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Washington Wednesday: The investigation persists


WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday: The investigation persists

The House Oversight Committee continues looking for evidence of impeachable offenses against President Biden

House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair Rep. James Comer R-Ky. Associated Press / Photo by Jose Luis Magana

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 20th of March, 2024.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Time now for Washington Wednesday.

Today, the ongoing investigation into whether President Joe Biden committed impeachable offenses when he was Vice President.

Later this morning, the House Oversight committee is scheduled to hear public testimony from two of Hunter Biden’s business associates. Hunter Biden declined to come, in part because he has a court date in California in a different case.

REICHARD: That’s not the only setback for the House investigation. Recently, an FBI informant admitted to lying about Hunter Biden and his father accepting bribes from a Ukrainian energy company. Then Democrats said the inquiry was over.

But several Republicans tell WORLD that now’s not the time to stop. Here’s committee member Tim Burchett:

TIM BURCHETT: I think the public, at least our base, wants an answer, and they want to see a vote.

EICHER: The Republican majority in the House has dwindled down to a margin of two now with the resignation of Colorado congressman Ken Buck.

That means an impeachment vote is likely to fail. But Representative Greg Murphy of North Carolina says the House should try anyway.

GREG MURPHY: Truth be told, I think this has been the most divisive and one of the most corrupt presidents we’ve ever had. And you know, I don’t use the word “impeachment” lightly. It is a very very serious charge. So we’re actually trying as Republicans actually to do it the right way, as opposed to what Democrats did last term as just impeaching Trump because they didn’t like him.

REICHARD: So what has the investigation uncovered so far?

Joining us now is Michael Gerhardt. He’s an author and Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of North Carolina Law School. He testified as an expert witness during the impeachment of Bill Clinton and provided analysis of the Trump impeachments. He also testified before Congress back in September when the House Oversight Committee began its probe into President Biden.

Michael, thanks for joining us today.

MICHAEL GERHARDT: Thank you for having me.

REICHARD: Well, before diving into the details of the Biden inquiry, Would you remind us what are the constitutional grounds for impeachment?

GERHARDT: The Constitution tells us that presidents or other civil officers of the United States, and that includes vice presidents, which of course, the Constitution mentions expressly, as subject to impeachment. And they're subject to impeachment for treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors. The charges against Mr. Biden seem to be largely focused on his vice presidency, particularly in the period after he was vice president. But we're learning as we go what the charges may be, because they keep shifting.

REICHARD: What specific evidence has the House Oversight Committee been looking for in this impeachment inquiry?

GERHARDT: Well, I think the critical thing to understand at least from my perspective, is that the House Oversight Committee has been engaging in a fishing expedition for more than a year on this. I mean, they are really interested in trying to uncover something sordid about Mr. Biden. And that really goes back to 2019 when President Trump raised as part of his defense against his first impeachment that, well, Mr. Biden was the real crook at that time because of his efforts to help his son do business in Ukraine. There has been no concrete evidence yet put forward or found by the House Intelligence Committee that backs up any claims that he received bribes or engaged in any kind of mis—impeachable misconduct. In fact, Republican experts so far have said that the House has not found any evidence of impeachable wrongdoing by Mr. Biden. So that's what they're looking for, but they just haven't found it yet.

REICHARD: What about contradictions in testimony, though? I’ll mention a couple:

Let’s go back to the 2020 campaign. Joe Biden said his son made no money from China. But in testimony, Hunter Biden said he did take money from a Chinese company.

Then there’s the text message about dad sitting next to him while Hunter’s asking for money. Followed by deposits of cash from other countries into various bank accounts.

GERHARDT: Well, to begin with, there's no reason why Joe Biden would know. He's, he's not a party to that business. And presumably, if any payments were made to Hunter Biden, they were made directly to Hunter Biden. So then the question just becomes, as far as Hunter Biden's own statement, which is made under oath, that's going to all turn on his credibility and other evidence. And the critical thing to look at is whether or not there's any evidence, not just whether Hunter Biden actually got money, but whether or not that benefited Joe Biden, and Joe Biden was aware of it. Proving that Hunter Biden his legal troubles says nothing about whether his father committed an impeachable offense.

