By Annie Grayer, Marshall Cohen and Daniel Dale | CNN
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy made several unproven claims Tuesday while announcing the opening of a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
The Republican-led investigation will focus on “allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption” by Biden, related to his family’s overseas business dealings, McCarthy said.
There is clear evidence that Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, leveraged his famous name while pursuing lucrative foreign deals, which might be untoward but isn’t illegal. And he isn’t a government official – the impeachment inquiry is into his father.
House Republicans have not presented any proof that Joe Biden ever profited off his son’s business deals or was influenced while in office by his son’s business dealings.
Republicans argue that opening an inquiry will give them the authority to uncover more information, so it’s possible they’ll find additional facts that are not publicly known at this point. But past impeachment inquiries in recent history have typically started with more publicly available evidence.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the claims at the heart of the impeachment inquiry that McCarthy referenced on Tuesday.
Claim: Biden family and associates got $20 million through shell companies
“Bank records show that nearly $20 million in payments were directed to the Biden family members and associates through various shell companies,” McCarthy said.
Facts First: This is true about Joe Biden’s family and associates, but there is no public evidence to date that the president personally received any money.
Since Republicans took control of the House in January and obtained subpoena power, the House Oversight Committee subpoenaed six banks for information regarding specific Biden family business associates to investigate the money trail behind the Biden family’s foreign business dealings. The committee has not yet subpoenaed bank records from Biden family members themselves.
The phrase “Biden family” is doing a lot of work for McCarthy – because none of these records confirm any direct payments to Joe Biden or show that he was directly involved in Hunter Biden’s business arrangements. Also, some of the $20 million McCarthy was referring to on Tuesday didn’t go to the Biden family but went to business associates of the family as part of their business activities.
What the records have shown is that during and after Joe Biden’s tenure as vice president, Hunter Biden made millions of dollars through complex financial arrangements from private equity deals, legal fees, and corporate consulting in Ukraine, China, Romania and elsewhere.
At times, Obama administration officials, including at the State Department, worried about potential conflict-of-interest problems, because Hunter Biden sat on the board of a prominent Ukrainian energy company, while Joe Biden oversaw US policy toward Ukraine, according to testimony from the Democratic-run impeachment of Donald Trump in 2019.
Claim: An informant alleged the Biden family got a bribe
“Even a trusted FBI informant has alleged a bribe to the Biden family,” McCarthy said.
Facts First: It’s true that an informant gave a tip of this nature to the FBI in 2020, and that the bureau had viewed him as a credible informant. But the underlying allegation that the Biden family was given a bribe is totally unproven; the informant was merely reporting something he said he had been told by a Ukrainian businessman.
The informant met with federal investigators in 2020 and provided information dating back to 2015, according to an internal FBI document made public by Republicans earlier this year over the strong objections of the FBI.
The informant claimed that the CEO of Burisma – the Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden was on the board – had claimed in 2016 that he made two $5 million payments to “the Bidens.” The informant was “not able to provide any further opinion as the veracity” of this claim, according to the FBI document.
Republicans have tried to boost the credibility of this allegation by saying it was in an FBI document. But the document merely memorialized the information provided by the informant – it does not contain proof that the allegations are true. Hunter Biden’s business associate Devon Archer testified to the GOP-run House Oversight Committee earlier this year that he had not been aware of any such payments to the Bidens and characterized Mykola Zlochevsky’s reported claim as an example of the Ukrainian businessman embellishing his influence.
The White House has said these claims had been “debunked for years.” A former ally of Rudy Giuliani, who was well-connected in Ukraine, testified during Trump’s impeachment that no one from Burisma had any contacts with Joe Biden or people working for him while he was vice president, according to a transcript released by House Oversight Democrats earlier this year.
Claim: Biden participated in calls and dinners with son’s business partners
“Eyewitnesses have testified that the president joined on multiple phone calls and had multiple interactions – dinners resulted in cars and millions of dollars into his son’s and his son’s business partners,” McCarthy said.
