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House committees advance contempt of Congress resolutions for Hunter Biden

Hunter Biden attends House contempt hearing
Hunter Biden attends House contempt hearing 01:51

Washington — The Republican-led House Oversight and Judiciary Committees advanced Wednesday resolutions recommending Hunter Biden be held in criminal contempt of Congress, sending the matter to the full House amid heightened tensions arising from the GOP's impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

The Oversight and Judiciary Committees gathered separately to consider contempt resolutions targeting Hunter Biden in response to his refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas for closed-door testimony last month. Both panels approved the measures along party lines. If the House then takes up and approves the contempt resolutions, federal prosecutors would decide whether to charge the president's son.

The meeting of the Oversight Committee saw an unexpected appearance by Hunter Biden himself, who sat before lawmakers with his lawyer Abbe Lowell for roughly 30 minutes as members delivered opening remarks. The meeting took a chaotic turn with his attendance, as Republicans hurled insults at Hunter Biden directly. Lawmakers later squabbled over whether the GOP's investigation had produced evidence implicating the president and engaged in shouting matches with one another at various times.

Hunter Biden at a House Oversight Committee meeting
Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, makes a surprise appearance at a House Oversight Committee meeting to vote on whether to hold him in contempt of Congress for failing to respond to a request to testify to the House last month, on Jan. 10, 2024. KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTERS

"He blatantly defied two lawful subpoenas," Oversight Committee chairman James Comer said in opening remarks. "Hunter Biden's willful refusal to comply with the committee's subpoenas is a criminal act. It constitutes contempt of Congress and warrants referral to the appropriate United States Attorney's Office for prosecution as prescribed by the law. We will not provide Hunter Biden with special treatment because of his last name."

But Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, accused Comer of obstructing his own investigation, given that Hunter Biden was willing to testify in public. The Maryland Democrat invoked the names of other congressional Republicans — Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan and Reps. Andy Biggs and Scott Perry — who received subpoenas for testimony from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, but did not comply. 

"He has materially, substantially and in good faith complied with what your requests were," Raskin told Comer of Hunter Biden.

Many Democrats trained their focus on Oversight members Perry and Biggs, as well as other Republicans, accusing them of hypocrisy for chastising Hunter Biden after defying their own congressional subpoenas. 

"Today is all about a combination of chutzpah and delusional theory," Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, said.

Lowell delivered a brief statement to reporters after he and Hunter Biden left the Oversight meeting. He said the GOP chairmen have "commandeered an unprecedented resolution to hold someone in contempt who has offered to publicly answer all their proper questions."

"Hunter Biden was and is a private citizen," he said. "Despite this, Republicans have sought to use him as a surrogate to attack his father. And, despite their improper partisan motives, on six occasions — from February to today — we have offered to work with the House committees to see what and how relevant information to any legitimate inquiry could be provided."

The Hunter Biden subpoena fight

In a report released Monday, Republicans criticized Hunter Biden for "flagrant defiance" of subpoenas from the Oversight and Judiciary panels, which were issued as part of the House GOP's ongoing impeachment inquiry into the president and sought a closed-door deposition from his son.

Republicans claimed in the report that Hunter Biden's testimony is a "critical component" of their investigation, which centers around their allegations that the president profited off of his family members' overseas business dealings while he was vice president. GOP lawmakers have spent the last year probing the president and his son's foreign work, but have not yet uncovered evidence of wrongdoing by the elder Biden.

"With the possible exception of President Biden, [Hunter] Biden is the most important witness possessing information about President Biden's involvement in his son's business dealings," the Republicans said.

The subpoenas issued by the committees requested Hunter Biden appear for questioning behind closed doors on Dec. 13. While he did go to the Capitol the morning of the deposition, Hunter Biden defied the subpoena and delivered a statement to reporters accusing Republicans of cherry-picking the information gathered during its probe and distorting what was said by others in prior closed-door interviews.

Hunter Biden reiterated that he would answer questions from lawmakers, but only in public.

"There is no evidence to support the allegations that my father was financially involved in my business, because it did not happen," he said.

Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, speaks during a news conference outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13, 2023.  Aaron Schwartz/Xinhua via Getty Images

Shortly after Hunter Biden refused to comply with the subpoena, Comer and Jordan, the respective chairs of the Oversight and Judiciary Committees, said they planned to move forward with the effort to hold the president's son in contempt of Congress.

A House vote recommending prosecution of Hunter Biden would add to the legal scrutiny the president's son is already under by special counsel David Weiss, who was appointed in August to oversee a federal investigation into Hunter Biden. The president's son is set to appear in federal court in California on Thursday after he was charged with nine tax counts last month.

The charges brought by Weiss join three felony counts Hunter Biden faces relating to his purchase of a handgun in October 2018, which prosecutors allege he unlawfully possessed. He pleaded not guilty to the gun charges last year.

The House has held 10 people in criminal contempt of Congress since 2008, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. In most of those cases, the Justice Department declined to move forward with prosecutions. But in two, grand juries indicted former Trump White House officials Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon. Both were separately found guilty of two counts of criminal contempt of Congress, though Bannon's sentence has been paused while he appeals his conviction. 

Scott MacFarlane contributed to this report

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