President Biden’s Impeachment Inquiry: Background and Implications
Dr Sweta Kumari, Associate Fellow, VIF

(Disquiet & Polarisation in US Politics: Part 1)

The current developments in the United States are demonstrative of the deepening partisan and retributive politics within the country in the last few years. Most of the chaos revolves around US Presidents (present and former), a divided Congress with the opposition party controlling the leader of the House of Representatives and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and the hardliners in both the Democratic and Republican parties. The series "Disquiet & Polarisation in US Politics” is an attempt to bring out the nuances underlying some of the major political headlines within the United States. The first part analyses the ongoing investigations and inquiry into President Biden’s impeachment, the Hunter Biden indictments, and the possible impact that they could have on President Biden and the Democratic Party.

On September 12, 2023, the recently ousted Speaker and leader of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, announced the opening of a formal impeachment inquiry against Joe Biden. He made allegations against Biden for "abuse of power, obstruction, and corruption”. McCarthy and a number of Republicans claimed that the president lied about his knowledge of his family's foreign business dealings, particularly those involving his son, Hunter Robert Biden. Informing the media about the inquiry, McCarthy said that “Over the past several months, House Republicans have uncovered serious and credible allegations into President Biden’s conduct—a culture of corruption.”[1]

Hunter Biden Controversy & Joe Biden’s Involvement

Hunter Biden has undergone a series of legal troubles, including charges of illegal procurement of a firearm, tax evasion, and money laundering, in the past few years. The prosecutors from Delaware have accused him of providing false information regarding his problem of drug abuse to the US government while procuring a firearm and illegally possessing a firearm in 2018. The same year, the Justice Department initiated an investigation into Hunter Biden’s financial dealings over allegations of tax-related offenses as well as business dealings overseas.

In 2013, Hunter Biden co-started a Shanghai-based investment company. The following year, he became a board member of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, which was facing an investigation on corruption charges. During this period, Joe Biden held the office of Vice-President in the Obama administration and was overseeing White House policy toward Ukraine. Hunter Biden made a large sum of money from both ventures. Donald Trump and other Republicans since the presidential campaign in 2019 have accused Joe Biden of misconduct in using his official powers to facilitate his son’s business dealings. These accusations emerged after a laptop believed to be the property of Hunter Biden was dropped at a repair shop in Delaware. The New York Post published a report that the laptop contained sensitive information about Hunter Biden’s financial dealings and his addiction problem at the time of acquiring the gun.

In 2020, a group of 51 former intelligence officials of the US issued a public statement in which they expressed their belief that the Hunter Biden email scandal had all the “earmarks” of Russian disinformation aimed at influencing the presidential election. This letter played a critical role in shunting this issue and safeguarding Joe Biden’s candidacy. The issue resurfaced when, in April 2023, the House Judiciary Committee, under the chairmanship of GOP Representative Jim Jordan, released its report, including the testimony of Michael Morell, former deputy CIA director under President Barack Obama, that the ‘Biden for President’ campaign disseminated this letter to aid Joe Biden in the final weeks of the 2020 campaign.[2] They have also made accusations against Secretary Anthony Blinken, who was then the senior adviser to the campaign, leading to the discrediting of Hunter Biden’s laptop story.[3] The Democrat members of the committee have called these allegations biased and ‘cherry-picked’ to target Hunter Biden and his father, the President.[4]

The problems of Hunter Biden continued to escalate as one of his former business partners, Devon Archer, testified in the House Oversight Committee in June 2023 that President Biden had been in contact with the foreign business partners of his son for years. Earlier this year, Hunter Biden agreed to plead guilty to two tax misdemeanors and avoided facing prosecution for firearm-related offences by signing up for a two-year programme designed for low-level offenders. However, in a big blow to the plea, a federal judge in Delaware, Maryellen Noreika, asked the parties to reconsider by raising legal and constitutional concerns.[5] Hunter Biden currently faces three felony charges, and there is a greater chance that he might go to trial. The Attorney General of the US has elevated the status of prosecutor David Weiss, the investigator in the case, to special prosecutor level.[6]

Currently, Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty in court. It is yet to be seen how it will play out for him. However, the White House had given a clarification earlier that if Hunter Biden is convicted of the gun charges, the president will not pardon him.[7]

