WASHINGTON — The House Oversight Committee on Thursday convened its first hearing in the GOP's impeachment inquiry, presenting a panel of Republican-picked witnesses who said while there is no evidence of a crime by President Joe Biden, more bank records are needed from him and his son Hunter Biden to determine if there might be.
Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., said the hearing would focus on whether the president "engaged in impeachable offenses under the U.S. Constitution," and earlier this week said House Republicans would present evidence they say they've uncovered about "Biden’s knowledge of and role in his family’s domestic and international business practices."
Comer seemed to acknowledge at the end of the six-hour-plus hearing that Republicans have not yet done so but said that's because "investigators have been shut down when attempting to explore avenues that to the president," which is why an impeachment inquiry is necessary, "wherever that evidence leads."
He said the panel would be subpoenaing bank records from Hunter Biden and the president's brother James "and their affiliated companies." On Thursday night, the Oversight Committee said Comer issued subpoenas for James Biden, Hunter Biden and his business partner Eric Schwerin, as well as companies associated with them: Owasco P.C., Owasco LLC, Skaneateles, Lion Hall Group, and JBBSR Inc.
Democrats argued that Republicans have no evidence of a crime and are simply trying to impeach Biden as retribution for the House having twice impeached former President Donald Trump. Democrats also ridiculed Republicans for holding the hearing as the government careens toward a shutdown while the GOP argues over funding legislation.
None of the witnesses were "fact witnesses," meaning none were involved in the investigation or the alleged activities the hearing was discussing. Instead, all three were introduced as experts in their respective fields.
The ranking Democrat at the hearing, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, referred to the hearing as a "Seinfeld impeachment — an impeachment hearing about nothing."
Comer said in his opening statement that Biden family members and their associates "raked in over $20 million between 2014 and 2019" from foreign sources. "What were the Bidens selling to make all this money? Joe Biden himself," he said. “This deserves investigation,” he said later.
House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, called it “a tale as old as time. Politician takes action that makes money for his family and then he tries to conceal it.”
One of the panel's expert witnesses, law professor Jonathan Turley, acknowledged that the evidence Republicans had gathered so far, however, doesn't prove their case.
"I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment,” he said, but noted that he does believe it warrants an inquiry.
Asked later by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., where the Republicans' evidence is lacking, Turley said on the issue of influence peddling and whether the president was aware of it and "encouraged it."
Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., mocked Turley's testimony as “political impeachment malpractice”
Some Republicans were also unhappy about how the hearing went. A senior GOP aide said that Comer's strategy of feeding Fox News impeachment stories is not working and that "we are losing the media narrative game to the White House right now."
"Calling witnesses that say the opposite of your narrative on impeachment is equally a bad strategy," the aide said.
Another Republican aide who works for a lawmaker who supports the impeachment inquiry described what he saw of the hearing as “boring” with “no bombshells.”
Raskin said his Republican colleagues were presenting 12,000 pages of bank records that didn't include a "single dime" going to the president.
"If the Republicans had a smoking gun or even a dripping water pistol, they would be presenting it today, but they’ve got nothing on Joe Biden," he said. He also accused them of holding the hearing and shutting down the government at the behest of Trump.
The House Republicans, Raskin said, were acting "like flying monkeys on a mission for the Wicked Witch of the West."
Besides Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who was a witness for Republicans when House Democrats launched their first impeachment inquiry into Trump in 2019, the GOP witnesses who were testifying before the panel are Bruce Dubinsky, a forensic accountant, and Eileen O'Connor, a former assistant attorney general at the Justice Department's tax division.
The Democrats' witness was Michael J. Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina who testified during Trump's first impeachment inquiry. Gerhardt was also a joint Democratic-Republican witness in the lead-up to then-President Bill Clinton's impeachment. He criticized the inquiry into Biden as lacking foundation.
The hearing turned ugly at times, with Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., twice calling the president's defenses "bull----."
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., meanwhile, asked Turley about his past support of polygamy and O'Connor about her social media posts, including one that appeared to be promoting a fundraiser for so-called "alternate electors" who've been charged in Michigan.
House Republicans have said they are looking into whether Biden improperly aided his son or profited off his business dealings. They've claimed, without evidence, that Biden engaged in a bribery scheme and that he has been involved in his son's business ventures.
One committee member, Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., said the allegations against the Biden family are serious, but acknowledged more dots need to be connected. "We have all kinds of smoke, maybe no fire, but there’s smoke,” he said.
"We have all kinds of smoke, maybe no fire, but there’s smoke."
The White House has repeatedly rejected the House GOP's assertion that Biden abused the power of his office to enrich his family. On the eve of Thursday's hearing, the White House released a 15-page memo rebutting GOP statements.
The White House said, for example, that the alleged bribery scheme is based on an FBI document that included a tip from an unnamed source. The Justice Department investigated the allegation and concluded that there wasn't anything to substantiate it.
The White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations, Ian Sams, suggested in a statement Tuesday that Republicans such as Comer and Jordan are simply trying to distract from the looming government shutdown that could begin this weekend if Congress fails to pass a spending bill.
“Do Comer and Jordan have any explanation for why they are prioritizing conspiracy theory attacks on President Biden over averting a government shutdown that would inflict real pain on Ohio and Kentucky workers and families? They should focus on doing their jobs to avoid economic disaster — not these partisan, D.C. games that have nothing to do with helping Americans’ lives,” Sams said.
The hearing comes at a crucial time for Congress: Lawmakers have been trying to pass government funding legislation ahead of a Saturday night deadline to avoid a shutdown. Many congressional Republicans, however, have indicated they support a shutdown and are shrugging off the consequences.
The impeachment inquiry got underway Sept. 12 when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., directed three committees to launch the investigation in an effort to access the bank records for Biden and his son.
Impeachment inquiries are rare in U.S. history. The most recent were the two that Democrats launched in 2019 and 2021, which resulted in two impeachments of Trump, the only president to be impeached more than once. The Senate acquitted him both times.