WASHINGTON — Republicans on Wednesday took the first step toward holding Hunter Biden in contempt of Congress for defying a congressional subpoena. They advanced the charge to a full House vote just hours after the president’s son sparked a momentary political frenzy by appearing in the front row for part of the debate.
The Contempt Charges
The House Oversight and Judiciary committees each passed contempt charges against the younger Biden with unanimous Republican support and all Democrats opposed. The action sets up a House vote on recommending criminal charges against a member of President Joe Biden’s family as the GOP moves into the final stages of an impeachment inquiry into the president himself.
If the House votes to hold Hunter Biden in contempt, it will be up to the Department of Justice, specifically the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, to decide whether to prosecute.
It’s the latest step for the inquiry, which began in September, but has so far failed to uncover evidence directly implicating the president in wrongdoing involving his son’s business dealings.
Hunter Biden has defended his lack of compliance with the GOP-issued subpoena, which ordered him to appear for closed-door testimony in mid-December. Biden and his attorneys said information from private interviews can be selectively leaked and manipulated by House Republicans and insisted that he would only testify in public.
Chaos in the Committee
The arrival of the president’s son at the Oversight Committee, which has been engaged in a yearlong probe, sitting in the audience with his legal team, including attorney Abbe Lowell, sent the panel into chaos.
One Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, insisted that Hunter Biden be quickly arrested. GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia called him a coward as he left during her remarks. Democratic lawmakers argued that Biden, who has refused to testify to the panel behind closed doors, should be allowed to speak publicly.
Committee Chairman James Comer struggled to regain control. “Mr. Biden doesn’t make the rules, we make the rules,” he said.
Hunter Biden and his attorneys left the committee room shortly after, making a brief statement to reporters outside. Lowell reiterated Wednesday that, unlike the president, his client “was and is a private citizen.”
“Despite this, Republicans have sought to use him as a surrogate to attack his father,” he said. “And, despite their improper partisan motives, on six different occasions, since February of 2023, we have offered to work with the House committees to see what and how relevant information to any legitimate inquiry could be provided.”
Hunter Biden’s only remarks to reporters were when asked why he had his father on speaker phone several times during business meetings. “If he called you, would you answer the phone?” he responded.
White House Response
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also emphasized Wednesday that Hunter Biden is a private citizen, and she refused to say whether the White House was informed in advance of his surprise appearance on Capitol Hill.
“He makes his own decisions like he did today,” Jean-Pierre said.
If the contempt referral against Hunter Biden passes the full House it would be yet another challenge for federal prosecutors already under heavy scrutiny for their handling of charges against him related to his taxes and gun use.
Shelving the contempt of Congress charges would likely further stoke conservative criticism that the Justice Department is politicized — especially given that two one-time advisers to former President Donald Trump were prosecuted for contempt of Congress by the Biden administration. But prosecuting contempt cases can be difficult.
Further angering Republicans, Hunter Biden did come to the Capitol on the day specified by the subpoena — but not to testify. Instead, he stood behind microphones outside the U.S. Capitol complex — a couple hundred feet away from the awaiting GOP investigators — and delivered a rare public statement defending his business affairs and castigating the yearslong investigations into him and his family.
“There is no evidence to support the allegations that my father was financially involved in my business because it did not happen,” the president’s son said in those remarks.
He added, “There is no fairness or decency in what these Republicans are doing — they have lied over and over about every aspect of my personal and professional life — so much so that their lies have become the false facts believed by too many people.
Speaker Mike Johnson gave his stamp of approval Wednesday to the contempt process, saying that the House must uphold its subpoena power.
“We have to do this. This is our role. It’s our responsibility, ”the Louisiana Republican said during a press conference. But, he added, “we’re not taking any pleasure in this.”
The contempt resolution, released by Republicans on Monday, reads behavior has been “contemptuous, and he must be held accountable for his unlawful actions.”
While Republicans say their inquiry is ultimately focused on the president, they have taken particular interest in Hunter Biden and his overseas business dealings, questioning whether the president profited from that work.
Republicans have also focused a large part of their investigation on whistleblower allegations that there has been political interference in the long-running Justice Department investigation into Hunter Biden.
The committees’ votes Wednesday on contempt of Congress come a day before Hunter Biden is scheduled to make his first court appearance on tax charges filed by a special counsel in Los Angeles. He is facing three felony and six misdemeanor counts, including filing a false return, tax evasion, failure to file and failure to pay.
His lawyer has accused David Weiss, the special counsel overseeing the yearslong case, of “bowing to Republican pressure” by bringing the charges.
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and AP writers Kevin Freking and Chris Megerian contributed to this report.