Republicans in the U.S. Congress appear to be moving closer toward opening an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden — even though political experts say their allegations of financial misconduct aren’t backed up by solid evidence.
The growing effort to paint Biden as corrupt and worthy of being impeached centres on alleged influence peddling and enrichment schemes by the president’s son, Hunter Biden.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel into the Hunter Biden allegations on Friday.
Yet experts say little of what Republicans state they have uncovered actually implicates the elder Biden. Instead, they say the accusations are likely designed to hurt Biden politically ahead of his 2024 re-election bid, while also distracting from the mounting indictments against former president and current Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.
“Saying Joe Biden is someone who we disagree with, and you should vote for us because we’re better or have better policies, that’s not enough (for Republicans anymore),” said Matthew Lebo, a political science professor at Western University.
“It’s not just about distracting from Donald Trump, but about trying to create scandals where there are none ahead of an election.”
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Last month, U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy floated the idea of an impeachment inquiry into the GOP claims linking Joe Biden with the allegations against his son.
Although the Republican congressman acknowledged the probes into the matter have not proven any wrongdoing, he told reporters such an inquiry would allow Congress “to get the information to be able to know the truth.”
That could prove futile if Congress hasn’t already uncovered a smoking gun that implicates Biden, experts say.
“The truth is, Congress has a lot of tools already that it can use, and it’s been using those tools,” said Henry Brady, professor of public policy and political science at the University of California – Berkeley, who previously served as president of the American Political Science Association.
Those tools include the ongoing investigation by the House oversight committee, led by Republican Rep. James Comer, who is at the forefront of the charge in accusing Biden of wrongdoing.
“Even still … we haven’t found anything that really withstands scrutiny.”
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An impeachment inquiry by the Republican-controlled House would be a first step toward bringing potential articles of impeachment, which could further muddy Biden’s political fortunes heading into next year’s election.
The White House officials have denied any wrongdoing by the president, who they portray as a concerned father who kept in touch with his son during Hunter’s legal and personal troubles.
“I’ve been asked this question a million times,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said on July 20. “The answer remains the same. The president was never in business with his son.”
What are the allegations against Hunter Biden?
Republicans have focused on Hunter Biden’s international business dealings, including his time as a board member of Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, between 2014 and 2019.
Burisma has long faced allegations of corruption.
During that time, bank records and other evidence obtained by Republicans in Congress appear to show Hunter pocketed millions of dollars for his work for Burisma, as well as legal work and business dealings with a Chinese businessman.
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Comer and Republicans on the oversight committee have also zeroed in on an unverified tip to the FBI that alleged a bribery scheme involving Joe Biden when he was vice president.
The claim, which first emerged in 2019, was that Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor in order to stop an investigation into Burisma and protect Hunter.
But Democrats and independent experts have long said the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was seen by most Western countries as turning a blind eye to alleged corruption by Burisma and other companies in Ukraine, and that that is why Biden and other world leaders pushed for his removal.
The allegations are also reminiscent of what led to Trump’s first impeachment in 2020.
That case centred on a 2019 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in which Trump pushed for an investigation into Biden’s alleged ties to Burisma, linking an announcement of a probe to the release of American military aid to Ukraine.
That investigation was never launched, and Trump allies like Rudy Giuliani were unable to uncover definitive proof of wrongdoing by Biden.
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Hunter Biden has admitted to being addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol throughout his life, and that his substance abuse escalated after the death of his brother Beau Biden to cancer in 2015.
He wrote in his 2021 memoir that the money he earned during his time on Burisma’s board fuelled his addictions.
A now-infamous laptop that appears to have contained provocative pictures of Hunter naked and with women during that period has been seized on by Republicans, who say Hunter’s troubles compromised Joe Biden in his dealings with foreign governments that had business ties with Hunter. Some of the images have been revealed by Republicans on the oversight committee.
Joe Biden has maintained that he loves his son and supported him on his journey toward sobriety.
“We maybe should show a little empathy and kindness here and understanding that Joe Biden dealt with a problem that many families in America are dealing with, which is drug-addicted children who are acting very, very badly,” said Brady.
Hunter is currently facing federal tax charges related to missed payments during some of the years of his recent drug abuse. A plea deal intended to resolve the matter fell apart in court late last month.
If Republicans in the House continue to push for impeachment, the effort may be unlikely to succeed.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said last week he understands House Republicans may be incentivized to launch an impeachment inquiry after Trump was impeached twice when Democrats had control of the chamber. But he warned fellow Republicans of continuing down this path.
“Impeachment ought to be rare rather than common,” McConnell said. “I think this is not good for the country when we have repeated impeachments.”
—With files from the Associated Press