Sep 28, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Biden impeachment hearing gets off to sputtering start

House Oversight Committee ranking member Jamie Raskin (left) and Chairman James Comer (right). Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Some House Republicans appeared taken by surprise when two of their handpicked witnesses at the first impeachment hearing testified that there isn't sufficient evidence — at least not yet — to impeach President Biden.

Why it matters: Having launched an impeachment inquiry without a House vote, no direct of evidence of wrongdoing and against the backdrop of an imminent government shutdown, Republicans are embarking on a risky expedition that could backfire with voters if they fail to deliver.

  • "[W]hile 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," conservative law professor Jonathan Turley said in his opening statement.
  • Forensic accountant Bruce Dubinsky agreed, testifying that "much more information needs to be gathered" before it can be determined whether Biden committed a crime related to his son Hunter's business dealings.

Driving the news: The Biden campaign's rapid-response team immediately clipped and circulated Turley's comments, racking up thousands of retweets.

  • "Picking witnesses that refute House Republicans' arguments for impeachment is mind-blowing," a senior GOP aide told CNN as the hearing kicked off. "This is an unmitigated disaster."
  • "This hearing wasn't supposed to be about fireworks and bells and whistles. This isn't the Jan. 6 committee," House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) countered after the hearing ended. "This is a substantive investigation."

Zoom in: Over the last nine months, Republicans have obtained documents and sworn testimony indicating that Hunter Biden engaged in an unethical campaign to sell clients "the illusion of access" to his father, as his former business partner Devon Archer described it.

  • Biden has made false claims regarding what he knew about Hunter's business dealings, but there's no evidence the president personally received money, traded U.S. policy for bribes or committed any crimes.

What they're saying: "While it may not sit well with many, President Biden and other presidents can be dishonest — can even lie to the American people — and that would not constitute an impeachable offense," Turley testified.

  • "Indeed, most presidents have lied to the American people."
Raskin displays a clock counting down the hours until the government shuts down. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Between the lines: Democrats came to the hearing equipped with opposition research and physical props, including a digital clock counting down the hours until the government shuts down.

  • House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) green-lit the impeachment inquiry this month in hopes that GOP hardliners — who have threatened to oust him if he doesn't agree to dramatic budget cuts — would ease up on their spending demands.
  • The peace offering backfired, leaving vulnerable Republicans to defend the unsavory optics of keeping the "essential" impeachment inquiry rolling while much of the government shuts down Sunday at midnight.

The intrigue: Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas) asked committee members to raise their hands if they believe both Hunter Biden and former President Trump "should be held accountable" if convicted at their trials.

  • In a stark illustration of the impeachment inquiry's partisan challenges, every Democrat's hand went up; Republicans refused to participate.

What to watch: Comer concluded the hearing by announcing he was issuing subpoenas for the personal and business bank records of Hunter and James Biden, the president's brother.

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