With the commencement of an impeachment inquiry this week, the House of Representatives is moving the Biden corruption scandal into the highest level of constitutional inquiry. After stonewalling by the Bidens and federal agencies investigating various allegations, the move for a House inquiry was expected if not inevitable.
An impeachment inquiry does not mean that an impeachment itself is inevitable. But it dramatically increases the chances of finally forcing answers to troubling questions of influence-peddling and corruption.
As expected, many House Democrats — who impeached Donald Trump after only one hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, based on his phone call to Ukraine’s president — oppose any such inquiry into President Biden. House Republicans could have chosen to forego any hearings and use what I called a “snap impeachment,” as then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did with the second Trump impeachment in January 2021.
Instead, they have methodically investigated the corruption scandal for months and only now are moving to a heightened inquiry. The House has established a labyrinth of dozens of shell companies and accounts allegedly used to transfer millions of dollars to Biden family members. There is now undeniable evidence to support influence-peddling by Hunter Biden and some of his associates — with Joe Biden, to quote Hunter’s business partner Devon Archer, being “the brand” they were selling.
The suggestion that this evidence does not meet the standard for an inquiry into impeachable offenses is an example of willful blindness. It also is starkly different from the standard applied by congressional Democrats during the Trump and Nixon impeachment efforts.
The Nixon impeachment began on Oct. 30, 1973, just after President Nixon fired Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor looking into the Watergate allegations. The vote in the judiciary committee was along party lines. The House was correct to start that impeachment inquiry, although House leaders stressed that they were not prejudging the existence of impeachable offenses. The inquiry started roughly eight months before any indictments of defendants linked to the Watergate break-in. It was many months before clear evidence established connections to Nixon, who denied any wrongdoing or involvement.
Every impeachment inquiry is different, of course. In this case, there is a considerable amount of evidence gathered over months of methodical investigations by three different committees.
Consider just five established facts:
First, there appears to be evidence that Joe Biden lied to the public for years in denying knowledge of his son’s business dealings. Hunter Biden’s ex-business associate, Tony Bobulinski, has said repeatedly that he discussed some dealings directly with Joe Biden. Devon Archer, Hunter’s close friend and partner, described the president’s denials of knowledge as “categorically false.”
Moreover, Hunter’s laptop has communications from his father discussing the dealings, including audio messages from the president. The president allegedly spoke with his son on speakerphone during meetings with his associates on at least 20 occasions, according to Archer, attended dinners with some clients, and took photographs with others.
Second, we know that more than $20 million was paid to the Bidens by foreign sources, including figures in China, Ukraine, Russia and Romania. There is no apparent reason for the multilayers of accounts and companies other than to hide these transfers. Some of these foreign figures have allegedly told others they were buying influence with Joe Biden, and Hunter himself repeatedly invoked his father’s name — including a text exchange with a Chinese businessman in which he said his father was sitting next to him as Hunter demanded millions in payment. While some Democrats now admit that Hunter was selling the “illusion” of influence and access to his father, these figures clearly believed they were getting more than an illusion. That includes one Ukrainian businessman who reportedly described Hunter as dumber than his dog.
Third, specific demands were made on Hunter, including dealing with the threat of a Ukrainian prosecutor to the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, where Hunter was given a lucrative board position. Five days later, Joe Biden forced the Ukrainians to fire the prosecutor, even though State Department and intelligence reports suggested that progress was being made on corruption. Likewise, despite warnings from State Department officials that Hunter was undermining anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine, he continued to receive high-level meetings with then-Secretary of State John Kerry and other State Department officials.
Fourth, Hunter repeatedly stated in emails that he paid his father as much as half of what he earned. There also are references to deals that included free office space and other perks for Joe Biden and his wife; other emails reference how Joe and Hunter Biden would use the same accounts and credit cards. Beyond those alleged direct benefits, Joe Biden clearly benefited from money going to his extended family.
Fifth, there is evidence of alleged criminal conduct by Hunter that could be linked to covering up these payments, from the failure to pay taxes to the failure to register as a foreign lobbyist. What is not established is the assumption by many that Joe Biden was fully aware of both the business dealings and any efforts to conceal them.
The White House is reportedly involved in marshaling the media to swat down any further investigation. In a letter drafted by the White House Counsel’s office, according to a CNN report media executives were told they need to “ramp up their scrutiny” of House Republicans “for opening an impeachment inquiry based on lies.” It is a dangerous erosion of separation between the White House and the president’s personal legal team. Yet, many in the media have previously followed such directions from the Biden team — from emphasizing the story that the laptop might be “Russian disinformation” to an unquestioning acceptance of the president’s denial of any knowledge of his son’s dealings.
Notably, despite the vast majority of media echoing different defenses for the Bidens for years, the American public is not buying it. Polls show that most Americans view the Justice Department as compromised and Hunter Biden as getting special treatment for his alleged criminal conduct. According to a recent CNN poll, 61% of Americans believe Joe Biden was involved in his family’s business deals with China and Ukraine; only 1% say he was involved but did nothing wrong.
The American public should not harbor such doubts over corruption at the highest levels of our government. Thus, the House impeachment inquiry will allow Congress to use the very apex of its powers to force disclosures of key evidence and resolve some of these troubling questions. It may not result in an impeachment, but it will result in greater clarity. Indeed, it is that very clarity that many in Washington may fear the most from this inquiry.
Jonathan Turley, an attorney, constitutional law scholar and legal analyst, is the Shapiro Chair for Public Interest Law at The George Washington University Law School.