiry is warranted, I do not believe that the evidence currently meets the standard of a high crime and misdemeanor needed for an article of impeachment,” Turley said in prepared testimony. Still, Turley argued that there were signs of influence-peddling and that the committee should investigate further.

Republicans were reportedly caught off-guard by Turley’s conclusion and an unnamed Republican aide told CNN the hearing was an “unmitigated disaster” for the effort.

“I am not here today to even suggest that there was corruption, fraud, or any wrongdoing. In my opinion, more information needs to be gathered and assessed before I would make such an assessment,” Dubinsky, the forensic accountant, said in his opening statement.

Thursday’s hearing, led by the House oversight committee, is titled The Basis for an Impeachment Inquiry of President Joseph R Biden Jr. The other Republican witness was Eileen O’Connor, a former assistant attorney general in Department of Justice’s tax division, who wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal criticizing the investigation into Hunter Biden’s finances. O’Connor served on Trump’s 2016 transition team for the treasury department, the Washington Post reported.

The impeachment inquiry appears to be a thinly veiled effort to try to muddy the waters as Donald Trump, who leads the Republican primary field, faces four different criminal cases after being twice impeached.

With little concrete evidence to work with, Republicans instead relied on Hunter Biden’s business transactions and text messages to try to cast aspersions on the president. They offered no connection to Joe Biden.

“The dots are not connected. The name that’s been mentioned the most often in this hearing is Hunter Biden, not President Biden,” Michael Gerhardt, the lone Democratic witness and a law professor at the University of North Carolina, said several hours into the hearing.

“The problem is when you sling mud, you have to have mud,” Representative Jared Moskowitz of Florida said at one point.

The White House essentially ignored the hearing. Instead, its press office blasted out several versions of the same statement throughout the day with a countdown until the government shuts down for lack of funding.

“There are 60 hours and 55 minutes until the government shuts down because of extreme House Republicans’ chaos and inability to govern. The consequences for the American people will be very damaging – from lost jobs, to troops working without pay, to jeopardizing important efforts to fight fentanyl, provide food assistance, and more. Nothing can distract from that,” one such statement read on Thursday morning.

With little substance to debate, and no fact witnesses to testify, the hearing often turned theatrical. At one point, Greg Casar, a representative of Texas, asked members to raise their hands if they thought both Hunter Biden and Donald Trump should be tried, and held accountable for their actions if convicted. All of the Democrats present raised their hands, but no Republicans did.

“I think it is worse than embarrassing that Republicans won’t raise their hands. They refuse to say that equal justice under the law should apply to everyone,” he said.

Democrats also rebuked Republicans for moving forward with an impeachment inquiry absent a full vote from the US House authorizing it. It is not clear whether there is enough GOP support for impeachment in the House for it to survive a full vote.

The New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also accused Republicans of presenting a fabricated text message between Jim and Hunter Biden – the president’s brother and son, respectively – that she pointed out omitted critical context. Representative Byron Donalds of Florida displayed a selectively edited exchange between the two in the format of iMessages, which was not how the committee originally received the communication.

In his opening statement, Representative James Comer, the Republican chairman of the House oversight committee, claimed the panel had obtained a “mountain of evidence” showing corruption.

James Comer, the oversight committee chairman at the House oversight committee impeachment inquiry.
James Comer, the oversight committee chairman, at Joe Biden’s impeachment inquiry. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

“He lied by telling the American people that there was an ‘absolute wall’ between his official government duties and his personal life. Let’s be clear: there was no wall. The door was wide open to those who purchased what a business associate described as ‘the Biden Brand’,” he said.

But the New York representative Daniel Goldman, a Democrat, pointed to the fact that Republicans had declined to call Devon Archer, Hunter Biden’s business partner to testify. He noted that, in an interview with the committee, Archer had said Joe Biden “never discussed business with Hunter Biden and his associates, he got nothing from the businesses, and never took any official acts related to the businesses”.

Republicans also rejected at least two efforts to subpoena Rudy Giuliani, a close ally of Donald Trump who was instrumental in spreading allegations of improprieties by Hunter Biden. Hunter Biden is currently suing Giuliani for the “total annihilation” of his data privacy.

For years, Republicans have sought to link Hunter Biden’s business dealings with foreign companies to Joe Biden. But after reviewing thousands of pages of Hunter Biden’s financial records, they have yet to turn up any kind of substantial evidence, according to the New York Times. GOP lawmakers hope to build enough of a case of bribery and abuse of power by Biden.

The hearing comes as Republicans have struggled to pass a spending plan to keep the US government open. Democrats have seized on the Thursday hearing to accuse Republicans of being unserious about passing a spending plan.

Jason Smith, a Missouri Republican who chairs the House ways and means committee, also said Biden was connected to his son’s business dealings, something Republicans have been unable to prove. “Whether it was lunches, phone calls, White House meetings or official foreign trips, Hunter Biden cashed in by arranging access to Joe Biden, the family brand,” Smith said in his opening remarks.

In a lengthy response, Representative Jamie Raskin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, blasted Republicans for focusing on impeachment days before the US government was set to shut down due to lack of funding.

“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,” he said. “They don’t have the votes because dozens of Republicans recognize what a futile and absurd process this is.”

Republicans have said they will move forward with impeachment, even if the government shuts down.

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