Dec 11, 2023 - Politics & Policy

The Biden impeachment inquiry's shaky foundation

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Republicans' impeachment inquiry into President Biden is predicated on allegations about the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor that have been debunked — under oath — by at least nine government witnesses.

Why it matters: The House will vote this week on formally authorizing the inquiry — the prelude to what many expect will become articles of impeachment against Biden for alleged bribery, abuse of power and obstruction.

  • House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) confirmed as much last week, telling reporters that possible "impeachable offenses" mainly center on the alleged "quid pro quo" in Ukraine in early 2016.
  • Republicans say then-Vice President Biden freelanced by withholding a $1 billion U.S. loan guarantee until Ukraine fired prosecutor general Viktor Shokin — and that he did so to protect his son Hunter, who was on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

The big picture: The facts surrounding the Bidens, Burisma and Shokin have been well-established over the course of two major congressional investigations: the first impeachment of former President Trump and a Senate probe led by Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

  • Republicans frequently point to a 2018 video in which Biden boasts about withholding the loan guarantee, and say the timing is suspicious because Burisma executives had just asked Hunter Biden for help alleviating government pressure, according to his business partner Devon Archer.
  • But Shokin's deputy says the office was not investigating Burisma at the time, and the Senate report found no evidence that Hunter Biden's board position — while highly unethical — influenced U.S. policy.

What they're saying: Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was one of four Trump impeachment witnesses who testified that it was "official U.S. policy" — supported by international stakeholders — to push for Shokin's removal.

  • Trump's former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker — a Republican-called witness — testified that the allegations against Biden were "not credible" and that Shokin's firing "was widely understood internationally to be the right policy."
  • Former State Department official George Kent testified that Shokin had undermined a U.S. program — funded with "taxpayer money" — to "build an independent investigator unit to go after corrupt prosecutors."
  • David Holmes, a former diplomat in Ukraine, testified that his understanding was that Shokin "was not at that time pursuing investigations of Burisma or the Bidens."

At least five more State Department witnesses — Geoffrey Pyatt, Amos Hochstein, Victoria Nuland, David Wade and Antony Blinken — independently confirmed those facts in the 2020 Senate investigation.

  • Three Republican senators also were among those who pushed for reforms to Shokin's office in February 2016, a month before he was fired.
  • In response to Shokin himself claiming Biden wanted him fired because he was investigating Burisma, former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told Fox News that Shokin was "completely crazy."

Between the lines: House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) deflected last month when asked whether the witnesses who testified about Shokin's ouster committed perjury or should be brought back for additional questioning.

  • Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), a member of the hardline Freedom Caucus, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the GOP case for impeachment "rests heavily on a fictitious version of Shokin's career."
  • Buck is believed to be the only House Republican publicly opposed to the impeachment inquiry, according to a Politico whip count.

The other side: A House Oversight Committee aide stressed the broader nature of the impeachment inquiry, telling Axios that Republicans have "unearthed evidence of the Biden family cashing in on their last name to rake in millions from China, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan."

The bottom line: A new poll from Morning Consult found that 44% of voters support impeachment proceedings against Biden, suggesting Republicans still face significant challenges in their quest to convince a skeptical public.

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