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Hunter Biden’s Day on the Hill
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Hunter Biden’s Day on the Hill

Despite setbacks, House Republicans continue their investigation into the younger Biden’s overseas business.

Happy Thursday—and Happy Leap Day! If you’ve ever thought the pillowy goodness of an Eggo waffle looked good enough to sleep on, we have great news: A new vacation rental that looks like a pile of toaster-ready frozen breakfast pastries is open for business in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. While we’re not sure if the Eggo House of Pancakes is the retreat for us, we know three guys who would love this place.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 82, announced on Wednesday that he will step down as leader of the Republican conference in November, ending his tenure as the longest-serving Senate party leader in history, having held the role for 17 years. McConnell indicated that he intends to serve out the remainder of his current term, which ends in 2027, though it’s not yet clear whether he’ll run for reelection. “As I have been thinking about when I would deliver some news to the Senate, I always imagined a moment when I had total clarity and peace about the sunset of my work,” McConnell said yesterday in remarks on the Senate floor. “A moment when I am certain I have helped preserve the ideals I so strongly believe. That day arrived today.” Aides claimed the decision to step back from leadership was unrelated to his recent health problems—after a concussion last year, he’s several times appeared to freeze mid-sentence.
  • The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to decide whether former President Donald Trump is immune from prosecution in special counsel Jack Smith’s case alleging the former president attempted to subvert the results of the 2020 election. In an unsigned order released on Wednesday evening, the justices indicated the case will be argued during the week of April 22, an expedited timeline that will still delay the D.C. trial from moving forward until at least late summer and perhaps beyond. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had previously unanimously rejected the former president’s immunity claim.
  • Congressional leaders said Wednesday that they had agreed to a continuing resolution to extend funding for government agencies through two separate March dates. Negotiators reached agreements on bills to fund the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Commerce, and Justice. Once the continuing resolution is approved, the bills funding those agencies will need to be passed by March 8, pushing the first shutdown deadline back by a week. The remaining six appropriations bills would have a deadline of March 22. The House and Senate have until Friday at midnight to pass the stopgap, and House Speaker Mike Johnson will likely need the support of Democrats to pass the measure over objections from his right flank. 
  • Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, was deposed before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry into the president. In the closed hearing, Hunter Biden—who had resisted giving testimony—reportedly once again denied he had ever involved his father in his business dealings. “I am here today to provide the Committees with the one uncontestable fact that should end the false premise of this inquiry: I did not involve my father in my business,” his opening statement reportedly read. “Not while I was a practicing lawyer, not in my investments or transactions domestic or international, not as a board member, and not as an artist. Never.”
  • A New York appeals court denied Trump’s request to delay enforcement of the ruling in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil fraud case against his business empire, in which Judge Arthur Engoron ordered Trump to pay almost $500 million in penalties for providing false financial information to the state in order to secure loans at lower rates. In their appeal, Trump’s lawyers said the former president could supply only a $100 million bond, and could be required to sell some of his properties to secure the rest of the funds. Associate Justice Anil C. Singh in the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division did temporarily stay part of Engoron’s original ruling, which blocked Trump and his company from seeking loans from New York banks for three years—a move that may enable Trump to produce the funds to pay the judgment. A full panel is expected to issue a decision, which could undo Singh’s ruling, on March 18. 
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday ruled against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’ request for another hearing to consider his effort to move the election interference case against him from the state court to the federal system. It’s the second time the 11th Circuit has denied such a request by Meadows, who faces racketeering charges in Georgia for his alleged involvement in efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the state. Meadows sought to move his trial because he was employed as a federal officer at the time, and he may now seek a judgment from the Supreme Court. 
  • In a special session held Wednesday, the pro-Russia Congress of Deputies in Transnistria—an unrecognized breakaway region of Moldova that shares a border with Ukraine—asked for Moscow’s protection from what it said was “increasing pressure from Moldova.” In response to this request, officials in Moscow said, “​​Protecting the interests of the inhabitants of Transnistria, our compatriots, is one of the priorities.” Moldovan officials called the congress’ move, which comes as Moldova has in recent months opened discussions for European Union accession, “propaganda.” The last time the congress met was in 2006, when it requested Russian annexation, to which Moscow didn’t respond.
  • Following the president’s annual physical on Wednesday, White House Physician Kevin O’Connor said Biden “continues to be fit for duty and fully executes all of his responsibilities without any exemptions or accommodations.” In a memo, O’Connor said the visit “identified no new concerns,” and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the doctor had assessed that Biden didn’t need a cognitive test—which is not a standard part of the presidential physical—despite growing concerns over the president’s mental acuity.

The ‘Big Day’—But For Whom?

