President Biden impeachment inquiry opens with focus on son Hunter's business dealings

President Joe Biden on stage giving a speech
Democrats and independent witnesses said there was no proof that Joe Biden had engaged in improper behaviour while he served as vice president - Rebecca Noble/Getty

Republicans leading an impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden detailed foreign payments to members of his family in their first hearing on Thursday, but did not provide evidence that the Democratic president had personally benefited.

The initial impeachment hearing by the US House of Representatives Oversight Committee served as a review of evidence that Republicans have gathered so far about foreign business ventures by Biden’s son Hunter Biden, 53, which they say shows that Biden’s family members were selling access.

“The American people demand accountability for this culture of corruption,” said James Comer, the chair of the  House Oversight Committee. He said Biden has lied about family members’ business dealings and had not walled them off from his official duties.

Democrats and several independent witnesses said there was no proof that Biden had received any of those payments, or otherwise engaged in improper behaviour while he served as vice president between 2009 and 2017. The White House has denied wrongdoing and dismissed the probe as politically motivated.

‘They’ve got nothing’

“If Republicans had a smoking gun or even a dripping water pistol they would be presenting it today. But they’ve got nothing,” said Jamie Raskin, the panel’s top Democrat.

Biden is campaigning for reelection in what will be a likely rematch with Republican Donald Trump, who is preparing for four upcoming criminal trials on a range of charges, from trying to overthrow his 2020 election defeat to mishandling classified documents.

Trump, who was impeached twice during his four years in office, and some of his hardline Republican allies have for months called for a Biden impeachment.

Democrats prominently displayed a clock counting down the minutes until midnight Saturday, when the US government will enter its fourth partial shutdown in a decade if Congress fails to pass legislation to fund federal agencies.

Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University, and Bruce Dubinsky, a forensic accountant, said the panel had enough evidence to open an impeachment inquiry but did not have enough evidence to justify impeachment charges.

Another law professor, Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina, said he had not heard credible evidence to justify the probe and warned the panel that it was being driven by partisan concerns.

A fourth witness, former Justice Department official Eileen O’Connor, said she thought the department had soft-pedalled a criminal investigation of Hunter Biden, who now faces gun charges after years of struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.

Bank record subpoenas issued

Republicans allege Biden and his family profited from policies he pursued as vice president during president Barack Obama’s administration between 2009 and 2017. Separately, they also allege the Justice Department interfered with the criminal investigation of Hunter Biden.

On Thursday, Mr Comer said that he had issued subpoenas for bank records belonging to Hunter Biden and the president’s brother, Frank Biden, as part of an investigation into the family’s financial dealings.

It is unclear if House Republicans, who have a narrow 221-212 majority, would have the votes at the end of the inquiry to support actual impeachment. But even if that vote succeeded, it is highly unlikely that the Senate, where Democrats hold a 51-49 majority, would vote to remove Biden from office.

At the centre of the investigation are allegations that Biden, as vice president, pressured Ukraine to fire a top prosecutor to shield Burisma, a company for which Hunter Biden was on the board of directors. Numerous US and foreign officials have said Biden was carrying out official policy to fight corruption in Ukraine.

Democrats unsuccessfully pressed the panel to subpoena Rudolph Giuliani, a former New York Mayor, who had sought to uncover evidence of Biden wrongdoing in Ukraine, as well as Lev Parnas, a former associate who has denounced Giuliani’s effort.

House Republicans have said they plan to seek personal and business bank records for Hunter Biden and James Biden, the president’s eldest brother. Mr Comer cited payment records from Chinese nationals to Hunter in 2019, listing Joe Biden’s home address in Delaware as the beneficiary address. Republicans have not provided evidence that the elder Biden received the money.

“Once again Rep Comer peddles lies to support a premise – some wrongdoing by Hunter Biden or his family – that evaporates in thin air the moment facts come out,” said Hunter Biden’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, in a statement on Thursday. Mr Lowell said the money in question was a loan and that the address listed was the address on Hunter Biden’s driver’s licence at the time.

The White House said Republicans should focus on reaching a deal to keep the government open on October 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

“The consequences for the American people will be very damaging,” the White House said at the hearing’s outset. “Nothing can distract from that.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.