Over the last nine months, House Republicans have assembled a decent case that Hunter Biden should not be the president of the United States. Joe Biden, not so much.
While his father was vice president and then during the Trump administration, Hunter Biden used his name and perceived White House access to get millions of dollars from sketchy foreign companies seeking pull in Washington. Hunter seems to have encouraged the perception that he could influence Joe Biden on behalf of his clients. He may have suggested to them that he was setting aside money to pay off his dad. Recent GOP investigations have added some detail on those points. But they have produced zero compelling evidence that Hunter influenced Joe on behalf of foreign clients, let alone that the president profited from his son’s ventures.
It is fair to fault President Biden for failing, while VP, to stop his son from joining the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company whose interests Joe, who was heading up US policy toward Ukraine, had power to affect. Regardless of Hunter’s grief over his brother’s death and struggle with addiction, he should have found a line of work that did not depend on the perception that he could corruptly influence his father. And Joe Biden should have told him that sooner.
But the impeachment inquiry that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced Tuesday is not about that. Instead it appears aimed at highlighting unsubstantiated claims that Hunter’s clients paid Joe Biden to exert in influence on their behalf.
“We know that bank records show that nearly $20 million in payments were directed to the Biden family members and associates through various shell companies,” McCarthy told reporters Tuesday as he attempted to justify the inquiry. That is an example of the frequent GOP effort to refer to the “Biden family” to misleadingly suggest President Biden received improper payments. House Republicans in fact have found no evidence of that.
McCarthy also cited claims by “eyewitnesses” that Hunter Biden arranged brief interactions with his father for some clients and allowed a few to listen in when Joe Biden called to chat. McCarthy claimed those interactions “resulted in cars and millions of dollars that went to his [son] and his son’s business partners.”
The speaker failed to mention that these eyewitness accounts did not establish that Joe Biden knew he was meeting with people who were paying Hunter Biden. A key witness who testified about the phone calls referenced by McCarthy said that as far as he knew, President Biden was likely unaware his son was allowing others to listen in on their calls.
What House Republicans have uncovered looks like a pattern of Hunter Biden pretending that he could corruptly influence his father as Hunter extracted large payments from foreign clients. But Hunter was apparently lying. Empty promises of corruption are, arguably, a form of corruption. But they are not the kind of corruption—Joe Biden actually altering US policy in exchange for bribes—that Republicans allege.
Republicans’ own investigations have in fact undermined their case against Joe Biden, indicating the worst allegations against him indeed result from Hunter’s efforts to mislead clients. Hunter was a bullshitting influence peddler. That is not a high crime or misdemeanor committed by his dad. (It’s pretty common in Washington.)
Consider July testimony by Hunter’s former business partner, Devin Archer, to the House Oversight Committee. Archer testified he never knew of Hunter even attempting to influence Joe Biden, let alone succeeding. “He did not ask him—to my knowledge, I never saw him say, do anything for any particular business,” he explained under oath.
But Archer said that Hunter, like other “DC operators,” worked to give clients the false impression of influence.
As Joe Biden prepared to visit Ukraine in 2014, Hunter Biden explicitly plotted such a strategy, in emails to Hunter’s American partners.
“The announcement of my guy’s upcoming travels should be characterized as part of our advice and thinking— but what he will say and do is out of our hands,” Hunter wrote, apparently referring to his father. “In other words, it could be a really good thing or it can end up creating too great an expectation. We need to temper expectations regarding that visit.”
Archer told the committee that Hunter in that email was “saying that, you know, we can’t—I can’t guide my guy, you know. I can’t guide my father in what he’s going to do on this trip, but let’s get credit for it.”
“He was getting paid a lot of money, and I think, you know, he wanted to show value,” Archer added.
This pattern, in which Hunter Biden used his name and perceived influence to make money without apparently even trying to actually influence his father seems to have recurred when Hunter and his uncle, President Biden’s brother James, went to work in 2017 for a Chinese firm called CEFC China Energy. Joe Biden was out of office at the time.
As the Washington Post reported, the company payed Hunter and James Biden $4.8 million for consulting aimed at helping the firm increase business in the United States. The Bidens were obviously hired for political connections. Hunter was paid an additional $1 million to represent Patrick Ho, a CEFC official, when Ho learned he was under investigation in the US in relation to an international bribery scheme. He was indicted in 2019. Hunter Biden also received a diamond, later valued at $80,000 by his wife in divorce proceedings, from CEFC’s chairman.
In accounts of this work, there is little indication of what, if anything, Hunter and James Biden actually did for the Chinese company. The payments stopped after 14 months, when executives at the firm accused Hunter Biden of charging them for improper expenses. CEFC seems to have felt they were getting ripped off.
It was during negotiations with CEFC in 2017 that a Hunter associate, James Gilliar, sent an email which included the line, “10 held by H for the big guy.” This email, first reported by the New York Post in 2020, remains among the most potentially damning evidence against Joe Biden. But Hunter’s history of feigning influence over his father to make money suggests that if Joe Biden, who was a private citizen at the time, was indeed the “big guy” referenced there, the claim of holding money for him was quite likely a negotiating tactic, another lie, aimed at getting more money from the Chinese.
“I am unaware of any involvement at anytime of the former vice president” in the talks with CEFC, Gilliar told the Wall Street Journal in 2020.
House Republicans, and reporters, have dug up some damning truths about Hunter Biden—as well as Joe Biden’s own shortcomings in dealing with his son. But Republicans seem less interested in the real story than in advancing bogus, or at least unsubstantiated, claims about President Biden.
McCarthy argues the impeachment inquiry is a way to more throughly investigate allegations about the president. But the speaker’s decision to announce the inquiry without holding a House vote, as he previously promised, undermines his case. As Politico explains, the lack of a floor vote may limit the Republicans’ subpoena power. McCarthy’s motivation appears less investigative than political. He’s placating rebellious right wingers in his caucus. Those lawmakers are, in turn, eager to appease their base, and Donald Trump himself, who clearly hopes a Biden impeachment might offset his own impeachments and indictments.