On Wednesday, the Republican chairmen of the House committees tasked with running the impeachment inquiry into President Biden released a 30-page memo soberly outlining why such an effort was necessary.
“The purpose of this inquiry — and at this stage, it is just that, an inquiry,” it reads at one point, “is to determine whether sufficient grounds exist for the Committees to draft articles of impeachment against President Biden for consideration by the full House.”
It’s a document that will sit in some archive somewhere for the duration of this nation’s existence, with phrasing meant to cast the effort beginning with the House Oversight Committee on Thursday morning as carefully accruing evidence before taking a serious, significant step. But even within the document itself, the Republican leaders can’t help drawing specious connections and elevating debunked arguments — to say nothing of the public presentations they’ve made to complement their effort.
It is possible that, as the document suggests, there will be no article of impeachment brought against Joe Biden. It is also possible that the inquiry will stumble onto significant evidence intertwining Biden’s authority with his son Hunter’s business or demonstrating that the sitting president leveraged his power to his family’s benefit.
But the current path seems to be that articles of impeachment will follow even if nothing new emerges, since Republican leaders and their allies in the right-wing media have already convinced many Americans that Biden acted improperly. Instead of putting together a case built on robust evidence, the pattern has been to bury Biden in allegations, with the scale of misleading or disproven claims substituting for importance.
The benefit of this approach? You can always throw more baseless allegations onto the pile, “strengthening” your case.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.) had some difficulty Wednesday when he deployed this approach in a news conference in which the committee announced the release of documents centered on Hunter Biden’s legal problems. At one point, Republicans showed a message Hunter Biden sent in June 2017 over WhatsApp, talking about the “family brand.” This, Smith claimed, suggested that IRS investigators who obtained the message were concerned about how Hunter Biden’s business activity was tied to “official government activity while Joe Biden served as vice president of the United States.”
Smith has been quick to hype other WhatsApp messages in the past, using IRS summaries of the messages to create fake screenshots of the communications. But in this case, the question posed by NBC reporter Ryan Nobles was different: How was a message in June 2017 indicative of Joe Biden using his position as vice president to aid Hunter Biden, when Joe Biden wasn’t vice president in 2017?
Smith was flummoxed.
“I think the facts speak for themselves,” he insisted. “There’s over 700 pages of examples of where people should be very concerned.”
This was a reference to the documents his committee was making public, a cache that includes emails, tax returns and other things. Those 700 pages might effectively cover a corkboard onto which one could apply some pushpins and red yarn, but if there was a smoking gun in the midst, it — instead of the aggregate — would have been the focus of the news conference.
House Republicans have done this before. In November, the then-minority on the House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) released a “1,000-page report” documenting alleged politicization of federal law enforcement. But that hefty document was largely composed of iterations of letters the committee had sent to other people; 290 pages included literally nothing but the signatures of legislators who had signed on to the messages.
On Wednesday, Smith tried to clean up his mess a bit by suggesting that Biden was a “candidate” in 2017, which he wasn’t. He announced his candidacy in early 2019.
This is a useful segue to the other big allegation of the week, made by House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.). It’s Comer’s committee that will be holding the first hearing of the impeachment inquiry Thursday — and it is Comer who has gone way out over his skis in making allegations against the president.
This week, his committee publicly alleged that a payment made to Hunter Biden by a Chinese businessman had been wired with Joe Biden’s home address as the recipient address. In a post on social media, Comer declared that “Beijing cash was basically wired right to Joe’s front door.”
But it wasn’t wired to Joe Biden’s door, as The Washington Post reported Wednesday. It, like all such wires, was wired to a bank — and, specifically, to a bank account owned by Hunter Biden. Hunter Biden had used his father’s address for some time before the wires were received in the summer of 2019, as Comer had noted previously. In Hunter Biden’s memoir, he details living in Los Angeles hotels in the early part of that year as he battled addiction.
On Fox News — the always hospitable home of the baseless allegations that Republicans want to elevate — Comer noted that Joe Biden was already a candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination in the summer of 2019. But, to a more objective observer, this might seem to undercut the allegation. Joe Biden, who wanted to be elected president, was somehow having his son send money from Chinese business interests to his residence?
That the suggestion Joe Biden was somehow involved in a wire between his son’s business partner and his son was credibly explained in short order didn’t seem to matter. Any number of allegations from Comer, Jordan and others have been explained, but the miasma of guilt that they’ve created in the right-wing media lingers.
It gets ignored that Comer, for example, made a serious allegation of bribery against Joe Biden back in May and, in the intervening months, has been entirely unable to substantiate the allegation while the evidence for it has eroded. In fact, the allegation made its way into the 30-page inquiry document as though it were as robust and damning as Comer had first suggested.
So did an allegation made by Comer and Jordan on Fox News in July, in which they implied that a trip Joe Biden made to Ukraine in 2015 followed a call from Hunter Biden — though that trip had been on the books for weeks.
It doesn’t matter. However often the claims of Comer, Jordan and others are presented and then explained or contextualized, any new claim only expands the right’s perception of impropriety. Republican legislators and their supporters treat every new claim as damning, heightening their outrage. When those claims are undercut, the outrage is not diminished, in part because that undercutting is often not brought to their attention. Comer’s repeated misstatements and repetitions of false claims don’t appear to have been presented to him in his numerous Fox News appearances.
Again, the inquiry may eventually find evidence that Joe Biden acted improperly as vice president or was more intimately involved in his son’s business than he has asserted. We shall see. But even if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. The flurry of allegations and pages of documents, however pertinent, will keep feeding the flames of outrage. Doesn’t matter what they say. They’ll burn.
The idea that Comer, Jordan and Smith will look at the bonfire they’ve created and then walk away from it, not file articles of impeachment, seems very unlikely.