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Top Republican hints at an off-ramp from impeaching Biden

Republicans lack the votes to impeach the president, as some members say they don’t have enough evidence of wrongdoing. Oversight Chair James Comer is floating criminal referrals.
James Comer at the U.S. Capitol
Oversight Committee Chair James Comer, R-Ky.Ting Shen / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer, one of the leaders of the Republican impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, is increasingly suggesting a potential off-ramp from pursuing articles of impeachment.

As GOP leaders struggle to convince their members that Biden should be impeached, Comer, R-Ky., is telling supporters it may be futile because Democrats would thwart the effort anyway.

Some Republicans say they haven’t seen enough evidence to impeach the president. But in a fundraising email earlier this week, Comer blamed “deranged Democrats” in the Senate signaling they'll dismiss the House impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as evidence that they would also reject an impeachment of Biden.

In the same email, Comer presented a potential new outcome for his inquiry that he has also floated to reporters: Rather than push for a Senate trial, House Republicans could send criminal referrals to the Justice Department so that a future Donald Trump administration can prosecute if Republicans win back the White House in November.

“It’s clear that Democrats will choose their party over their country and the truth at every turn. They should be ashamed of themselves. That’s why I am preparing criminal referrals as the culmination of my investigation,” Comer wrote in the email. “When President Trump returns to the White House, it’s critical the new leadership at the DOJ have everything they need to prosecute the Biden Crime Family and deliver swift justice.”

Criminal referrals are nonbinding recommendations from Congress to the Justice Department, which has the discretion to decide whether to act.

With the ultra-slim GOP majority in the House — which will drop to a one-vote margin for defections after Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., resigns on April 19 — party leaders face an uphill climb in corralling the votes to impeach Biden, particularly among Republican lawmakers in swing districts that Biden carried in 2020. They don’t expect to win any Democratic votes.

A GOP spokesperson for the House Oversight Committee said that “impeachment is 100% still on the table. The Committees will continue to investigate President Biden’s abuse of public office and will outline findings in a final report with recommendations.”

But the Senate requires a two-thirds majority to convict and remove an official from office. Senate Democrats, who hold a 51-49 edge, can vote to dismiss an impeachment inquiry with a simple majority. That may happen with the House-passed impeachment of Mayorkas, with some Democrats, including centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., indicating they will vote to dismiss. Republicans considered Mayorkas an easier target for impeachment than Biden, arguing that the secretary has been delinquent on immigration enforcement.

In an interview Monday on Fox News Radio, Comer was pressed on why news outlets have reported that his committee has turned up no concrete evidence of wrongdoing by Biden in its probe and whether Attorney General Merrick Garland is seeking to protect Biden.

Comer suggested it is part of a plot by the "deep state," a term former President Donald Trump uses to claim there’s a conspiracy among career government officials against him and his movement. (Though it’s ill-defined, the term is popular on the right and Trump is running in 2024 on a message that it must be “destroyed.”)

“Well, Garland’s working with the deep state, who’s working with the liberal mainstream media, to try to indoctrinate into people’s minds that there’s no evidence,” Comer said.

The Republican investigation has shown that Hunter Biden frequently communicated with his father, even in front of his business partners, though there has been a lack of evidence that they ever discussed business. Several witnesses in the inquiry, including Hunter Biden himself and former business associates Rob Walker and Eric Schwerin, have testified unequivocally that President Biden was never involved in their business activities. And an FBI informant whose testimony was at the center of the GOP probe was recently arrested and charged with lying to the bureau about the Bidens.

Republicans hosted a public hearing last week featuring testimony from two of Hunter Biden’s former business associates, Tony Bobulinski and Jason Galanis, as well as Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas. Hunter Biden was invited to the hearing but declined citing his court schedule and the fact that the committee did not also call Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to testify about overseas business dealings.

Bobulinski and Galanis both testified that they had interactions, whether in-person meetings or being present on speakerphone calls with Biden years ago that were initiated by Hunter Biden. But when pressed to describe the contents of those interactions, neither witness provided specific evidence that Joe Biden, then the vice president or a private citizen, was involved in his son’s business dealings.

Comer closed that hearing by promising to call the president himself to testify in the inquiry, though the committee has not yet formally issued an invitation. Days earlier, White House counsel Edward Siskel wrote a letter to Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., calling for an end to the investigation.

“It is obviously time to move on, Mr. Speaker. This impeachment is over. There is too much important work to be done for the American people to continue wasting time on this charade,” Siskel wrote.