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House holds first Biden impeachment hearing

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today House Republicans held their first hearing in the impeachment inquiry of President Biden. Kentucky Republican James Comer is leading the inquiry.

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JAMES COMER: The House Oversight and Accountability Committee has uncovered a mountain of evidence revealing how Joe Biden abused his public office for his family's financial gain.

SHAPIRO: At issue is Biden's relationship with his son, Hunter, a former lobbyist who made millions working in the influence industry, often for foreign clients.

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COMER: For years, President Biden has lied to the American people about his knowledge of and participation in his family's corrupt business schemes.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

But Republicans have yet to present direct evidence of wrongdoing. The top Democrat on the panel, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, said Republicans are using the hearing to deflect from the four indictments against former President Trump, who's currently the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

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JAMIE RASKIN: So we move from a Trump-ordered government shutdown to a Trump-ordered impeachment process. And yet back in the reality-based world, the majority sits completely empty-handed with no evidence of any presidential wrongdoing - no smoking gun, no gun, no smoke.

SHAPIRO: Lawmakers heard from four expert witnesses. None had any knowledge of wrongdoing by the president. And the two legal scholars of impeachment said under oath that the case for impeaching Biden isn't there yet. Here's George Washington law professor Jonathan Turley, a witness for Republicans.

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JONATHAN TURLEY: I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment, but I also do believe that the House has passed the threshold for an impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Biden.

SHAPIRO: Representative Comer has said the investigation will continue even if the government shuts down in two days. NPR political correspondent Susan Davis is tracking this. And, Sue, was there any new evidence or information offered in today's hearing about President Biden?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Not about the president. But, Ari, it was a bad day for Hunter Biden. Republicans have been investigating the president's son for the better part of the past eight months, and those investigations have revealed a number of documents and whistleblower allegations that paints a really sordid picture of the influence industry and specifically how Hunter Biden leveraged his family name to make millions of dollars as a lobbyist and a consultant. There were also allegations of interference by career officials looking into him at the IRS and the Justice Department. But there has been no direct line drawn by any of the evidence to date that directly links it to the president.

There were four witnesses today. None were fact witnesses. None had any direct knowledge of any wrongdoing by the president. There were two law professors and impeachment experts. You mentioned Jonathan Turley and also Michael Gerhardt. And they said the public record to date does not meet the constitutional standard for impeachment, of course, being treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. That said, Turley did testify that the Republicans have revealed enough evidence that would at least justify looking into the president.

SHAPIRO: A key point in this inquiry into President Biden is that it focuses on alleged actions taken before he took office...

DAVIS: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...In 2021. Do any of the allegations involve actions taken as president?

DAVIS: Not currently. Everything to date has focused on this time period from when he was the vice president in the Obama administration. And during that period of time, that four-year gap when he was not in public office at all, Republicans alleged that as vice president, he took actions that benefited his son's foreign clients at the time, clients like business companies in Ukraine or in China. But there's no evidence offered that Biden ever said or did anything in that time period that undermined the stated foreign policy goals of the United States government.

Republicans also allege that Biden lied when he was asked as president if he ever discussed past business dealings with his son. He has consistently denied this and as president. But they do point to testimony that they've been taken under oath by a former business partner of Hunter Biden who said the president did, at times in the past, appear at a couple of social dinners and that Hunter would at time call his dads when he was in the present of clients. The time period is really relevant here because people like Turley argued in his testimony that Congress has to be really cautious about what he called retroactive impeachment and that unless they can draw a line into the current office - say, if Biden was covering up past wrongdoing - that it probably would not in meet, in his view, the constitutional standard for impeachment.

SHAPIRO: And what's the response from the White House been?

DAVIS: They've been pretty consistent. They dismiss it as sort of a baseless stunt. They're focused on the fact that the government could shut down in the next couple of days. But the Republican investigation over these months has succeeded in shaping public opinion. Recent polls suggest that a majority of Americans do believe that Hunter Biden personally profited from his father's position. But there does seem to be more public skepticism that Joe Biden has done anything wrong. Polling suggests a big chunk of the electorate just isn't paying that close of attention to this. But that would also tell you that there's still a lot of room to shape public opinion as this inquiry goes forward.

SHAPIRO: And so where do Republicans plan to go from here?

DAVIS: The big looming question in this investigation is, are they going to subpoena Hunter Biden or any members of the Biden family? Republicans today indicated their next step is probably going to be to get more of Hunter Biden's bank records. Speaker Kevin McCarthy earlier this month said that Republicans do plan to subpoena Hunter Biden but that they would do so at, quote, "the appropriate time." It's unclear when that time would be. What is pretty clear is that this inquiry is likely going to continue into next year and will overlap with the presidential election. It is unclear if it will ultimately result in articles of impeachment against Joe Biden.

SHAPIRO: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis. Thanks a lot.

DAVIS: You're so welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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