Two House committees vote to advance Hunter Biden contempt proceedings hours after surprise visit
Jan 10, 2024, 8:40 AM | Updated: 5:02 pm
(AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
Live at 7:05 p.m.: Why did Hunter Biden show up now after not showing up previously?
(CNN) — A pair of Republican-led House committees voted Wednesday evening to approve a report recommending a contempt of Congress resolution against Hunter Biden for his failure to comply with a subpoena, hours after the president’s son made a surprise visit to Capitol Hill.
The resolution will next go to the House floor for a vote by the whole chamber. It’s not clear when that vote will be held.
In a surprising turn of events Wednesday morning, Hunter Biden made a short appearance right as House Republicans were starting their two committee meetings.
Both the House Oversight and House Judiciary committees, which subpoenaed the president’s son for his testimony as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, held separate markups of the contempt resolution.
On Wednesday morning, Hunter Biden entered the Oversight committee room, creating a tumultuous scene inside and outside the room as lawmakers debated what to do.
“You are the epitome of White privilege,” GOP Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina told Hunter Biden from her committee seat. “Coming into the Oversight Committee, spitting in our face, ignoring a congressional subpoena to be deposed. What are you afraid of? You have no balls.”
Biden and his lawyers sat down for around 10 minutes before departing.
The allegations at the core of the Republican-led investigation stem from unproven claims that the president was involved in or financially benefited from his son’s foreign business dealings, making the president’s son a crucial witness for their probe.
Hunter’s appearance was reminiscent of how he approached the subpoena last month. Instead of sitting for his deposition, Hunter Biden held a news conference outside the Capitol and has said he will only testify in a public setting. House Republicans maintained they were willing to hold a public hearing with the president’s son, but only after he sat for a private interview. After the younger Biden did not appear for his deposition, House Oversight Chairman James Comer and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan issued a joint statement announcing they would begin contempt proceedings.
In a statement, Hunter Biden’s lawyer Abbe Lowell said they offered to engage with House Republicans on Oversight six times but allege instead, Comer sought a subpoena for a closed-door deposition.
“Ignoring that invitation and proving again that they cared little for the truth and wanted only to ‘move the needle of political support’ that Chairman Comer confessed was his purpose, the Republican chairs have today commandeered an unprecedented resolution to hold someone in contempt who has offered to publicly answer all their proper questions,” Lowell said. “What are they afraid of?”
Hunter Biden’s appearance is part of a more aggressive, forward-leaning strategy that his legal team, led by lawyers Lowell and Kevin Morris, has adopted to confront his detractors. The lawyers are aware that despite Congress holding a contempt vote against him as early as next week, they have few – if any – ways to enforce a punishment. Biden’s ability to hold off congressional testimony has become even greater in recent weeks, because he now faces both criminal tax and gun charges, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.
Many senior White House officials were caught by surprise at news of Hunter Biden’s Capitol Hill appearance. In fact, some of those officials only learned about Hunter Biden’s visit in real time as they watched television coverage of his unexpected move, one senior White House official told CNN.
That official, however, would not rule out the possibility that select individuals inside the White House – including some in the president’s inner-most circle of advisers or the president himself – may have had knowledge of at least some of what Hunter Biden and his legal team had planned for Wednesday, saying that they did not know if that had been the case.
Tensions boil over at Oversight hearing
In the Oversight hearing, Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Florida responded to Mace’s taunts of the president’s son by saying, “If the gentlelady wants to hear from Hunter Biden we can hear from him right now.”
Mace shot back: “I think that Hunter Biden should be arrested right here right now and go straight to jail.”
When GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia started speaking, Hunter Biden and his attorneys left the room.
“I think it’s clear and obvious for everyone watching this hearing today that Hunter Biden is terrified of strong, conservative, Republican women because he can’t even face my words as I was about to speak to him,” Greene said.
Reacting to all of the members interrupting each other, GOP Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona implored his colleagues “don’t act like a bunch of nimrods.”
Comer, a Kentucky Republican, kicked off the hearing defending his panel’s subpoena for a closed-door deposition with the president’s son and said, “We will not provide Hunter Biden with special treatment because of his last name. All Americans must be treated equally under the law.”
The top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, highlighted the hypocrisy that a number of Republicans evaded congressional subpoenas, including Jordan, and yet are trying to hold Hunter Biden in contempt. Raskin claimed Comer has “bizarrely decided to obstruct his own investigation” because he is refusing to accept Hunter Biden’s offer to appear for a public hearing.
“The chairman refused to take ‘yes’ for an answer from Hunter Biden” Raskin said before getting interrupted by Republicans.
What happens next?
The pair of markups on Wednesday kicked off a lengthy process and underscore that the Republican effort to obtain testimony from the president’s son will remain difficult.
If an eventual House floor vote succeeds, the Department of Justice, which is already pursuing two criminal cases against the president’s son, would have to determine whether to prosecute the president’s son for evading a congressional subpoena.
Hunter Biden is scheduled to be on the West Coast by Thursday. He has a court appearance in his criminal tax case where he faces nine criminal charges in federal court in Los Angeles.
White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations Ian Sams issued a statement ahead of the committee meetings, dismissing “baseless attacks” against the president’s family members and calling on Republican lawmakers to focus on Congress’ other responsibilities.
“Instead of playing politics, they should do their jobs, fund the government and border security, and focus on solutions that benefit the American people,” Sams stated.
Ahead of the markup, Jordan told CNN he expects the contempt resolution to pass, but did not know when it would come to the floor or how quickly the referral would move through the Justice Department if it got to that point.
“Whenever Speaker Johnson wants to put it on the floor, for a floor vote, then it’s up to Merrick Garland and Mr. Graves,” Jordan told CNN.
With Congress back this week from its winter recess, House Republicans are ramping up their investigations at a busy time on Capitol Hill. The meetings are happening at the same time Wednesday the House Homeland Security Committee is moving forward with its impeachment investigation into DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Sams highlighted that Congress is just days away from a government funding deadline but that House Republicans are instead focusing on their investigations.
“House Republicans are less than ten days from sparking a partial government shutdown that many of their far-right members are rooting for, but instead of working full-time to avoid it, they are wasting time on political stunts,” Sams said in a statement. “These baseless attacks on the President’s Cabinet and family members will do nothing to help improve Americans’ daily lives, strengthen our border security, or improve the economy; all they will do is help extreme House Republicans get booked on Fox and Newsmax to try to distract from their inability to govern.”
With the Biden probe moving methodically and a number of Republicans still skeptical about impeaching the president, senior Republicans now believe targeting Mayorkas will be an easier lift as the border crisis becomes a defining campaign issue.
“There’s a lot of competing impeachments so it’s tough to tell who is in the lead,” Rep. Tony Gonzales, who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, told CNN.
“I will say that I think a lot of the members up here have lost confidence in DHS,” the Texas Republican added.
Jordan said Republicans will “find out” if the House can pursue two impeachments at once, but said he believes “there is strong, compelling evidence for both.”
This story and headline have been updated to reflect additional developments.
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz, Paula Reid, Kristin Wilson and MJ Lee contributed to this report.
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