Impeachment Rationalizations

Jonathan Turley's defense of the impeachment inquiry is not impressive.

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

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:

  1. “The homes that the Bidens own can’t be afforded on a congressional or Senate salary.”
  2. “It’s not normal for family members to receive millions of dollars from overseas interests.”
  3. “We have the vice president on record saying that the prosecutor was fired.”


  1. 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.
  2. “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.
  3. 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.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. wr says:

    And this is the totality of what JKB is basing his entire belief system on…

  2. mattbernius says:

    Agreed on all points Steven. BTW, most of these–in particular the complete rewriting of the Shokin affair–were also called out in a Washington Post editorial by House Freedom Caucus member Ken Buck:

    The truth about Shokin is much more complicated and runs counter to the GOP’s “gotcha” narrative. In reality, Shokin was deeply enmeshed in Ukraine’s culture of corruption and, far from being a beacon of transparency, was viewed by many in the West — including some conservative Republican senators — as an obstacle to anti-corruption reforms. There is, in fact, no evidence that Shokin was engaged in an investigation of Burisma, or that Joe Biden’s role in his firing was in any way connected to Burisma.

    Much attention has been focused on a speech Biden delivered in December 2015 before Ukraine’s parliament, in which he explicitly called for change at the prosecutor general’s office. Far from being out of line with U.S. policy, Biden’s remarks were entirely within the U.S. government’s paradigm of helping Ukraine break free from its lawless Soviet past. Other senior officials, including U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, made the case during the same period for firing Shokin.

    The European Union, which necessarily pays a great deal of attention to the politics and policies of neighboring Ukraine, was also of the opinion that Shokin should be sacked. Shokin had been the biggest barrier to the E.U.’s years-long efforts to encourage rule-of-law reforms in Ukraine.

    I’ll again point out that what makes this investigation unique is that almost all of the substantive charges (if you can call them that) took place before Biden assumed office. That makes it radically different than every other historic impeachment investigation.

    And, of the one allegation that would have taken place while he was president–the potential protection of Hunter Biden–Turley himself indicates there is no evidence to date of this happening:

    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 the vast majority of this investigation is about acts committed before being President. Again, Turley used to be very concerned about this type of government overreach and broad expansion of powers.

    Then again, Turley has been getting facts mixed up a lot lately–for example just this week he accused Jack Smith of filing a motion late on a Friday, when all that had happened was that the motion that had been filed days before had finally been made public. Note that Turley has yet to correct that mistake as far as I can tell.

    It's not going to surprise anyone familiar with Turley that he is once again wrong on the facts. DOJ filed this on September 5 under seal because Trump objected. Then Trump litigated the redactions, which is what took 10 days. DOJ did not "wait for late Friday" to file this.— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) September 15, 2023

    Finally, I still am curious about how the people who think Turley is correct about this feel about how serious Turley feels Mar A Lago Document Indictment is. In Turley’s words, the evidence that Trump committed a crime in that case is “quite strong.”

    It seems to me that if you think Turely is correct about the Biden impeachment and the Jan 6th case (which he feels is an unjust prosecution), then, if you are intellectually consistent, you would also be inclined to believe him when he says it appears that Trump did commit crimes by mishandling documents and lying about them.

  3. drj says:

    The Burisma/Shokin thing has been debunked so extensively that anyone bringing it up now isn’t arguing in good faith.

    It taints every other claim or argument such a person is making.

  4. Modulo Myself says:

    They have the laptop. Hunter Biden was not very circumspect about what he left on there as evidence of other things. These guys are all so dumb they don’t even know what evidence tying this money to Joe Biden would look like, but if there was a connection, there would be emails to lawyers, account numbers, names of LLCs, requests to make transfers, etc, right alongside the videos of him smoking crack and having sex.

  5. Matt says:

    @Modulo Myself: Hunter Biden was one of several people who left stuff on that hard drive. Even the shop owner who originally looked at the hard drive stated early on that other people had tampered with it….

  6. gVOR10 says:

    This is Billy Beer with 21st century Republicans. We’d be well into President Hillary Clinton’s boring second term if HER EMAILS!! and BENGHAZI!! hadn’t worked so well for the GOPs. Why wouldn’t they try again?

  7. Gustopher says:

    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.

    The really stupid thing about this is that it assumes the VP has the ability to travel the world and make whatever demands he wants with no control from, say, the President.

  8. Gustopher says:

    And, again, we are talking about events before the Biden presidency.

    With the second Trump impeachment, we set a precedent that someone can be impeached after they left office. So, this could be impeaching Vice President Biden, and if convicted applying the penalty that he can never hold office again.

    I prefer the more straightforward scenario of “of course you can impeach a President for high crimes and misdemeanors committed before he took office.”

    What if it were revealed that during the Trump Administration, Joe Biden travelled the oceans murdering and eating people, carefully never within the jurisdiction of a state so we can simplify the scenario. We would need some mechanism for removing him from office, no?

    The DOJ says there is no federal prosecution of a sitting President. We would impeach the cannibal.

