GOP struggles to find footing in first Biden impeachment hearing

The Republican impeachment inquiry into President Biden got off to a rocky start Thursday as the GOP sought to stress a need for the investigation while Democrats argued they had done little to advance the specter of wrongdoing by the man they aim to remove from office. 

Republicans sought to draw attention to evidence as sprawling as the probe itself, bouncing back and forth between reviewing Hunter Biden’s business dealings, communications with family members and associates, and the ongoing Justice Department investigation into his failure to pay taxes.

Still, the bulk of what they reviewed dealt only with Hunter Biden, not his father, even as House Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) said “our investigation is now focused on whether President Biden engaged in impeachable offenses under the U.S. Constitution.”

Comer wrapped the hearing saying the panel would issue a subpoena for Hunter Biden’s personal bank records as well as those of his companies.

Democrats vacillated between drawing attention to the looming government shutdown — passing an iPad with a countdown clock from member to member — and what they deem holes in connecting any wrongdoing to President Biden.

Republicans’ star witnesses not always a help for GOP

Even as Republicans sought to convince the public of the need for an inquiry, GOP-invited witnesses at turns undercut their message, saying there was not currently enough evidence to back an impeachment resolution.

Jonathan Turley, a go-to witness for conservatives in Congress, at one point told lawmakers that some of the details they’d gathered “really do gravitate in favor of the president.”

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

At another point, when asked to weigh in on GOP claims that Hunter Biden was engaged in “influence peddling,” Turley said Congress has failed to do needed work to connect it to President Biden.

“The key here that the committee has to drill down on is whether they can establish a linkage with the influence peddling, which is a form of corruption, and the President whether he had knowledge, whether he participated, whether he encouraged it. We simply don’t know, and we don’t even know if this was an illusion or not. But you can’t find the answers to that,” Turley said.

“But without that type of nexus, then no, I don’t,” he added in response to whether he would back a vote to impeach President Biden.

Bruce Dubinsky, a forensic accountant also invited to testify by the GOP, said the party had not yet laid out enough evidence to even suggest there is wrongdoing.

“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,” he said in his opening statement.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) later repeated some of Turley’s comments in his own line of questioning.

“Boy, that’s awkward,” he said. “As a former director of Emergency Management, I know a disaster when I see one.”

Republicans lay out their goals — but say they’ve got the goods

The GOP offered an inconsistent message about the status of their investigation, at some turns suggesting they have gathered significant evidence that shows Biden family corruption while at others saying they had launched the investigation in order to determine whether there was any wrongdoing.

In his opening remarks, Comer suggested they already have such evidence, saying the committee “will examine over two dozen pieces of evidence revealing Joe Biden’s corruption and abuse of public office.”

But he later hedged that, saying he has no predetermined conclusions. 

“The title of this hearing is an impeachment inquiry. I think that Mr. Turley has done a good job explaining the basis for why we need to take the impeachment inquiry and go forward. We have led this investigation and now we need the inquiry status as we move forward to get the information,” Comer said, adding they will need information from the Biden family. 

Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) pushed back on Democrats’ claims they have “no direct evidence” linking Hunter Biden’s business to his father, pointing to photos of the president at dinners with associates of his son.

“Here is the pattern. You have crooked foreigners who deliver pallets of cash to the Bidens and they have dinner with Joe, and apparently Joe Biden is an expensive dinner date, and if that is not selling political access, I don’t know what is,” he said.

But other Republicans cast the evidence they’ve gathered as a rationale for continuing their search rather than proof of wrongdoing.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) flashed a series of texts from different Biden family members, asking witnesses if those were worth looking into further. 

“Do you think this text message would lead this committee to get further information about the business dealings of Hunter Biden and how that links to Jim Biden the president’s brother?” he asked, noting the text presumably referred to the need to protect President Biden. 

He flashed another text showing Hunter Biden’s daughter Naomi Biden texting her father and making a comment about how she would not ask for half of his salary like “pop.”