Facts First: McCarthy’s claim omits key context about what was – and wasn’t – reportedly discussed in the calls and dinners. A Hunter Biden associate testified that even though Joe Biden was on these calls and at these dinners, he didn’t discuss business. And Republicans have not presented any evidence that Joe Biden himself benefited financially from his appearances at the dinners or on the calls.
When House Republicans launched their investigation into members of the Biden family, they said their goal was to find wrongdoing by the president. House Republicans now say they can accuse Biden of corruption without finding direct evidence that Joe Biden financially benefited from Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings.
The allegations mentioned by McCarthy on Tuesday come from the interview that House Oversight Committee conducted earlier this year with Hunter Biden business associate Archer. (Separately, Archer was convicted in 2022 in connection with a $60 million bond fraud scheme, which wasn’t related to Hunter Biden.)
Archer testified that there were “maybe 20 times” when Joe Biden was placed on speakerphone during meetings with his and Hunter Biden’s business partners. This puts Joe Biden closer to his son’s business activities that he previously let on.
However, Archer said “nothing” of importance was ever discussed during these calls.
Archer characterized the conversations he witnessed Hunter put his father on speakerphone in front of business associates as Joe Biden asking his son, “Where are you, how’s the weather, how’s the fishing, how’s the – whatever it may be.” Archer added the conversations were “not related to commercial business, politics, that kind of stuff.”
While Archer said he was not aware of Hunter Biden ever discussing business with his father, he did state his belief that Hunter Biden was selling “the brand,” through his work. House Republicans have used that phrase to suggest that Hunter Biden sold his father’s “brand” around the world to enrich the Biden family. And they have argued that Joe Biden’s very participation in the calls and meetings itself proves that he did have involvement in his son’s business.
Regarding the dinners, Archer said there was a 2014 and 2015 dinner that Joe Biden attended with Hunter Biden and some of his foreign business associates at Cafe Milano in Washington, DC. While Hunter Biden’s business associates including Archer, and foreign business figures such as Russian billionaire Yelena Baturina and Kazakhstani oligarch Kenes Rakishev were in the room, business wasn’t discussed, Archer testified, telling lawmakers, “We ate, and kind of talked about the world, I guess, and the weather, and then everybody left.”
On the allegation that these dinners with Joe Biden “resulted in cars,” Archer said the businessman Rakishev wired Hunter Biden the exact amount of money that Hunter used to buy a Porsche. This car has nothing to do with Joe Biden.
Claim: Biden family members’ financial transactions were flagged as suspicious
“The Treasury Department alone has more than 150 transactions involving the Biden family and other business associates that were flagged as suspicious activity by US banks,” McCarthy said.
Facts First: The existence of these suspicious activity reports don’t prove wrongdoing on their own.
The filing of a “suspicious activity report,” or SAR, does not prove wrongdoing. Such reports are not conclusive, and are akin to the bank providing a tip to investigators, out of an abundance of caution. Financial institutions file millions of SARs each year, but few lead to law enforcement inquiries.
According to reports issued by House Republicans, some of these SARs show that banks flagged dozens of wire transfers involving Hunter Biden, whom the banks described as a “politically exposed person” with “negative media for possible political corruption.” But none of the SARs related to Hunter Biden have shown that Joe Biden was involved in the business deals.
All that being said, there was apparently a well-founded basis for the banks to scrutinize Hunter Biden’s financial transactions. There is an ongoing Justice Department criminal probe into his finances. Federal prosecutors say he failed to pay taxes on time for several years, and career IRS investigators believe he committed tax evasion, according to court filings and congressional testimony. A special counsel investigation into Hunter Biden’s taxes is ongoing.
Claim: Then-VP Biden used his powers to help his son’s business
“Biden used his official office to coordinate with Hunter Biden’s business partners about Hunter’s role in Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company,” McCarthy said, apparently referring to Biden’s time as vice president.
Facts First: There is no public evidence that Joe Biden abused his government powers to help his family.
