Jonathan Turley's defense of the impeachment inquiry is not impressive.
So, I asked a reader as to what evidence exists to undergird the Biden impeachment inquiry, and I was directly to law professor Jonathan Turley. So, being a person interested in understanding the various sides of an argument, I read Turely’s Five Facts That Compel the Biden Impeachment Inquiry.
I was not impressed.
Let’s start with this attempt at sounding high-minded:
An impeachment inquiry does not mean that an impeachment itself is inevitable. But it dramatically increases the chances of finally forcing answers to troubling questions of influence-peddling and corruption.
I will allow that both of these sentences are true. But I would stridently note that they elide the core question as to what the basis is for launching a major investigation (it doesn’t get any more major than impeachment in this context). I mean, it is also true that impaneling a grand jury does not mean that an indictment is inevitable, and it would increase the odds of forcing answers. But those facts don’t explain what questions have resulted in a grand jury investigation in the first place.
Investigations require some underlying predicate and the more serious the investigation, the more significant should the basis be.
Vague notions of “influence-peddling” and “corruption” strikes me as insufficient. Some level of specificity is needed. BTW, if “influence-peddling,” broadly defined, is a crime, there are a lot of people in DC and its environs who should be in jail, including the children of the 45th president. Along those lines I would again note James Joyner’s post from 2019, Hunter Biden’s Socially Acceptable Corruption).
Does Turley provide such specificity? Here are his attempts.
First, there appears to be evidence that Joe Biden lied to the public for years in denying knowledge of his son’s business dealings. Hunter Biden’s ex-business associate, Tony Bobulinski, has said repeatedly that he discussed some dealings directly with Joe Biden. Devon Archer, Hunter’s close friend and partner, described the president’s denials of knowledge as “categorically false.”
Moreover, Hunter’s laptop has communications from his father discussing the dealings, including audio messages from the president. The president allegedly spoke with his son on speakerphone during meetings with his associates on at least 20 occasions, according to Archer, attended dinners with some clients, and took photographs with others.
Look, I will admit that Biden’s statements that he “never” discussed business with Hunter or his business associates have always struck me as unlikely to be true in the sense that there could be differing interpretations of what “discussing business” might mean (or even what “knowledge” of these dealing might mean).
I would note, also, that most (if not all) of the incidences that Turley links to happened before Biden was elected to the presidency. This raises a real question as to whether those events can be the subject of an impeachment inquiry.
Second, we know that more than $20 million was paid to the Bidens (and Biden associates) by foreign sources, including figures in China, Ukraine, Russia and Romania. There is no apparent reason for the multilayers of accounts and companies other than to hide these transfers. Some of these foreign figures have allegedly told others they were buying influence with Joe Biden, and Hunter himself repeatedly invoked his father’s name — including a text exchange with a Chinese businessman in which he said his father was sitting next to him as Hunter demanded millions in payment. While some Democrats now admit that Hunter was selling the “illusion” of influence and access to his father, these figures clearly believed they were getting more than an illusion. That includes one Ukrainian businessman who reportedly described Hunter as dumber than his dog.
First, “paid to the Bidens (and Biden associates)” is doing a helluva a lot of work, as implies that one of those Bidens was Joe, but even the linked NY Post piece does not make that claim. Does Turley mean Hunter and his spouse? It is a deceptive phrasing at best.
No one disputes that Hunter Biden has cashed in on his name. He is not the first child of a president to do so, and he won’t be the last. Indeed, while I would love it if there was a way to stop foreign actors from trying to buy influence in the ways described above, I am not sure how to do it.
And, as I have noted before, Hunter is not a person of integrity, so I have little doubt he represented himself as a conduit to his powerful father.
How is any of this impeachment-worthy? Does the paragraph above even claim that it is? Do we have any evidence that Joe Biden was involved in these schemes? I will agree that such evidence would affect my views of the subject. But to date, I have seen nothing that suggests such involvement by the senior Biden.
Third, specific demands were made on Hunter, including dealing with the threat of a Ukrainian prosecutor to the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, where Hunter was given a lucrative board position. Five days later, Joe Biden forced the Ukrainians to fire the prosecutor, even though State Department and intelligence reports suggested that progress was being made on corruption. Likewise, despite warnings from State Department officials that Hunter was undermining anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine, he continued to receive high-level meetings with then-Secretary of State John Kerry and other State Department officials.
