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Biden impeachment inquiry grinds on as GOP keeps digging into Hunter Biden’s work

By LISA MASCARO, AP Congressional Correspondent
Published: March 20, 2024, 8:46am

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden is at a crossroad, lacking the political appetite from within the Republican ranks to go forward with an actual impeachment, but facing political pressure to deliver after months of work.

The chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Republican Rep. James Comer, pushed ahead at Wednesday’s public hearing, claiming that the Democratic president was either “complicit” in his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings selling the Biden brand or “incompetent.”

But having produced no hard evidence of presidential wrongdoing by Biden, Comer has signaled an interest in taking the inquiry into another direction. Stopping short of drawing up articles of impeachment, he is instead eyeing potential criminal referrals of the Biden family to the Justice Department, a largely symbolic act.

With Hunter Biden declining to appear at the hearing after having testified privately last month, the Kentucky lawmaker Comer said earlier on Fox News he planned “multiple” criminal referrals.

It’s the start of a potential winding down for the lengthy GOP-led probe that was launched after Republicans seized control of the House in January and were eager to hold Biden to the high bar of impeachment. The House, under a Democratic majority, had twice impeached Republican Donald Trump during his presidency.

As Trump and Biden face another likely rematch this November, Comer is weighing whether to keep the impeachment inquiry going through Hunter Biden’s often complicated business dealings and troubled personal life or wrap up work even if that falls short of impeachment.

The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, said in his own opening remarks that a “comedy of errors” of the Biden impeachment inquiry is finally “crashing to an end.”

The White House has called the inquiry a “charade” and told Republicans to “move on.”

The committee asserts that the Bidens traded on the family name, an alleged influence-peddling scheme in which Republicans are trying to link a handful of phone calls or dinner meetings between Joe Biden, when he was vice president or out of office, and Hunter Biden and his business associates.

Hunter Biden, who is facing firearm and tax charges in separate matters, testified behind closed doors last month in a deposition that filled more than 200 pages but left Comer’s committee without evidence rising to “high crimes and misdemeanors” that would be expected to impeach a president.

“My father’s never been involved with my business,” Hunter Biden testified.

Testimony was coming from a cast of unusual witnesses, some with complicated backgrounds.

Jason Galanis is serving a lengthy federal prison sentence in Alabama for fraud schemes and appeared remotely before lawmakers. Tony Bobulinski, a onetime business associate of Hunter Biden, took his claims against the family public during the first Trump-Biden presidential debate in 2020.

The Democrats called Lev Parnas to testify, relying on the convicted businessman who was central to Trump’s first impeachment as a Rudy Giuliani associate working to dig up political dirt on Joe Biden before the 2020 election. Parnas has since played a key role in dispelling the House GOP’s main claim of bribery against the Bidens.

Testifying via video, Galanis told lawmakers he expected to make “billions” with Hunter Biden and other associates, using the Biden family name in their foreign business dealings.

Galanis described a particular time in May 2014 when Hunter Biden put his father on speakerphone for a brief chat with potential foreign business partners — a Russian oligarch and her husband — during a party at a New York restaurant.

But Hunter Biden directly rebuffed involvement with Galanis in his own deposition, testifying that he met Galanis for about 30 minutes 10 years ago.

In earlier testimony Galanis, who was sentenced for multiple fraud schemes, acknowledged that he unsuccessfully sought a pardon in the final days of the Trump presidency.

Bobulinski told the committee that he met twice with Joe Biden in 2017 during a conference in Los Angeles, through Hunter Biden, including once for about 45 minutes, when they talked mostly about family and did not talk business.

While Hunter Biden has testified that his father was never involved in his business dealings, Bobulinski declared: “It is clear to me that Joe Biden was the brand.”

Parnas told the committee that he has seen “zero evidence” of Biden family corruption in his work overseas.

Before his own conviction, Parnas had been a central figure in Trump’s first impeachment over withholding aid to Ukraine.

Parnas described helping Giuliani peddle the false claims against Biden to conservative media. Trump’s team claimed that Joe Biden, as vice president, had intervened in the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor to aid Hunter Biden’s work on the board of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma. In fact, Western allies also wanted the prosecutor fired over allegations of corruption.

In launching their Biden impeachment inquiry last year, the House Republicans relied in large part on unverified claims from an FBI informant released by Senate Republicans suggesting Burisma-related payments totaling $10 million to the Bidens were discussed. The now former FBI informant, Alexander Smirnov, was arrested last month and pleaded not guilty to charges that he fabricated the bribery allegations.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., asked the Republicans why kept pursuing impeachment knowing the $10 million claim is false and she demanded to know what crime or crimes they allege Biden, as president, has committed to warrant impeachment.

“Impeachment 101,” she said. “I’m hearing about Biden’s family. I’m hearing about this and that. I am not hearing the specific allegation.”

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One Democrat, Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Florida, all but dared Republicans to start the impeachment proceedings, making the motion himself. It went nowhere.

“They’re never going to impeach Joe Biden,” Moskowitz declared, saying there is no evidence. “It’s all a sham.”

With the House’s slim GOP majority narrowed further by early retirements, Republicans may not have enough support within their ranks to pursue articles of impeachment against the president, especially because Democrats would likely vote against any such charges.

Instead, Comer has been looking into potential criminal referrals that could open the door to prosecutions in a future administration.

It’s unclear who would exactly be charged, and over what offenses. Comer has also discussed drafting ethics-related legislation to tighten influence peddling or foreign lobbying among officials.

The committee will issue a final report with its recommendations once the inquiry has concluded.