House Republicans’ investigation into President Joe Biden and his family has been plodding along all year, but there’ve been no real results from their spelunking. As part of the impeachment inquiry launched in September, the House Oversight Committee last week issued subpoenas to the president’s brother, James, and to his son, Hunter. The latter subpoena, in particular, grants a longstanding wish to the GOP base, which has been all but guaranteed that getting the Bidens under oath would finally provide evidence of their widespread criminality or whatever.
Republicans have demanded that Hunter Biden appear on Dec. 13 for a closed-door deposition to discuss his past business dealings and whether his father ever improperly used his influence while in office to boost those endeavors.
But rather than fight the subpoena, Hunter Biden appears eager, maybe too eager, to appear before the GOP-led panel. In a letter from his lawyer on Tuesday, Biden not only agreed to testify but to do so in an open committee session. And in his response, Oversight Committee Chair Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., made clear how caught off guard he was —?and how unprepared he is to back up his tough talk in public.
“Your fishing expedition has become Captain Ahab chasing the great white whale,” Hunter Biden’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, wrote Comer in his response to his client’s subpoena. But rather than fight the subpoena in court, Lowell suggested skipping the deposition altogether. His client, he wrote, would agree “to answer any pertinent and relevant question you or your colleagues might have, but— rather than subscribing to your cloaked, one-sided process—he will appear at a public Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing.”
In a statement posted by the House Oversight Committee on X, previously Twitter, Comer says “Hunter Biden is trying to play by his own rules instead of following the rules required of everyone else. That won’t stand with House Republicans. Our lawfully issued subpoena to Hunter Biden requires him to appear for a deposition on December 13. We expect full cooperation with our subpoena for a deposition but also agree that Hunter Biden should have opportunity to testify in a public setting at a future date.”
The Oversight Committee has already held numerous closed-door interviews with people in the Bidens’ orbit, including Devon Archer, Hunter Biden’s former business partner. Archer’s interview, in particular, was exploited by Republicans who teased out portions that sounded damning, including that Joe Biden had spoken numerous times with his sons’ business associates. Once the full transcripts were released, however, it became clear just how much of a stretch the GOP was making in their characterization of Archer’s testimony as damning for the president.
Demanding a public hearing is a dramatic and potential fraught play from Lowell, who has been spearheading an aggressive counteroffensive strategy for his client. Could such a hearing be embarrassing for Hunter Biden? Yes, definitely. It’s a chance for Republicans to bring up the very public scandals he’s been linked to and the personal demons that have haunted him for years. It’s a chance for them to talk about the contents of his laptop that were leaked during the 2020 election and the federal plea deal?involving alleged tax evasion and an alleged illegal gun possession charge that collapsed, leaving him to face trial on federal gun charges. (He has pleaded not guilty.) It’s a chance for them to ask questions that feed into debunked conspiracy theories involving his father interfering in an investigation in Ukraine during his time as vice president and produce new soundbites that suggest some darker machinations.
And yet, despite those risks, Lowell in his letter is clearly ready to call Comer’s bluff. And as he noted, history is on his side in this case. The scramble for Republicans to find something impeachment-worthy to use against Biden has been an absolute circus. Comer, in particular, has been caught out over his skis multiple times, mischaracterizing the evidence that’s been collected and annoying his GOP colleagues with his overstatements and wild swings during media appearances. The first and only impeachment hearing that Comer called was even more of a mess, with Republican-called witnesses admitting that they hadn’t seen any bombshell proof of a scandal. Comer afterward said that it was unlikely that he’d be holding any similar hearings for the foreseeable future.
Memories of that fiasco may have colored Comer’s Tuesday morning response insisting that Hunter Biden first testify out of the public eye.
If you’re being extremely generous, then you could argue that Comer has a point. Closed-door depositions are generally used to produce testimony that can be compared with others’ testimony. Then, any discrepancies are brought forward during an open trial or hearing. But as Lowell pointed out, we’ve already seen what the House GOP does with those depositions, using them to initially fuel innuendo without allowing for any pushback from committee Democrats. Hunter Biden testifying publicly would give him and the minority members a chance to counter any wild claims of impropriety in real time, instead of letting Republicans set a false narrative that Democrats correct much later.
That said, if Comer were to give him the chance to testify publicly, Hunter Biden could be walking into a Republican trap. He might even emerge from a hearing with his ego bruised and his sins on full display. But based on what we’ve seen so far, it seems more likely that any trap that gets sprung would be ACME-branded and backfire completely on the hapless coyote, er, I mean Comer who set it.