In their first impeachment hearing, Republicans sought to smear President Biden with totally debunked claims straight out of 2019. This is an impeachment inquiry without basis, looking for a reason to exist. After six hours of grasping at straws and, in some cases, fabricating evidence, Republican insiders were privately admitting to reporters this was an "unmitigated disaster."
Before we dive into the substance of the hearing, it’s important to frame a few things upfront. After fearing for his job, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) unilaterally opened this politically motivated impeachment inquiry based on zero evidence and without a full House vote—after promising he wouldn’t unilaterally open one without a full House vote. This was a capitulation to the far-right extremists within his caucus in a desperate effort to cling on to his Speakership.
There is absolutely zero evidence linking Joe Biden to Hunter Biden’s business dealings. Nor is there any evidence indicating that Biden used his political positions of power to aid Hunter in his dealings. Nothing in today’s hearing proved otherwise. In fact, Republicans’ own witnesses undermined their narrative.
Republican Witnesses Say There Is No Evidence To Support Impeachment
None of the witnesses that were present at the hearing were fact witnesses to the conduct being alleged. Two Republican witnesses went as far as to say there wasn’t enough evidence to justify impeachment. Georgetown Law Professor Jonathan Turley, a Republican favourite witness, told lawmakers, "I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment," but he made a caveat to say that he believes an inquiry is justified. Turley’s written statement was even more explicit, though: "I do not believe that the evidence currently meets the standard of a high crime and misdemeanor needed for an article of impeachment."
Another Republican-called witness also undermined the GOP’s claims. Bruce Dubinsky, a forensic accountant, told the committee that there is no evidence connecting Joe Biden to illicit activities. House Democrats’ witness, Professor Michael Gerhardt, said that there is no evidence to justify this impeachment inquiry, period. Gerhardt used an analogy to describe this inquiry, stating that it’s as if Hunter Biden was pulled over for speeding in a car owned by Joe Biden, and they want to give Joe Biden the speeding ticket.
A Recycled Conspiracy Theory
Republicans acknowledge this impeachment inquiry exists to try and find evidence they don’t have. They’re openly digging for dirt on Biden at the request of Donald Trump, who has called for Biden’s impeachment ahead of their 2024 election face-off. One could argue that Republicans are simply continuing the scheme Trump began in 2019 when he extorted Ukraine in an effort to pursue a probe of Biden. They’re literally using the exact same conspiracy theories.
In an indication of how little evidence Republicans have garnered over the years, they began Thursday’s hearing with a re-litigation of the same unsubstantiated and debunked Burisma claims that were being made against Joe Biden during the Donald Trump impeachment trial of 2020.
Before Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) expertly began to debunk the GOP’s claims, he put the hearing in perspective: "So let’s get it straight. We’re 62 hours away from shutting down the government of the United States of America, and Republicans are launching an impeachment drive based on a long-debunked and discredited lie." House Democrats had a literal "Republican Shutdown" countdown clock on a laptop that they kept onscreen at all times to emphasize this point.
The lie has, indeed, been long-discredited. As Raskin outlined, when Biden was Vice President, he worked to combat corruption in Ukraine. Biden called for the removal of then-Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin because he *wasn’t* investigating corruption, not to protect Burisma. It was part of a broad multilateral campaign to oppose corruption.
The new "evidence" that Republicans do claim to have involves text messages that do not show any proof that Biden used his position to run an influence-peddling scheme. In fact, some of the evidence was distorted. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) revealed that one of the text messages displayed by Rep Byron Donalds (R-FL) cropped out crucial context. The full conversation showed that Jim Biden, Joe Biden’s brother, was talking to Hunter Biden about how he’s trying to convince Joe to help pay Hunter’s alimony. Republicans cut off that context to make it seem like it was about Hunter’s business dealings.
This was an excellent catch by AOC. Not only do Republicans not have any incriminating evidence to justify their impeachment inquiry, but they’re also blatantly distorting the "evidence" they do have.
There was an interesting moment when it came to exculpatory evidence for Biden. Rep Daniel Goldman (D-NY) tried to submit into the record testimony from Devin Archer, Hunter Biden’s former business partner. House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-KY) repeatedly refused to allow the testimony to be entered into the record, finally allowing it only after a few attempts. When you read the transcript, you can see why. It directly contradicts the GOP narrative.
In a previously held cross-examination, Daniel Goldman asked Archer: "But [Hunter] did not provide Burisma executives with actual access to his father. The access to his father was an illusion of access to his father. Is that right?"
Archer responded: "Right. An illusion of access to his father, other than socials."
There you have it. An actual fact witness further confirms that there was never really any real influence peddling, and Joe Biden wasn’t directly involved in the business dealings. If influence peddling was really what Republicans were looking to hold to account, they would investigate a different family.
Rep Robert Garcia (D-CA) took a moment to spotlight this. Garcia outlined Jared Kushner’s dealings with Saudi Arabia and the post-Trump administration $2bn funding he received after directly influencing Saudi policies as a Senior White House Advisor. Garcia argues that, if anything, this warrants more scrutiny.
Widespread Criticism Of The Hearing
Overall, this hearing was a train wreck for Republicans, and they reportedly know it. A few hours into the hearing, CNN’s Melanie Zanona reported on frustration among Republicans. She quoted a senior Republican aide: “Picking witnesses that refute House Republicans’ arguments for impeachment is mind-blowing. This is an unmitigated disaster." They have a right to be concerned.
As the impeachment hearing came to an end, Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto hit his viewers with straightforward analysis: “I don’t know what was achieved in these last six plus hours... James Comer, Oversight Committee Chairman, said there would be presented a mountain of evidence... but none of the expert witnesses today presented yet any proof for impeachment." He pointed out that the GOP witnesses said there wasn’t enough evidence to impeach Biden and that none were fact witnesses.
Former Trump Chief Strategist and right-wing influencer Steve Bannon echoed this on his show. Bannon suggested that starting with witnesses like Turley, who said there is no evidence of impeachable offenses yet, was a mistake. This is important because all of this is a messaging and PR play ahead of the 2024 election in an effort to erode President Biden’s support.
This impeachment inquiry is an exercise in deflection, distraction, and both-sideism, continuing what Donald Trump sought to accomplish with Joe Biden when Trump extorted Ukraine in 2019. If Republicans can smear Biden as corrupt, then they can make Donald Trump, who is facing 91 criminal charges across four indictments, appear less corrupt to voters. It’s the same tactic Trump used against Hillary Clinton to downplay his own corruption.
Republicans don’t actually believe they’ll prove these claims. They just want to muddy the waters. But that requires some mainstream buy-in to make an impact beyond their base. They appear to have blown that with this hearing. Before it even ended, this hearing was being framed negatively in the media. A headline from NBC News read: "House GOP’s impeachment witnesses say there’s no evidence yet that Biden committed a crime." The Guardian’s headline laid out the stakes even better: "Shutdown looms closer as Republicans accused of wasting time and fabricating impeachment evidence."
We’ll see if this amounts to anything, but at the moment, there is nothing here. Perhaps Rep Jamie Raskin summed it up best at the end of the hearing, calling it a Seinfeld impeachment: "An impeachment hearing about nothing.”