1 of 13 | House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer (R), R-Ky., speaks with Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., during a hearing on an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden on Thursday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 28 (UPI) -- The House Oversight Committee on Thursday opened its first impeachment hearing into President Joe Biden's family business dealings.
Witnesses for Republicans and Democrats agreed there is not enough evidence to bring articles of impeachment against the president.
Democrats have emphasized that the allegations repeated throughout the hearing have referenced the actions of Hunter Biden and the Biden family. Alleged incidents involving the president, detailed in part by Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., took place when he did not hold public office.
"I want to emphasize what it is that we're here today for," George Washington University law Professor Jonathan Turley said. "This is a question of an impeachment inquiry. It is not a vote on articles of impeachment. In fact, I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment. That is something that inquiry has to establish."
Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., said the House's Republican majority has compiled a "mountain of evidence" that indicates the president's family used his influence to profit.
"Biden has lied about his knowledge of and participation in his son's business schemes," Comer said. "He lied by telling the American people there was an absolute wall between his official government duties and his personal life. Let's be honest, there was no wall."
Near the end of the hearing Comer announced that he will subpoena the bank records of Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's brother James Biden and their affiliated companies.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., in his opening statement argued that legislators should be spending their time on averting the impending government shutdown, which he said is coming at the direction of former President Donald Trump.
Referring to "MAGA Republicans," he quoted Michael Caine's character Alfred Pennyworth in The Dark Knight, saying, "Some men want to see the world burn."
"If Republicans had a smoking gun or even a dripping water pistol, they would be presenting it today, but they've got nothing on Joe Biden," Raskin said. "All they can do is return to the thoroughly demolished lie that Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump launched five years ago. The Burisma conspiracy theory."
Raskin noted that Joe Biden was not in office in 2019, when bank records obtained by the House Ways and Means Committee showed wire transfers from China to Hunter Biden, addressed to Joe Biden's Wilmington, Del., residence.
Turley rebuked the assertion that payments made to Joe Biden's family do not benefit him, as well.
"The courts actually rejected that. They said that money going to family members is in fact a benefit," Turley said.
The panel, meeting at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, aimed to lay the groundwork for the impeachment investigation by calling four witnesses, including tax and financial experts and former administration officials.
The investigation is focused on drawing a connection between the president and unethical business practices by his son, Hunter Biden, when he served on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma from 2014 to 2019.
As part of the hearing, the committee will conduct a review of Hunter Biden's bank records and tax payments following a previous investigation by prosecutors retained from the Trump administration. That investigation resulted in no criminal charges against Hunter Biden.
Thursday's hearing features testimony from witnesses called by the committee's Republican majority, including Bruce Dubinsky, a forensic accountant and founder of Dubinsky Consulting; Eileen O'Connor a former assistant attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division, and Turley.
The Democrats have called on Michael J. Gerhardt, a professor of jurisprudence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Turley, who testified in the impeachments of Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, said the allegations against Joe Biden boil down to what he referred to as influence peddling. He added that, in some cases, influence peddling can be legal, but in those cases it is still observed unpopularly by the public.
"Influence peddling is the favorite form of corruption in Washington," Turley said. "What happens with influence peddling is you have the commission of crimes to conceal it. That is not necessarily the reason in this case. The key here is the committee has to drill down on whether they can establish a linkage of the influence peddling -- which is a form of corruption -- and the president. Whether he had knowledge, whether he participated or whether he encouraged it. We don't know."
Democrats throughout the hearing have called for the committee to subpoena Trump's former attorney Rudy Giuliani and businessman Lev Parnas to appear. The committee voted to table a motion from Raskin to issue subpoenas in a 20-19 vote. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., reintroduced a motion later in the hearing that was voted down 20-18.
They have also called for the issue of an impeachment inquiry to be brought to the House floor for a vote. This is the typical procedure that took place in the impeachments of Clinton and Trump. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Pa., said the vote should be held immediately.
"My view is they don't have the votes," Khanna said.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., also noted unlike those impeachment inquiries, Thursday's hearing did not include material witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the case at hand. The significance, she said, is that only the four witnesses called are under oath. The committee members are not, instead protected by the speech and debate clause of the Constitution.
Earlier in the hearing, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., shared images of text messages in which Hunter Biden appeared to be elusive about the purpose of scheduling meetings between his father and foreign entities. Ocasio-Cortez later revealed that those images were doctored to bypass further context, which she then entered into evidence.
"This is an embarrassment to the time and people of this country," she said.
Giuliani and Parnas were key figures in Trump's effort to obtain information on Hunter Biden and Joe Biden, who had emerged as a likely opponent in the 2020 presidential election. Parnas has since distanced himself from the debunked conspiracy theories that Giuliani pushed about the Bidens. Parnas penned a letter to Republicans asking them to abandon their investigation into Joe Biden, calling it a "wild goose chase."
Previously, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called the impeachment proceedings necessary to obtain official documents and bank records from Joe Biden to determine whether he had taken foreign bribes to help his son. However, there has been no evidence to indicate that Biden broke the law. The president continues to deny any wrongdoing.
Republicans continue to claim the Bidens enriched themselves through Hunter Biden's deals, raking in more than $20 million in illegal foreign money that was allegedly funneled through various shell companies.
However, GOP lawmakers have yet to prove that any money paid to Hunter Biden had ever benefited the president or anyone else in the Biden family.
Fact checkers with the Washington Post have determined that Hunter Biden only made about $7 million during his time with Burisma, while most of the purported shell companies connected to him were found to be legitimate businesses.
"Without doubt, Hunter Biden's shady business deals undermined America's image and our anti-corruption goals, and his conduct was thoroughly reprehensible," Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., said in a recent op-ed. "What's missing, despite years of investigation, is the smoking gun that connects Joe Biden to his ne'er-do-well son's corruption."
On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee submitted 700 new pages of financial documents into evidence, while Democrats continued to blast the investigation as a "political stunt," saying Republicans were pursuing baseless conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden, who resigned from Burisma in 2019 to head off any potential conflicts of interest as his father ran for president.
At the time, Trump was facing his first impeachment, while Giuliani began publicly claiming that a Ukrainian oligarch had bragged about paying off the Bidens. However, the FBI was never able to verify the information, which had been provided by a confidential source.
"Chairman Comer's whole sham impeachment drive is based on a lie crafted and peddled by Trump and Rudy Giuliani that has been repeatedly debunked by multiple credible sources," Raskin said in a statement ahead of the hearing, adding that Giuliani's associates have admitted "there is nothing to the Burisma conspiracy theory."
McCarthy launched the impeachment inquiry on Sept. 12 without a vote.
"This logical next step will give our committees the full power to gather the full facts and answers for the American public," McCarthy said at the time. "That's exactly what we want to know -- the answers. I believe the president would want to answer these questions and allegations, as well."