The Inquiry

The first impeachment inquiry hearing in the House was held on September 28, which lasted for six hours and centered largely on Hunter Biden. However, so far, no concrete evidence has been made public that could directly link Joe Biden with his son’s business and implicate him for impeachment. The Democrats and the Biden administration have criticised the inquiry. White House spokesperson Sharon Yang has said House Republicans "wasted hours peddling debunked lies."[8]

A couple of times in the past, however, Joe Biden has publicly said that his son has not benefited from these dealings. As the story unfolds, the Republicans are targeting him, claiming that he lied about his own knowledge of his son’s business transactions and that he made false statements and oversimplified/misrepresented the nature of his interactions with Hunter Biden’s business associates as the Vice-President of the US. The Republicans believe that there may have been a cover-up surrounding Hunter Biden's conduct.

Implications

Hunter Biden’s trials and President Biden’s impeachment inquiry are expected to have more consequential effects during the proceeding than their outcomes. The Democratic Party so far has Joe Biden as the incumbent frontrunner candidate for the presidential election in 2024. Biden's age, his health, and his lack of a popular base are concerning many Democrats and the Democrat-leaning Americans. The trial of Hunter Biden would likely begin next year, when the campaigning will be at its peak. The unfolding of the inquiry could further deepen the disinterest among Democratic supporters in turning up for Biden in the election.

As the search for the new speaker begins in the House, there is likelihood that the new appointee will be someone more aligned with Trump and the Freedom Caucus, creating more trouble for Biden within the House. Even if there are reasonable doubts among legal experts about the sufficiency of proof to impeach Biden, based on what information already exists, many agree that there should be an investigation into the matter. The inquiry will give Republicans and Trump the opportunity to encircle Biden and the Democratic Party and question their credibility in the public domain when election fervour is on the rise. This would also help Trump further enhance his image among his supporters since he has been vehemently criticising Biden for meddling with information regarding his son to win the 2020 elections and that he himself has been a victim of political vendetta by the Democrats.

The next article in this series would bring out various facets of the recently averted government shutdown, the removal of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and the mayhem in the House of Representatives.

Endnotes

[1], Bruggeman, Lucien and Mike Levine, “What to know about Republican allegations, evidence in the Biden impeachment inquiry”, ABC News, September 28, 2023, URL: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/republican-allegations-evidence-biden-impeachment-inquiry/story?id=103535926 (Accessed on October 1, 2023)
[2] Herridge, Catherine, “Republicans say Biden campaign exploited former intel officials to discredit Hunter Biden laptop allegations”, CBS News, May 10, 2023, URL: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/republicans-hunter-biden-laptop-former-intelligence-officials/ (Accessed on October 1, 2023)
[3] Pandolf, Chris, “White House accuses House Judiciary Republicans of 'highly misleading' Hunter Biden leak”, Fox News, April 22, 2023, https://www.foxnews.com/politics/white-house-accuses-house-judiciary-republicans-highly-misleading-hunter-biden-leak (Accessed on October 1, 2023)
[4] US House Committee on the Judiciary Democrats, “House Judiciary and HPSCI Democrats Release Transcripts, Emails Exposing Misleading Claims in GOP “Report”, Press Releases, May 10, 2023, URL:https://democrats-judiciary.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=5161 (Accessed on October 1, 2023)
[5] Thrush, Glenn, Michael S. Schmidt and Chris Cameron “Judge Puts Hunter Biden’s Plea Deal on Hold, Questioning Its Details”, The New York Times, July 26, 2023, URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/26/us/politics/hunter-biden-plea-deal-charges.html (Accessed on October 1, 2023)
[6] Thrush, Glenn, Luke Broadwater and Michael S. Schmidt, “Case Against Hunter Biden Could Go to Trial”, The New York Times, August 11, 2023, URL: https://www.nytimes.com/live/2023/08/11/us/hunter-biden-garland-special-counsel (Accessed on October 1, 2023)
[7] Gregorian, Dareh, “Biden won't pardon his son if he's convicted on federal charges, White House says”, NBC News, September 16, 2023, URL: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/joe-biden/biden-wont-pardon-son-convicted-white-house-says-rcna105351 (Accessed on October 1, 2023)
[8] Diaz, Jaclyn “The first impeachment inquiry hearing into Biden was six hours. Here's what happened”, NPR News, September 28, 2023, URL:
https://www.npr.org/2023/09/28/1202010186/biden-impeachment-inquiry-hearing (Accessed on October 2, 2023)


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