The bit about the prosecutor is probably the thing that, on the surface, makes it look like maybe Joe did something to help Hunter. But when you look at the details (I noted some here), or if you do any actual research about Viktor Shokin (the prosecutor in question) you will find out that there was both internal pressure in Ukraine over Shokin, and international pressure as well. To make his firing sound like something that Vice President Biden did as a favor to his son is to ignore a remarkable amount of context.
And, again, we are talking about events before the Biden presidency.
Fourth, Hunter repeatedly stated in emails that he paid his father as much as half of what he earned. There also are references to deals that included free office space and other perks for Joe Biden and his wife; other emails reference how Joe and Hunter Biden would use the same accounts and credit cards. Beyond those alleged direct benefits, Joe Biden clearly benefited from money going to his extended family.
All of this is based on this (texts between Hunter and his daughter):
You know, context would be nice. Did Hunter owe Joe money? This would not surprise me. For that matter, when did this happen? And, note the timestamp: 2019. Before Joe was president.
Fifth, there is evidence of alleged criminal conduct by Hunter that could be linked to covering up these payments, from the failure to pay taxes to the failure to register as a foreign lobbyist. What is not established is the assumption by many that Joe Biden was fully aware of both the business dealings and any efforts to conceal them.
So, Hunter Biden may have committed crimes, and so Joe Biden should be the subject of an impeachment inquiry? This is thin gruel.
Rather than five “facts” that compel an inquiry, we mostly have a combination of innuendo about Joe Biden and some facts about Hunter Biden’s behavior. Moreover, almost all of this is alleged to have happened before Joe Biden was president. I suppose the House could try and impeach Biden for things that happened before January 2021, but I would argue that that is beyond their constitutional purview.
Look, I agree that it is likely that Joe Biden knows more about Hunter Biden’s business dealings and general behavior than he wants to discuss in public. At a minimum, Joe likely has suspicions about a lot of things that he does not know in a legal sense.
But I am still not seeing any evidence that would compel an inquiry of this nature.
Well, if Turley doesn’t have any evidence, maybe Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) can provide some:
Kevin Drum summarizes and responds:
Perry managed to stammer out three (3) items:
- “The homes that the Bidens own can’t be afforded on a congressional or Senate salary.”
- “It’s not normal for family members to receive millions of dollars from overseas interests.”
- “We have the vice president on record saying that the prosecutor was fired.”
- In 1974, Biden bought a home in Greenville for $185,000. Monthly payments on that were maybe a little high for a Senate salary of $44,000, but well within normal. In 1996 he sold the house for $1.2 million and used the money to buy a smaller house in Greenville that was, at the time, easily affordable on a Senate salary of $133,000. Then, a few years ago, using money from speaking fees, he bought a vacation home in Rehoboth Beach for $2.7 million.
That’s it. Biden currently owns two homes, one that was easily affordable on a Senate salary and a second that was paid for out of post-vice-presidential largesse. There’s nothing here.
- “Family members” have indeed received a lot of money doing lobbying for overseas interests. You can decide for yourself what you think of this, but none of the money went to Joe Biden. Again, there’s nothing here.
- Joe Biden did indeed brag that he had forced Ukraine to fire its prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, in 2016. At the time, however, Shokin was not investigating Burisma or any other business related to Hunter Biden. Quite the contrary: Shokin was widely known—both in Europe and the US—to be corrupt and it was Obama administration policy that he should be fired as a condition of aid to Ukraine. There’s nothing here.
I would note, again, that Perry is pointing to matters that happened before Biden was president.
Really, the whole thing is just ridiculous. The houses thing is especially hilarious to me because it is so obviously not some extravagance that can only be explained by graft. And, again, if the Congress wants to find a way to stop family members from cashing in on their politician kin, I am all ears.
I would also recommend Drum’s other post on this subject: High crimes and misdemeanors.
To conclude, I again ask: what is the evidence for wrongdoing on the part of Joe Biden that justifies an impeachment inquiry? Indeed, what is the alleged high crime or misdemeanor? With Clinton, there was a clear allegation of wrongdoing. This was true in both of Trump’s impeachments.
Here we have nothing but vague innuendo.