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    Sunday, December 03, 2023

    As shutdown looms, House impeachment inquiry of Biden commences

    President Joe Biden speaks about his administration's economic agenda during an event at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md., Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

    WASHINGTON - House Republicans on Thursday will hold their first hearing as part of an inquiry into whether to impeach President Joe Biden, in a bid to legitimize the formalization of an investigation that has yet to unearth any damaging evidence that the then-vice president profited from his son's work in Ukraine and elsewhere.

    The first hearing, to be led by House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., will not present any firsthand witnesses who can speak to how Hunter Biden conducted business or whether his father assisted him.

    Instead, the committee will hear testimony from conservative legal scholar Jonathan Turley, forensic accountant Bruce Dubinsky, and a former Justice Department tax attorney, Eileen O'Connor - who are expected to further the case that Biden engaged in wrongdoing, instead of provide direct information to bolster the House GOP's allegations that Biden used his official perch to enrich his family.

    The hearing is a culmination of nine months of investigative work by the committee into Hunter Biden's work as a consultant and lawyer. Comer's team has obtained more than 12,000 pages of financial records, and has conducted interviews with individuals who worked closely with Hunter Biden in various capacities. While they have discovered new evidence and testimony that Hunter Biden tried to leverage the Biden family name, the committee has not found that Biden himself benefited from his son's business dealings.

    House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced this month that the House would formally begin an inquiry. He argued that doing so would arm GOP investigators with more leverage to subpoena White House officials. But the inquiry, announced ahead of negotiations to fund the government and potentially avoid a shutdown, appeared designed to help McCarthy fend off a challenge from hard-right lawmakers eager to intensify investigations of the president amid his reelection campaign - and oust McCarthy from his seat.

    White House officials have dismissed the inquiry as a partisan exercise based on no evidence of wrongdoing by the president.

    Comer said in a statement on Monday that the committee will "present evidence uncovered to date and hear from legal and financial experts about crimes the Bidens may have committed as they brought in millions at the expense of U.S. interests."

    Underscoring his belief that there is still new evidence to uncover, Comer on Tuesday announced that the committee had gathered bank records showing that Chinese nationals wired $260,000 to Hunter Biden in July and August of 2019 listing Joe Biden's home address near Wilmington, Del., as the "beneficiary address."

    Committee investigators said they had obtained the records in response to a subpoena issued to one of Hunter Biden's bank accounts that was identified via a review of a suspicious activity report - a report made by a financial institution to the Treasury Department as required by law identifying a potentially suspect transaction. Comer plans to subpoena additional bank accounts opened under Hunter Biden's name, the investigators said.

    According to documents reviewed by The Washington Post, Hunter Biden received payments from individuals affiliated with Chinese private equity firm BHR Partners, including a $10,000 wire from Wang Xin in July 2019 and a $250,000 wire from Jonathan Li and Tan Ling on Aug. 2, 2019. The documents show that the wire from Xin was categorized as a "loan." The wire from Li and Ling was documented as a "personal investment."

    Comer has argued that these two wires are a small part of a broader pattern of payments made by foreign nationals to Hunter Biden and his business associates over the course of a decade. It is not illegal to do business with foreign nationals, and the committee has not demonstrated that Joe Biden - who was not in office at the time - benefited. Still, Biden has said that Hunter Biden did not accept money from China.

    "My son has not made money in terms of this thing about, what are you talking about, China," Biden said during an October 2020 debate, saying that only Trump had made money in China. "Nobody else has made money from China," he said.

    Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Hunter Biden, said in a statement that the wire was a loan against a previous investment in BHR Partners made by a private citizen and Joe Biden's address was listed because the Delaware home was Hunter Biden's only permanent address at the time and listed on his driver's license.

    "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. "We expect more occasions where the Republican chairs twist the truth to mislead people to promote their fantasy political agenda."

    Democrats are allowed to call one witness on Thursday. Michael J. Gerhardt, an impeachment expert and law school professor at the University of North Carolina, is expected to appear, according to a spokesperson for the committee. Gerhardt first testified in Congress during Bill Clinton's 1998 impeachment and then again during the first impeachment of Donald Trump.

    GOP lawmakers are expected to spend part of their first hearing making the constitutional case for why an impeachment inquiry against the president is warranted.

    Turley, a law professor at George Washington University Law School, alleged over the summer in an interview on Fox News that Congress was obligated to open an impeachment inquiry to further investigate Biden, because the president "clearly lied" about his involvement in Hunter Biden's business affairs.

    Turley appeared before Congress in 2019 as an expert on impeachment, that time to argue against impeaching Trump over a July 2019 phone call in which Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.

    "I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger," Turley testified then. "If the House proceeds solely on the Ukrainian allegations, this impeachment would stand out among modern impeachments as the shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president."

    Turley's constitutional seal of approval on Thursday is intended to counter legal experts who have said the House's new impeachment inquiry has been launched without the kind of specific evidence of wrongdoing that the nation's framers had envisioned when they crafted impeachment as the Constitution's mechanism to punish wayward officeholders.

    Half a dozen legal and constitutional experts told The Washington Post that the House's inquiry appears different than how impeachment has been used in the past. It is the first to delve primarily into the behavior of a presidential relative and the first to investigate actions by the president before he entered the Oval Office.

    "It seems to me that if I were a doctor and I were examining the body of Congress, I'd say something is going wrong here," said Philip Bobbitt, an impeachment scholar at Columbia Law School. "When Congress becomes distracted and immobilized, that's a real crisis for us."

    Timothy Naftali, a senior research scholar at Columbia University and co-author of "Impeachment: an American History," lamented what he called a "troubling" precedent for a generation of lawmakers who have come to view impeachment as another tool of partisan warfare.

    "Impeachment was in a glass case for a century," Naftali said. "Now, the House starts an impeachment inquiry because the Speaker is trying to hold on to his job."

    Only three presidents have been formally impeached by Congress - Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump - and none ever convicted by Congress. Richard M. Nixon thwarted his impeachment by resigning from office after learning that even some of his most loyal allies in Congress were in favor of his removal for abuse of his power and obstruction of justice in his efforts to cover up his ties to the burglars who broke into the Democratic Party offices in 1972. Lesser known are the impeachment inquiries or articles of impeachment filed against past presidents that failed to take flight.

    Trump was impeached by the House twice while in office, first for his phone call with the Ukrainian president and, again, in 2021 for his actions leading to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. He was not convicted by the Senate in either instance.

    Republicans have tried to compare their inquiry into Biden's actions to Trump's two impeachments, noting that then- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., like McCarthy, announced the House would open an impeachment inquiry into Trump's interactions with Ukraine without asking for a vote of the House.

    Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24, 2019, to investigate a whistleblower complaint that Trump tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate the family of his political rival.

    But in that case, the House voted a month later, after Pelosi's announcement, mostly along party lines - two Democrats voted no - to formalize the inquiry. McCarthy has said he does not plan to hold a vote and it is not clear if he has the votes to move the inquiry forward if he did.

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