Hunter Biden arrives on Capitol Hill for a deposition with Judiciary and Oversight House Committees on February 28, 2024. (Photo by Craig Hudson for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Hunter Biden arrives on Capitol Hill for a deposition with Judiciary and Oversight House Committees on February 28, 2024. (Photo by Craig Hudson for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

It’s been a long and winding road for Republicans on the House Oversight Committee trying to make the case against President Joe Biden and his family’s business dealings—and as House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer addressed reporters ahead of yesterday’s main event, one couldn’t help but notice the hint of relief in his voice as he kicked off, what he called, “the big day.”

Hunter Biden testified behind closed doors on Wednesday as part of congressional Republicans’ ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, which was kicked off by allegations that the president improperly involved himself in his family’s business dealings, resulting in a pay-to-play scheme. Despite several months of investigations, interviews, and testimony, however, lawmakers have yet to find the smoking gun. Some Republicans have indicated their skepticism of efforts to impeach the president—and that was before a key witness in the probe was indicted and accused of parroting Russian intelligence.

The younger Biden’s testimony followed a bombshell indictment against Alexander Smirnov, a former FBI informant whose intel—now alleged to have been completely fabricated—once underpinned Republicans’ case against Biden. Smirnov was charged with “provid[ing] false derogatory information to the FBI about Public Official 1, and Businessperson 1, the son of Public Official 1, in 2020, after Public Official 1 became a presidential candidate,” the indictment read, referring to Biden and his son Hunter. He allegedly claimed that, in a meeting in 2015 or 2016, executives tied to Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings admitted to hiring Hunter Biden for protection “through his dad, from all kinds of problems” while Biden was still vice president, and paid both Bidens $5 million each.

The timeline of events is at issue here. As Sarah and Mike wrote in last week’s edition of The Collision, the indictment alleges that Smirnov did not speak to anyone at Burisma until 2017, after Biden was out of office. And by the time Smirnov began talking to the FBI about the Bidens’ supposed connections to Burisma in 2020, it had been years since allegations of a pay-to-play corruption scheme first became a right-wing talking point. When he was interviewed again in 2023, Smirnov allegedly changed some details and promoted a new “false narrative after he said he met Russian officials.”

Smirnov pleaded not guilty and is currently in jail awaiting his trial, as the California judge overseeing his case believes he poses a significant flight risk

The alleged Burisma scheme was a key point in Congressional Republicans’ investigation into President Biden—but the possibility of Smirnov’s information being false has not fazed lawmakers leading the impeachment proceedings. Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said last week that the indictment didn’t “change the facts” of the case. When asked about the revelations by Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo, Comer instead questioned the FBI: “The trust level that I have with the FBI is zero.” 

So far, Republicans have been undeterred by this stumbling block, continuing their investigation apace. James Biden, the president’s brother, testified before the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees on February 21, after both he and Hunter Biden were subpoenaed in November. “I have had a 50-year career in a variety of business ventures,” James Biden wrote in his 10-page opening statement. “Joe Biden has never had any involvement or any direct or indirect financial interest in those activities. None.” The president’s brother, called to testify over payments he made to Joe Biden in 2017 and 2018, was just the latest in a string of witnesses whose testimony failed to explicitly prove Republicans’ accusations of improper business dealings by the president.

Hunter Biden’s agreement to testify, under several strict conditions, might have been a sign that he believed the case against his dad was weak. “If he thought there was anything there, he probably wouldn’t have [agreed to testify],” Ken White, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, told TMD. “For that matter, he would probably be taking the Fifth, since there’s a real possibility that there could be an administration with an aim of prosecuting him for more things.” After months of negotiations between Republican lawmakers and his legal team—and famously skirting a December deposition, defying a previous subpoena and delivering brief remarks outside the Capitol—the younger Biden’s deposition occurred behind closed doors, after he secured an agreement that the process would not be videotaped and that a transcript would quickly be made publicly available.

“I am here today to provide the Committees with the one uncontestable fact that should end the false premise of this inquiry: I did not involve my father in my business,” the younger Biden wrote in his opening statement. He continued to criticize the impeachment proceedings as a “partisan political pursuit” driven by “MAGA-motivated conspiracies,” and drew comparisons between his actions and those of Jared Kushner, son-in-law of former President Donald Trump. Hunter Biden admitted to making “mistakes,” alluding to his drug use and questionable behavior that Republicans have pointed to during their investigation. “But my mistakes and shortcomings are my own and not my father’s, who has done nothing but devote his entire life to public service and trying to make this country a better place to live.”

The younger Biden’s brazen tone—both in the hearing room and in the months leading up to his deposition—marks what White believes is a forward-looking strategy of protection. “Normally, if you were under indictment … and you had a political element that was very eager to indict you for more things, and will undoubtedly do so if Trump wins, then you would [plead] the Fifth,” he said. “But he’s had a much more aggressive type of strategy throughout, a much more in-your-face strategy that includes suing a bunch of people and things like that. It seems as if he’s trying to use this as an opportunity to sort of discredit and taint any future case against him. Which is an aggressive approach … but you know, he’s got big worries, and not just about the things he’s charged with. He’s got to worry about what a Trump Justice Department would do.”