    Admittedly, that is a ridiculous scenario, but there have been a number of Representatives, Senators and Governors who were in the military. What if one of them became President, and we then learned that they were responsible for war crimes or looked the other way?

    There are crimes that would directly impact the ability of that person to represent our country. I would include selling policy among those crimes.

    Impeachment and conviction is overturning the will of the people, so it should be used sparingly, and even more sparingly for things that happened before taking office (what about crimes between election and Inauguration Day?).

    I wouldn’t have supported it for Trump’s previous shady business dealings or his mistreatment of women, because that was all well known and the people in their infinite wisdom/stupidity elected his dumb criminal ass. If we found video of him at Epstein’s pedophile island raping children, absolutely.

  9. @Gustopher: Trump’s second impeachment took place while he was still in office.

  10. Kathy says:

    I’m sure there’s evidence so devastating it cannot ever be revealed.

  11. DK says:

    Indeed, what is the alleged high crime or misdemeanor?

    He implemented a 15% corporate minimum tax.

  12. Hal_10000 says:

    Whenever the GOP refers to the “Biden family” in the context of payments and corruption, it reminds me that the greatest home-run hitting siblings in baseball history were … Hank Aaron and his brother Tommie. I mean, technically it’s true. But it’s not really the answer we’re looking for. Technically, all these payments were to the Biden family. But right now it’s looking millions to Hunter and nothing to Joe.

  13. EddieInCA says:


    Damn good to see you here, Hal. I hope you’re well.

    Came across this a bit ago, and was wondering what Lee would think of the current GOP, given it’s current embrace of Putin, Erdogan, Orban, and Kim Jong Un?

  14. Ken_L says:

    Turley resorts to outright lying. For example, he claims “The president allegedly spoke with his son on speakerphone during meetings with his associates on at least 20 occasions”. Devon Archer’s evidence was that Joe and Hunter spoke every day, and that perhaps 20 times over 10 years, the call from Joe came while Hunter was having dinner with business associates, and Hunter would put him on speakerphone to say hello to them. But he could only recall two actual instances: one in Paris and one in Beijing. Plus he testified no business was ever discussed. Indeed Archer was amused at the idea, saying Joe didn’t know much about business.

    Again, it is simply untrue to say that Joe Biden forced Ukraine to fire Shokin. To listen to Republicans, you’d think the dismissal of Viktor Shokin was shrouded in mystery until someone discovered it was Joe what done it. In fact the reasons for his dismissal – by the Ukrainian parliament – were well reported at the time. See for example

    Turley goes on to claim “There is no apparent reason for the multilayers of accounts and companies other than to hide these transfers.” Is he really so uninformed about the nature of American business and the purpose of a limited liability company? He apparently didn’t take the time to read Archer’s actual testimony; if he had, he would have learned a lot about the various companies in which Hunter and his “associates” had an interest. Rosemont Realty, for example, at its peak had 400 employees and billions of dollars under investment. The $3.5 million from “the Moscow mayor’s wife” that so excites Republicans was in fact sent to one company by mistake. One of their companies was managing more then $100 million of her company’s assets in the US – it is one of the biggest real estate investors in Russia.

    Turley simply takes everything he gets fed by House Republicans at face value and fails to do any fact checking. He’s a disgrace to the professoriate, obsessed with getting his wretched opinions into any publication or in front of any camera he can find willing to listen.

  15. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: [searching internet] oy, right, the impeachment was while he was still in office and the trial was afterwards.

    Anyway, I hold to my “it’s fine to impeach for prior acts” — some prior acts merit removal from office. If the allegations against Biden weren’t just nonsense, if he really had been selling US policy, I would put that in that camp.

  16. Ken_L says:

    @Gustopher: Rest assured by the time the impeachment hearings are held in the House, Republicans will have any number of evidence-free narratives along the lines of “Look what Joe did here! Just as his son got some money from someone in the same country, or close to it! Could the bribery be any more obvious?????”

    Supposedly “normal” Republican Congressman Michael McCaul says he’s hot on the trail of evidence to support the impeachment inquiry against President Biden over the “foreign policy decisions” he made as Vice President back between 2009 and 2017.

  17. Mikey says:

    @Hal_10000: I was thinking of Wayne and Brent Gretzky, who hold the NHL record for most combined points by two brothers with 2,861. Brent had four points, Wayne had 2,857.

  18. Neil Hudelson says:

    JKB seems to have no thoughts on this now.


  19. al Ameda says:

    Good piece Steven.
    First, I will stipulate that if … if … if there actually is non-fiction evidence that Joe Biden received kickbacks, then so be it, let the justice system have at it. Until then, I’m not buying any of this.

    This impeachment inquiry has nothing to do with truth or fact finding.
    This inquiry is placeholder to insure that Joe Biden is under constant attack through the 2024 election campaign season.

  20. Jax says:

    @al Ameda: I am of the same opinion I was when Hillary was being investigated…..if she’s guilty, LOCK HER UP. Trump or any of his minions? LOCK THEIR ASSES UP. Hunter or Joe Biden? LOCK THEM UP.

    I don’t understand why this is so hard for people to understand. If they broke the law, lock their asses up!