Democrats press GOP for evidence as they push forward on impeachment inquiry

Democrats on Wednesday pressured Republicans to identify the criminal conduct underlying their probe into President Biden in a hearing scheduled amid rising GOP doubts about the future of their impeachment investigation.

Wednesday’s Oversight Committee hearing was relatively fireworks-free, for a panel known for dishing up some of Congress’s most eyebrow raising moments, and proceeded even as Hunter Biden declined to participate.

Republicans left an empty seat and placard on the table for Hunter Biden, but the president’s son managed to largely skirt attention in a hearing that was ostensibly crafted to review his business dealings and connect them to his father.

House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) at one point stressed that “this hearing is not about Hunter Biden. This investigation is not about Hunter Biden. It is about Joe Biden and the lies he continues to tell the American people.”

But two GOP-invited witnesses failed to advance any new claims, while Lev Parnas, a former operative for Rudy Giulani who was invited by Democrats, recanted his past work and testified he never found any evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden.

Democrats were quick to point to statements from a growing roster of Republican skeptics of the probe, asking the GOP to name the high crime or misdemeanor that underlies their impeachment investigation.

It was also the first hearing in the GOP impeachment inquiry since an FBI informant was arrested on charges related to lying to agency in fabricating claims President Biden accepted a bribe while vice president to take actions to benefit the Ukrainian energy company where his son served on the board.

“At this point the story isn’t the fact that the basis of this impeachment inquiry is wrong. The story is why it is proceeding anyway?” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said, adding the GOP has “no charges.”

“I have yet to hear in the chairman’s opening the allegation that they are specifically charging the president of the United States with. I am hearing about the ‘Biden family.’ I am hearing about this and that. I am not hearing the specific allegation by this committee. What is it? It is not here. And that is the problem. The story is when this committee knew they were working with falsified evidence? That is the story.”

Hunter Biden declined to appear at the hearing after previously requesting to appear publicly. A  letter from his lawyer he said GOP leaders provided no prior outreach when setting a hearing date, staging the hearing the day before he is due in court in California.

Republicans instead relied on two witnesses with little connection to Hunter Biden or his father.

Tony Bobulinski briefly worked with Hunter Biden on a Chinese investment deal never came to fruition. He later became aligned with allies of former President Trump, attending a presidential debate at his invitation and being currently represented by an attorney who helped Trump White House aides before the Jan. 6 committee through funds supplied through entities connected with the former president.

Jason Galanis, who is currently incarcerated on fraud charges brought in an indictment alongside Hunter Biden’s former business partner, has said he worked with the president’s son, but that is in dispute. Hunter Biden said he only recalled that “10 years ago for 30 minutes I was introduced to Jason Galanis, and that’s the only time I ever recall meeting him.”

Democrats accused Republicans of selecting two witnesses whose testimony has been countered by nearly 20 other witnesses.

Bobulinski’s main draw for the GOP stems from his claims that a 2017 email chain he was on suggesting business partners set aside money in a deal for “the big guy” was a reference to President Biden, who had just left office. The idea was not further discussed on the chain.

Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) pointed to an interview with another former partner, James Gilliar, who said President Biden was never involved in the discussion and had nothing to do with the deal.

“You and James Gilliar wanted Joe Biden involved and that is why Hunter Biden dumped you and did the business on his own,” Goldman said.

Hunter Biden has called for an investigation into Bobulinski, casting him as a spurned business partner who was not even present at a meeting in which payment structures were discussed, questioning whether he lied about the matter to the FBI.

Democrats on Wednesday also moved to subpoena Bobulinski’s phone records, noting the committee only has screenshots from his phone, something the witness said was due to an FBI inability to mirror the data from an old blackberry.

But Republicans voted down the measure, as they did in a prior hearing when Democrats sought to subpoena Giuliani.

Parnas’s appearance was one of his most public since leaving prison in September after serving time on charges related to fraud and campaign finance crimes.

The close associate of Giuliani lobbed bombs at his former boss, as well as other Trump officials, including former Attorney General Bill Barr.

While tasked with investigating the Bidens, Parnas said he came up short, accusing Giuliani and others of falsely smearing the Biden family dispute a lack of evidence.

“In nearly a year traveling the world and interviewing officials in different countries, I found precisely zero evidence of the Biden’s corruption in Ukraine. No credible sources ever provided proof of criminal activity,” Parnas said.

But Republicans jumped on Democrats for calling Parnas as a witness.

“The Democrats could have sent anyone. They could have sent Hunter Biden, they could have sent Joe Biden. …The Democrats could have sought any person to come a refute the direct evidence backed up by bank statements, backed up calendar entries, backed up by e-mails, backed up by text messages. But who did democrats send to clear the name of Joe and Hunter Biden? They sent Lev Parnas. Lev Parnas who was charged with enough crimes and violating our campaign finance laws to, like, serve 50 years,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said.

The hearing comes at a critical juncture for the GOP probe.

Leaders have been weighing forgoing any formal vote on their impeachment inquiry, and are now instead weighing making a criminal referral to the Justice Department, another potentially fraught pathway.

More Republicans are openly questioning the inquiry, including its evidentiary basis, and whether it will ever come to a vote on the House floor.

Conservative media have also been increasingly skeptical, with a Newsmax anchor telling House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), “Unless you get Democratic votes, this is going to be real tough. So, it kind of seems like you’re chasing your tail at this point because this is not going to go anywhere.”

Comer defended the probe at the close of the hearing.

“Mr. Bobulinski, Mr. Galanis have delivered testimony directly implicating Mr. Biden and his family influence peddling schemes, schemes that brought over $24 million into the Biden family and their business associates pockets,” Comer said.

A Washington Post fact check found that the bulk of that money went to other business associates, not the Biden family.

“For what? I’ve never heard the minority say what they did or what business they were in,” Comer added.

But Democrats took turns making light of the GOP progress.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) crafted a Top 10 list of the reasons the GOP impeachment inquiry is dead, complete with a chart showing a flatlining heartbeat.

“At what point are you going to fish or cut bait? So I just have to tell you, it’s over. Impeachment is over. Donezo, bye bye, rigor mortis, lights out, curtain drop, mic drop, peace, adios, sayonara, do svidaniya, a language y’all know,” Swalwell said, seeking to connect to GOP to Russia

And Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) jokingly moved to kick off an impeachment vote during the hearing, suggesting that Republicans were reticent to do so.

“They are never going to impeach Joe Biden. It is never going to happen. They don’t have the evidence. This is a show. It is all fake,” Moskowitz said.

“If these hearings were a success, if what we have been doing the last 15 months had convinced the American people that Joe Biden committed a high crime and misdemeanor, you can be sure they would’ve called the vote by now.”

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.