The story so far: As the 2024 US presidential campaign hots up, incumbent President Joe Biden is facing an impeachment ‘inquiry’ initiated by US Speaker Kevin McCarthy for allegedly profiting from his son Hunter Biden’s foreign business ventures while he was the US Vice-President from 2009 to 2017.
On September 12, Mr. McCarthy called for an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Biden, directing the three House Committees (Oversight, Judiciary, and Ways and Means) to open an official probe into Mr. Biden’s involvement in Hunter Biden’s business. Mr. McCarthy claimed that Republicans have evidence that Mr. Biden used his position as Vice-President to help enrich his family and then lied to cover it up.
“House Republicans have uncovered serious and credible allegations into President Biden’s conduct. These allegations paint a picture of a culture of corruption,” claimed Mr. McCarthy. The three House Committees have already been probingseveral cases related to the Biden family but are yet to prove any link to Mr. Biden himself.
Reports suggest that the impeachment inquiry is a political move forced by far-right conservative Republican representatives on Mr. McCarthy – who has given any member of his caucus the ability to call a vote to oust him, in exchange for being appointedSpeaker of the House. Members like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene have allegedly threatened to use this caveat if Mr. McCarthy did not push for Mr. Biden’s impeachment. House Republicans have set September 28 as the date for the first hearing of the impeachment inquiry.
The 80-year-old incumbent President is seeking re-election in 2024 and is most likely to face his predecessor Donald Trump as his Republican opponent. Mr. Trump has been impeached twice by the US House of Representatives, only to be acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate.
What are the accusations against Biden?
According to the US House Oversight Committee report, the Biden family and its associates have received over $20 million in payments from foreign entities since 2014-2017 when Mr. Biden was Vice-President. The report lists the White House visit of Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in 2015 and then claims that within five weeks, Romanian businessman Gabriel Popoviciu made seventeen transfers amounting to $3 million to a Biden associate account. Of this, $1.038 million was allegedly received by Biden family accounts.
Similarly, the report claims that in less than two months after Mr. Biden left public office in 2017, a Chinese company named State Energy HK Ltd. wired $3 million to the same Biden associate account, from which the Biden family allegedly received approximately $1.06 million over a three-month period.
The report also talks about Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden and one Devon Archer joining Ukranian energy company Burisma in 2014. It claims that after a meeting with Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevsky in Lake Como, Italy, Hunter Biden was elevated to the board of directors, getting paid $1 million per year. Further, the report cites a wire transfer of $3.5 million by Russia’s richest woman Yelena Baturina in 2014 to Rosemont Seneca Bohai — a company split equally by Devon Archer and Hunter Biden. The report claims that, post the transfer, Ms. Baturina joined Hunter Biden and Devon Archer for a meal with then-Vice President Biden in Washington D.C.
The Republicans have also cited an unverified tip to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) alleging that Mr. Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor to stop a probe into Burisma. The House Ways and Means Committee is also probing into the claims of two whistle-blowers from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), who allege that the current justice department interfered in an investigation into Hunter Biden’s foreign financial transactions.
Is there proof of the allegations against Mr. Biden?
The three ongoing investigations into Mr. Biden by the House panels cited several instances of foreign nationals meeting Hunter Biden and Mr. Biden when he was Vice-President. However, no causal link between Hunter Biden’s foreign transactions and Mr. Biden has been established. Also, no wrongdoing in these transactions has been uncovered yet.
The claim that Mr. Biden was seeking ouster of Ukraine’s top prosecutor, first cited in then-US President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial in 2019, was later refuted post an investigation by Senate Republicans. In 2016, Mr. Biden withheld $1 billion in aid to Ukraine to pressure the government to oust its top prosecutor Viktor Shokin, as he was not pursuing corruption among Kyiv’s politicians. Mr. Shokin’s ouster was pushed for by several other countries as well.
Moreover, the claim was refuted by FBI agent Thomas Sobocinski, who oversaw the investigation into the whistle-blowers’ claims of the Justice Department’s preferential treatment of Hunter Biden. In a testimony to the Ways and Means and Judiciary committees, Mr. Sobocinski denied that U.S. Attorney David Weiss said that he was not the deciding person on whether to bring charges in Hunter Biden’s case — alluding to interference from the top.
Why are Republicans pushing for this impeachment inquiry?
In the run up to the 2024 Presidential election, reports state the Biden impeachment inquiry is a move to offset the legal problems being faced by Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. Moreover, the GOP wishes to hurt Mr. Biden’s approval ratings by embroiling him in investigations. This move had proved fruitful in 2016 when then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was subject to an FBI investigation for using a private email server while she was Secretary of State. The probe became a pivotal electoral issue, costing her the election.
Several Republicans are also seething over the fact that Donald Trump was successfully impeached twice by the House of Representatives (then controlled by Democrats), before being acquitted by the Senate (then controlled by Republicans). Republicans hope to repeat this by impeaching Mr. Biden in the House ahead of the elections.
While most conservative and pro-Trump Republicans are on-board with the impeachment proceedings, several moderate Republicans fear backlash as the House currently does not have a strong case of ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’ against Mr. Biden. Republicans like John Thune, Mitt Romney and Dave Joyce have questioned the inquiry, stating they were unable to see any fact or evidence of wrongdoing yet to justify an investigation. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has pointed out that the inquiry will hinder the passage of government spending bills which have a September deadline.
Will Joe Biden be impeached?
It is highly unlikely that Mr. Biden will be held guilty of the charges, as an impeachment requires a two-third majority in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
However, the impeachment inquiry will be taken up by three House panels — Oversight Committee headed by Rep. James Comer (R-Ky), Judiciary committee headed by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Ways and Means committee headed by Jason Smith (R-Mo). All three chairmen are staunch allies of ex-President Trump, backing his claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and had voted against his impeachment.
Several moderate Republicans — especially those hailing from districts where Mr. Biden won in 2020 — fear electoral loss in 2024. As several House Republicans were hesitant to vote for an impeachment inquiry, Mr. McCarthy launched it sans a vote.
While there is no timeline for the inquiry to be complete, articles of impeachment will be brought by the House Judiciary committee prior to hearings and drafting of the charges. Once articles of impeachment are put to vote after the hearings, a simple majority in the House will impeach Mr. Biden — putting him in the ranks of Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.
The impeachment charges will then be brought before the Senate where the ruling Democrats can decide the rules for the trial (if they decide to hold one). With Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts presiding, the Senate will vote on each of the articles of impeachment. If any article garners two-thirds of the vote, the President is termed guilty, convicted and removed from office — barring him from running for office again.
Currently, Democrats have a 52-48 majority in the Senate and several Republican senators too have spoken out on the futility of the impeachment proceedings. This makes Mr. Biden’s impeachment a far-fetched scenario.
However, if he is impeached, he will be the first President ever to be removed from office.