The hearing lasted into the evening, and throughout the day, committee members offered their takeaways to the press while on break. Democrats were quick to beat their chests over what they called a nothingburger of a hearing. “That first hour of this much-anticipated testimony was the nail in the coffin to what is a complete bogus and sham impeachment inquiry,” Democratic Rep. Dan Goldman of New York claimed. Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, argued the hearing was a “rather embarrassing spectacle, where the Republicans continue to belabor completely trivial points they seem to be obsessively focused on.”

Republicans were much more optimistic about the information uncovered in the hearing room. “It is a mirage to believe that Hunter Biden was engaged in international business,” Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida told reporters on Wednesday. “This was a bribe masquerading as an international business transaction—nothing more, nothing less.” Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina described Hunter Biden as “defiant” and “dishonest” in the hearing. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona posted a reference to testimony from Biden’s business associates referring to the senior Biden as “THE BRAND” and “the BIDEN LIFT”—refuting Hunter’s claims that he “did not involve” his father. As we’ve written before, there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence indicating the elder Biden has been less than forthright about his awareness of what Hunter was up to, but much less direct evidence that he was directly involved in his son’s scheme.

At the end of the day, Hunter Biden’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, emerged from the chamber and told reporters that the seven-hour deposition produced no major discoveries. “[Republicans] have produced no evidence that would do anything to support the notion that there was any financial transactions that involved Hunter or his father, period,” he claimed on Wednesday. “There is no evidence because there is no evidence.”

What happens next? Even before the hearing began, Comer said that as long as the committee continues “to get new information in, we’re going to continue to pursue,” though he noted that he was “ready to try to begin to close this investigation.” On Wednesday afternoon, Comer said that the next likely phase would be a public hearing. But House Republicans have become increasingly skeptical of any actual impeachment vote, and some have pointed to a lack of evidence that the president violated a specific law. Last week, one House Republican told Axios that there are “easily” 40 to 50 GOP lawmakers who would vote against impeachment—far more than the handful Republicans could afford to lose.

“They don’t have the votes, certainly, to convict on any impeachment, and probably not even the votes to impeach,” Ken White told TMD, arguing that the point of impeachment proceedings, now, might not be an actual vote. “I think they’ll just keep making headlines with it.”

Worth Your Time

  • When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan amid the U.S. military withdrawal in 2021, they quickly banned secondary education for girls. In a piece for 1843, The Economist’s magazine, Neggeen Sadid details one woman’s efforts to educate girls anyway. “The first sign that the Taliban knew about Roya Azimi’s secret school for girls was when one of her neighbours phoned her last winter,” Sadid wrote. “‘Tomorrow, they’ll take you away, they’ll take your husband,’ the man said coldly. He owned a shop in the area and acted as an unofficial intermediary between local residents and the Taliban. ‘It’s not my responsibility. I’m just warning you.’ Azimi, 33, set up the school in her home in 2022, when the Taliban issued a de facto ban on secondary education for girls. She and six other women teach about 150 girls between the ages of nine and 18. Knowing there was a chance her house would come under suspicion, she had already found a back-up building with enough room for the pupils. The day after the phone call she went out into the snow-covered streets, whiteboard and markers hidden under her burqa, and set up the new classroom. Despite the risks she and her colleagues are taking, Azimi says she’s not scared. ‘I have this strength […] and that’s not something everyone has.’ She sees it as her job to embolden her staff, many of whom are terrified. ‘[Teaching] is not against your religion, beliefs, your culture or your people,’ she tells them. ‘Have pride.’”

Presented Without Comment 

Semafor: Google CEO Calls AI Tool’s Controversial Responses ‘Completely Unacceptable’ 

I want to address the recent issues with problematic text and image responses in the Gemini app (formerly Bard). I know that some of its responses have offended our users and shown bias—to be clear, that’s completely unacceptable and we got it wrong.

Also Presented Without Comment

NBC News: [Democratic Candidate] Marianne Williamson Unsuspends Her Presidential Campaign After Placing 3rd in Michigan 

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Drucker and Mike cover the Michigan presidential primary in Dispatch Politics, Scott argues (🔒) remote work is here to stay, Nick dove into (🔒) both the Democratic and Republican protest votes in the Michigan primaries, and Jonah pondered (🔒) why most revolutionaries come from fairly comfortable backgrounds.
  • On the podcasts: Sarah and David do some legal catch-up and engage in some Trump legal woes punditry on Advisory Opinions. Plus, AEI education policy scholars Rick Hess and Michael McShane join Jonah on The Remnant to discuss their new book, Getting Education Right: A Conservative Vision for Improving Early Childhood, K-12, and College.
  • On the site today: Dean Ball unpacks how political bias ends up in artificial intelligence systems like Google Gemini, and Tyler Hummel explains the new consolidated sports streaming service recently announced by Disney, Fox, and Warner Bros.

Let Us Know

Do you think House Republicans will attempt to bring impeachment articles against Biden up for a vote?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.