The Impeachment Inquiry Against Joe Biden Was Doomed From The Start

Though some Republicans may blame House oversight committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) for their failure to impeach President Joe Biden, the real reason is simple: The whole party bought into long-debunked conspiracy theories peddled by their leader, Donald Trump.

And the impeachment inquiry has been a true team effort, with backing from leadership and Comer sharing investigatory duties with House Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and especially House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

The inquiry spanned a wide range of topics, from Hunter Biden’s million-dollar business deals to his budding art career and to the Justice Department’s alleged failure to lock him up for not paying taxes. Comer and company have highlighted payments to the younger Biden by foreign nationals from all over the world and shown that Joe Biden would occasionally meet and greet his son’s benefactors.

Hunter Biden’s work for the Ukrainian gas giant Burisma, however, received special attention, because when he took a board position with the company in 2014, his father served as the face of U.S. policy toward Ukraine. The Ukraine connection offered Republicans the only potential example of the elder Biden taking an official action benefiting his family. 

But the Ukraine corruption story has been repeatedly investigated, starting in 2019 after then-president Trump tried to coerce Ukraine into announcing an investigation into the Bidens, withholding military aid and getting impeached in the process.

“It was stale, moldy pizza left over from the Ukraine shakedown,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the oversight committee, said in an interview. “The whole Burisma lie has this overwhelming stench of Russian disinformation and propaganda.”

Nevertheless, one Republican lawmaker told CNN this week that people wish Comer had “reined in” his rhetoric about the Biden investigation, so as to temper expectations. Another complained that he should have sent out subpoenas faster. Comer said he wouldn’t have done anything differently.

Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, attends the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn on April 1, 2024.
Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, attends the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn on April 1, 2024. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

As soon as Hunter Biden took the Burisma board seat in 2014, it looked like an obvious conflict of interest. The move even prompted one diplomat to complain to the vice president’s office, since a corrupt-looking job for the vice president’s son made it harder for the U.S. to push for anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine. 

Republicans didn’t take issue with it at the time. But when Trump realized in 2019 that Joe Biden would be his likely opponent in the next presidential election, he made a stink, claiming that when the Democrat pushed for the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor in 2015, he did so to stave off an investigation into Burisma.

However, the same diplomat who complained about Hunter Biden, as well as many other State Department officials involved in Ukraine policy, told Congress in 2019 that they wanted the prosecutor fired for entirely separate reasons — including that he had not prosecuted Burisma’s founder — and said that Trump’s allegation was a conspiracy theory peddled by Ukrainians who were themselves corrupt.

The next year, Trump’s own Treasury Department sanctioned Andrii Derkach, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, for propagating the Burisma story in the U.S., including through his association with Trump’s then-attorney Rudy Giuliani. A press release from the department said that Derkach had been an active Russian agent, with ties to that country’s intelligence services, for over a decade.

“Since at least 2019, Derkach and his associates have leveraged U.S. media, U.S.-based social media platforms, and influential U.S. persons to spread misleading and unsubstantiated allegations that current and former U.S. officials engaged in corruption, money laundering, and unlawful political influence in Ukraine,” the Treasury Department said in a release announcing additional sanctions in January 2021.

In other words, the corruption story about Hunter Biden might have had a grain of truth, but it was also Russian propaganda, certified as such by the Trump administration itself.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans conducted a follow-up investigation into Hunter Biden and Burisma, again interviewing State Department officials and other sources familiar with the younger Biden’s work, only to conclude that it wasn’t clear if Burisma had had any effect on U.S. policy toward Ukraine. That investigation also examined Hunter Biden’s income from other foreign nationals, including from China and Kazakhstan.

As soon as Republicans learned that they’d won control of the House of Representatives in November 2022, Comer held a press conference announcing that they’d dive back into the Biden family, this time with the help of material from Hunter Biden’s laptop. A Republican committee report accompanying the press conference underscored the younger Biden’s various foreign business deals and rehashed the Ukraine corruption story.

The following May, Comer and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) demanded that the FBI hand over a document reflecting a tip that, according to their description, laid out “a criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Joe Biden and a foreign national.”

The Republicans had some idea what the document said, if not the entirety of its contents, but they did not say what foreign nation was involved. Raskin thought it was telling that they’d said the FBI tip was from June 2020.

“During this same time period, Rudy Giuliani and Russian agents, sanctioned by Trump’s Treasury Department, were peddling disinformation aimed at interfering in the 2020 presidential election,” Raskin said in a statement at the time. Comer angrily responded, in an interview with HuffPost, that Raskin didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.

Weeks later, Giuliani offered a further clue in an interview with the far-right cable news station Newsmax: “That document was discovered because it was at least one FBI agent that went out and tried to corroborate what I gave them.”

The FBI refused to hand the document over, warning that the information was raw and unverified, but Comer and Grassley somehow obtained it themselves and made it public. Sure enough, the form reflected a series of conversations that an FBI informant said he’d had with Mykola Zlochevsky, the founder of Burisma. Zlochevsky suggested that he’d paid $5 million bribes to Joe and Hunter Biden, and Republicans trumpeted the material as their best piece of corroborating evidence.

When then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced in September that Republicans’ investigation would become an impeachment inquiry, he highlighted the story.

“Even a trusted FBI informant has alleged a bribe to the Biden family,” he said.

In a development foreshadowed by the Trump administration’s warnings about the Russian agent who peddled the Burisma story in 2019 and 2020, the Justice Department said in February that the FBI informant had totally made up his conversations with Burisma’s founder — and said that he had ties to Russian intelligence services. He’s now in a California jail awaiting trial on related charges, to which he’s pleaded not guilty.

The impeachment inquiry has since lost all momentum, with Republicans publicly acknowledging that they lack the votes to try to throw Joe Biden out of office and Comer saying he will instead refer Biden family members and associates to the Justice Department for prosecution.

Hunter Biden, for his part, has claimed that he was immensely qualified for his Burisma gig, and said that he joined the board to help it send a defiant signal to Russia. He has also conceded that the work was light and paid well. He wrote in his 2021 memoir that he did nothing unethical but also that he wouldn’t have taken the job had he known what backlash would follow.

In a deposition in February, Hunter Biden recalled a 2015 meeting with Amos Hochstein, a State Department official with a focus on energy affairs. (In his own interview with lawmakers in 2020, Hochstein said that he had been monitoring an uptick in pro-Moscow media outlets using Burisma “to create some kind of rift between the U.S. and Ukraine” and that he had made then-Vice President Joe Biden aware of it, adding that Hunter Biden had subsequently asked for the meeting.)

According to Hunter Biden, the two talked about the recent death of his brother, Beau Biden, and the toll it had taken on his family. Then Hochstein offered a stark warning about his Burisma job that Hunter Biden relayed to the roomful of Republicans trying to impeach his father: ”You have no understanding of the Russian disinformation and the way in which they could potentially weaponize this.”