REICHARD: Committee Chair James Comer has pointed to evidence that funds from other countries may have been deposited into shell company accounts associated with Biden family members. Just not accounts not named Joe Biden. What do you say to that?

GERHARDT: Well, there are charges that that has happened, but all the shell companies are part of the business of Hunter Biden. So we just keep coming back to that, a lot of effort to kind of expose the criminality of Hunter Biden. And he's got legal troubles and he should be held accountable, you know, where there's credible evidence for his having broken the law, but showing that Hunter Biden broke the law isn't establishing that Joe Biden committed an impeachable offense.

REICHARD: One of the witnesses Democrats have called for today’s hearing is Lev Parnas. He was an associate of Rudy Guliani. He called the impeachment inquiry a “wild goose chase” based on conspiracy theories Giuliani and others made to attack Biden. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison back in 2022 for wire fraud and false statements among other things about a different influence peddling scheme in Ukraine.

Back in September, Michael, you told lawmakers that Parnas would be a strategic witness. Why?

GERHARDT: Well, because Parnas supposedly had looked into this, and as Parnas himself later said, found nothing. Keep in mind that the first suggestion that Joe Biden had committed anything criminal, or remotely impeachable, as it related to Burisma, the company that Hunter Biden sat on their board, that first came up in 2019, again, as a defense raised by Donald Trump, in his impeachment hearings. If we turn the clock back, what we'll also find at that time is that there was no evidence. What Donald Trump had then done at that same time, was asked Rudy Giuliani and Parnas to go to Ukraine and try and find evidence against Joe Biden. They found nothing. That's why Parnas is relevant in these hearings. That's why the Democrats have called Parnas to these hearings, and what in fact is happening here as well is there's a subtle effort on the part of the House Oversight Committee to force Joe Biden to prove he's innocent, rather than put that burden on the House Oversight Committee to prove he's liable. Donald Trump said this in 2019: No one should have to be forced to prove their innocence, rather than the other way around. So if it was good for Donald Trump and 2019, it's equally good for Joe Biden in 2024.

REICHARD: You know, on Sunday House Oversight Chairman James Comer said that they are now at the point of criminal referrals, put on your prediction hat. Now, what do you think happens next?

GERHARDT: Well, I guess you gotta put up or shut up. You know, if, first of all, I think the American people, we ought to be glad that the House and for that matter, Congress, has no power to initiate criminal proceedings. And it would just destroy our concept of checks and balances, and separation of powers. The Congress is empowered to look to try and figure out what laws it ought to make, and how to frame those laws. And so if the House has found something that it thinks pertains to criminal misconduct, on the part of Joe Biden, it can refer that to prosecutors, I should say, historically, it's it's virtually unprecedented, that Congress sends referral over to a prosecutor. And the only time House has ever come anywhere close to that was with Richard Nixon, and a special prosecutor had sent the evidence he had found over to the House, not the other way around. And I think that's the dilemma again, and Mr. Comer may have what he thinks he or what he hopes is criminal is evidence of criminal misconduct. But that's, that's his opinion. And a prosecutor has to make an independent judgment. Is it credible? And is it serious enough to bring up to initiate an investigation and possibly an indictment?

REICHARD: Let’s end with some historical context: How would you compare this impeachment inquiry with the Clinton and Trump impeachment proceedings?

GERHARDT: Well, in those two proceedings, that proceeding against Bill Clinton in 1998, and the proceedings against Donald Trump in 2019, there was evidence, there were witnesses under oath who testified, and concrete evidence that the presidents in question had committed misconduct while they were in office. If we fast forward to these proceedings, the only evidence we've got is indirect as it relates to Hunter Biden, and we have nothing comparable that relates to Joe Biden. And the Supreme Court itself said in the case called Trump v. Mazars, that it is an illegitimate exercise of power by the House to try to conduct a criminal proceeding, you know, to say, “Oh, we've got, found evidence of this crime and that crime.” It's also illegitimate, the court said, for the House to conduct a fishing expedition. So the Supreme Court, with the justices appointed by President Trump, have indicated that what the House is doing now is not a legitimate exercise of power. It's just an exercise in political theater to try and embarrass Joe Biden.

REICHARD: Michael Gerhardt is Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of North Carolina. Michael, thank you for joining us today.

GERHARDT: Thank you for having me.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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