These allegations from House Republicans are still evolving. House Oversight Republicans are currently going back and forth with the National Archives to obtain un-redacted emails and documents between then-Vice President Biden’s office and Hunter Biden’s business associates. Republicans are raising concerns about Joe Biden’s vice presidential office and Hunter Biden’s associates coordinating on a statement responding to a press story.
Additionally, since 2019, Republicans have falsely accused Joe Biden of abusing his powers to get a top Ukrainian prosecutor fired because the prosecutor’s probe into Burisma supposedly threatened Hunter Biden. These claims have been repeatedly debunked.
In reality, Joe Biden’s actions were consistent with bipartisan US policy, which sought to remove the prosecutor because he wasn’t doing enough to crack down on corruption – including at Burisma. The Obama administration, Senate Republicans, US allies, the International Monetary Fund and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists, among others, had all made clear that they were displeased with the performance of Viktor Shokin, who became Ukraine’s prosecutor general in 2015.
Replacing Shokin would’ve ramped up scrutiny of Burisma, not shut it down. It is not even clear how aggressively Shokin was investigating Zlochevsky or Burisma at the time Joe Biden pushed for Shokin’s firing.
During the 2020 election campaign, Senate Republicans led a probe to find evidence on whether Biden abused his position to help his family, but came up empty.
Claim: Biden lied about his knowledge of family’s business deals
“The President did lie to the American people about his own knowledge of his family’s foreign business dealings,” McCarthy said.
Facts First: Joe Biden’s unequivocal denials of any business-related contact with his son have been undercut over time. But so far there is no public evidence that his occasional interactions with Hunter Biden’s business partners led to him getting substantively involved in his son’s financial arrangements.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden has said he and Hunter Biden “never discussed” business and have “never spoken” about his overseas deals. The White House has recently offered some new denials and has said the president “was not in business” with Hunter Biden.
“The answer is not going to change,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on July 24.”The answer remains the same: The President was never in business with his son. I just don’t have anything else to add.”
Hunter Biden told The New Yorker magazine in 2019 that he recalled his father briefly discussing his Burisma board role with him once; Hunter Biden said, “Dad said, ‘I hope you know what you are doing,’ and I said, ‘I do.’”
And there is evidence that Joe Biden has at least some surface-level interactions that overlapped with his son’s business activities – a handshake with his son’s business partners in China and the aforementioned dinners and speakerphone conversations. Republicans have also found evidence that Hunter Biden flew with his father on Air Force Two on foreign trips where Hunter Biden met with business associates.
House Republicans have used these examples to try to connect Joe Biden to his son’s lucrative business activities – but so far, the only picture painted has been a son, using his father’s name to help further his business. On that note, Archer testified to Congress that he agreed it’s fair to say Hunter Biden was selling an “illusion” of access to his father.
In addition to Archer’s testimony that Joe Biden did not talk to his son’s contacts about substantive business matters, another Hunter Biden business partner, Eric Schwerin, told Congress he wasn’t aware of any involvement by Joe Biden in the overseas deals.
An IRS whistleblower gave Congress a summary of text messages from 2017 where Hunter Biden allegedly used his father as leverage to pressure a Chinese company into paying him. But the whistleblower said prosecutors weren’t sure if Hunter Biden was telling the truth that his father was actually in the room. Hunter Biden’s lawyers and Joe Biden himself have denied that he was in the room.
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Regardless, Joe Biden’s denials seem to be falling flat with the American public, according to new CNN polls released last week. About 61% of Americans believe Joe Biden was involved in his son’s business dealings in Ukraine and China while he was vice president, according to the poll.
In response to McCarthy launching the impeachment inquiry, Ian Sams, a spokesperson for the White House Counsel’s Office, said in a statement to CNN, “House Republicans have been investigating the President for 9 months, and they’ve turned up no evidence of wrongdoing. His own Republican members have said so. He vowed to hold a vote to open impeachment, now he flip flopped because he doesn’t have support. This is extreme politics at its worst.”