Jan 11, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Why Hunter Biden showed up at the Capitol

Hunter Biden, center, and attorney Abbe Lowell leave a House committee hearing

Hunter Biden (center) President Biden's son, and his attorney Abbe Lowell (R) depart a House Oversight Committee meeting on Wednesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

Hunter Biden's surprise appearance at a House hearing on Wednesday was a closely held secret, set up by his team to show he's willing to publicly testify before Congress — and tweak Republicans who say he's not cooperative.

Why it matters: Hunter's team didn't loop in White House aides about his plans — the latest example of the president's son taking control of his legal defense, three people familiar with the matter told Axios.

  • Hunter's sudden appearance with attorney Abbe Lowell created a nationally televised frenzy at the Capitol at a time when Republicans have targeted Hunter's foreign business dealings as part of an impeachment inquiry into his father.

Between the lines: Hunter went through a lengthy prep for Wednesday's hearing just in case House Republicans decided they wanted him to testify publicly, according to two of the sources who spoke with Axios.

  • "If he wanted to be clear that he was serious about testifying, then he should be at the hearing to make clear he was willing to testify," one person familiar with Hunter's strategy told Axios.
  • Republicans struggled to answer why they didn't allow Hunter to testify Wednesday.
  • Democratic Reps. Jamie Raskin (Maryland) and Jared Moskowitz (Florida) chided House Oversight chair James Comer (R-Ky.), noting that Comer had publicly offered to let Hunter choose whether he wanted to appear publicly or privately.
  • Republicans insisted that Hunter obey their subpoena and appear for a private deposition first.

At the White House, "aides were kept largely in the dark" about Hunter's plans, "and were surprised to see him appearing in the hearing room," one person familiar with the situation said.

  • Hunter's team believed that it was in the interests of both the White House and Hunter to not involve President Biden's aides in the team's strategy conversations.
  • It's unclear if Hunter told his father about his plans.

Zoom in: It may not make much difference legally, but Hunter and Lowell decided the surprise appearance was worth it to show Hunter's willingness to testify publicly as House Republicans held a vote to hold him in contempt of Congress for not testifying, the sources said.

  • Hunter's appearance came less than a month after he appeared at the Capitol on the day he was called in for a deposition.
  • Hunter told reporters then that his father was not involved in his business dealings, and argued that Republicans were attacking him merely to hurt the president politically.
  • On Wednesday, Hunter stayed silent and Lowell read a statement after their 20-minute appearance at the hearing, largely repeating their previous arguments.

Zoom out: Hunter's team sees 2024 as both a political and legal battle — and that the two are inextricably linked.

  • Hunter is scheduled to appear in court in California on Thursday for the first hearing on several tax-related counts the Justice Department charged him with in December.
  • He has told people he believes that aggressively fighting back against the GOP will ultimately help his father, who faces a tough re-election campaign.

What they're saying: Fox News' Dana Perino said of Hunter's appearance Wednesday: "If you're going to do a stunt, it was a pretty good one."

  • In a statement, Comer said: "Hunter Biden refused to comply with lawful subpoenas requiring he appear for a deposition. Meanwhile, Hunter Biden has shown he has no problem showing up on Capitol Hill to engage in political stunts."
  • Raskin, the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, said he was "surprised" that Hunter showed up and that "I had nothing to do with [it]."
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) told reporters: "I don't know why Hunter's here. He wants another photo op, but he is not complying with that subpoena."
  • Lowell told reporters afterward that "the Republican chairs have today commandeered an unprecedented resolution to hold someone in contempt who has offered to publicly answer all their proper questions. What are they afraid of?"
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