House Republicans do not have enough evidence yet to justify an impeachment of President Joe Biden, two legal scholars told a congressional panel Thursday as lawmakers sparred over the basis for the GOP-led impeachment investigation.
The first hearing on the high-profile probe quickly devolved into a partisan tit for tat at the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, as Republicans outlined the basis for their investigation while Democrats dismissed the inquiry as baseless.
House Republicans, in describing the basis for the probe, point to an accusation that the president’s son Hunter Biden was selling the illusion of access to his father and would look to leverage his family’s “brand.” The probe also involves arguments that the younger Biden received lenient treatment from the Justice Department.
But for all the heated rhetoric, a Republican-called witness, Jonathan Turley, a legal scholar who has testified in previous impeachment inquiries, said he did not believe the current evidence would support articles of impeachment against President Biden. That’s something an impeachment inquiry would have to establish, he said.
Allegations that Biden might have benefited from an “influence peddling” scheme should not be taken out of context, Turley said.
“They’re merely allegations, and they should not become presumptions of impeachable conduct,” Turley said. “Indeed, as I’ve said in past impeachments, self-dealing is a difficult issue under the impeachment clause. The framers sought to avoid ambiguous standards.”
Michael Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina who testified as a constitutional expert before the House Judiciary Committee along with Turley during former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment proceeding, said he fears the Biden impeachment inquiry is based on partisanship instead of principle.
Under questioning from the top Democrat on the committee, Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, Gerhardt said there’s no precedent for launching an impeachment inquiry without evidence of wrongdoing by the president.
“And in fact, I would just point out that Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton and President Trump in 2019, the full House authorized those impeachment inquiries,” Gerhardt said.
Another witness, forensic accountant Bruce Dubinsky, said he was testifying to lend his expertise but would not prejudge the information related to the Biden family.
“I am not here today to even suggest that there was corruption, fraud or any wrongdoing,” Dubinsky said. “In my opinion, more information needs to be gathered and assessed before I would make such an assessment.”
Chairman James R. Comer, R-Ky., opened the Thursday hearing by accusing Biden of lying about his knowledge of “his family’s corrupt business schemes.”
The American people demand accountability for a “culture of corruption,” Comer said.
“By opening an impeachment inquiry, our investigation is now focused on whether President Biden engaged in impeachable offenses under the U.S. Constitution,” Comer said. “It empowers Congress, elected by the people, to continue providing the answers, transparency and accountability that the American people demand and deserve.”
But Turley, the conservative legal scholar, argued that Biden speaking falsely would not rise to an impeachable offense.
“President Biden and other presidents can be dishonest, can even lie to the American people, and that would not constitute an impeachable offense,” Turley said.
“Indeed, most presidents have lied to the American people,” Turley said, and “dishonesty alone is not impeachable.”
Raskin on Thursday said Republicans “don’t have a shred of evidence against President Biden for an impeachable offense” and slammed conservatives for focusing on the hearing just days before a potential government shutdown.
An electronic “Republican Shutdown” clock even appeared on the Democratic side of the committee dias.
“The majority sits completely empty-handed with no evidence of any presidential wrongdoing. No smoking gun — no gun, no smoke,” Raskin said.