“Would you be looking for information related to money going from son to father,” Donalds asked.

Democrats were dismissive of Republicans who said the inquiry was a jumping off point for gathering more evidence that would answer the questions they’ve laid out.

“Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle in this hearing have questions, but questions are not the basis for an impeachment. Evidence is,” Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) said.

Democrats say it’s ‘an impeachment hearing about nothing’

Democrats on the panel largely used their time to showcase the gaps in connecting activities of the two Bidens.

Ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) at one point quipped the hearing was like a “Seinfeld” episode, calling it “an impeachment hearing about nothing.”

“If Republicans had a smoking gun or even a dripping water pistol, they would be presenting it today. They’ve got nothing on President Joe Biden. All they can do is return to the thoroughly demolished lie that Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump launched five years ago. The Burisma conspiracy theory, a fairytale so preposterous that one of the main authors, Lev Parnas, has now disowned and repudiated it,” Raskin said, nodding to a former associate of Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and lawyer to Trump.

Most argued Republicans couldn’t meet the standard for high crimes and misdemeanors required for impeachment, saying they were unable to tie the president to their complaints about his son.

“I hear a lot about the Biden family. This is an impeachment inquiry about President Biden. I would try to discern what the allegations are for the president because they are nonexistent at this point,” Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said.

Michael Gerhardt, a Democratic witness who has addressed Congress multiple times on impeachment, said Republicans’ focus on Hunter Biden would not help make their case.

“The problem is that the dots are not connected. The name that’s been repeated most often in this hearing is Hunter Biden, not President Biden. And the point of an impeachment inquiry is not about a president’s son, it has to be about the president himself. And I don’t think those dots have been connected. There have been lots of assumptions, lots of accusations, but not evidence,” he said.

Several Democrats argued the Republicans’ goal was to drag down Biden to dilute focus as Trump faces four ongoing criminal prosecutions. 

“In the case of President Joe Biden, [Republicans] decided to start the impeaching now and figure out the whole evidence thing later, and you still haven’t figured it out,” Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas) said.

“This inquiry is a cynical attempt to tar everyone, to make everyone look suspect, to make everyone look corrupt, so that voters just give up and say, ‘There’s not much difference here.’”

And Moskowitz said Republicans efforts to launch a legitimate inquiry were undercut by Republicans who raced to file numerous impeachment inquiries at the start of the new Congress.

“Every single member, many on this committee, pre-judging their filing articles … They’re all one upping each other in the Donald Trump friend Olympics trying to get invited to the sleepover at Mar-a-Lago. ‘I filed articles of impeachment against Merrick Garland.’ ‘No, I filed articles of impeachment against Kamala Harris.’ It is ridiculous,” he said.

Republicans refuse to call in Rudy Giuliani 

Republicans on the panel twice quashed efforts by Democrats to bring in Rudy Giuliani and in one case an associate who worked alongside him as he traveled to Ukraine to further allegations that Biden improperly intervened to oust a Ukrainian prosecutor to benefit his son.

Raskin first made the motion, calling Giuliani and his associate Lev Parnas “the origins of the lie on which this sham impeachment is based and who worked to spread it.”

It was Giuliani who sought to raise allegations that Biden sought to force out a Ukrainian prosecutor to benefit his son — despite backing from the international community and the State Department that the prosecutor should be removed due to a failure to address corruption.

“When I walked into this hearing room, my first question was, where is Rudy Giuliani?” Lynch said. 

“This is supposed to be an inquiry on the facts against the president for potentially articles of impeachment. The one person, the one person, who was an agent of President Trump [who] was sent to Ukraine to dig up some dirt, find some dirt on Joe Biden … We do not have him here. We are not allowed to ask him questions.”

Both motions to bring Giuliani before the panel were blocked by subsequent motions from Republicans.

At one point, Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) held up a sign asking “Where is Rudy?”  

“This committee is afraid to bring him before us and put him on the record. Shame!” he said.

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