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5 takeaways from Hunter Biden's heated deposition with Republican lawmakers

Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, with attorney Abbe Lowell, left, leaves after a closed-door deposition in the Republican-led investigation into the Biden family, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.
Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, with attorney Abbe Lowell, left, leaves after a closed-door deposition in the Republican-led investigation into the Biden family, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

WASHINGTON − For more than seven hours, Hunter Biden faced questions from lawmakers this week about his business dealings and drug abuse as House Republicans sought to tie President Joe Biden to the overseas ventures of his son.

But Republicans on the House Oversight Committee failed to produce the blockbuster testimony they hoped for during a close-door deposition that was combative throughout.

Here are five takeaways from the 229-page transcript of Hunter Biden's deposition, which was released late Thursday:

'Never received a cent': Hunter Biden disputes Republicans central claim

Hunter Biden was House Republicans' star witness. Yet his long-awaited deposition gave them no ammunition to bolster their unsubstantiated case that Joe Biden was involved in his son's business dealings and benefited financially through bribery payments.

From the very beginning of the marathon hearing, Hunter Biden disputed the central premise made by House Republicans.

"I did not involve my father in my business, 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," he said in his opening remarks.

Hunter Biden did not once invoke his 5th Amendment rights. He told the committee that House Republicans have "hunted" him in a "partisan political pursuit."

As a board member for the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, Hunter Biden denied ever connecting his clients with his father by phone to discuss business purposes. Pressed about a 2014 trip to Beijing − in which Hunter Biden introduced Jonathan Li, a Chinese business partner, to then-Vice President Joe Biden − Hunter Biden said it was not a meeting but instead a rope-line encounter at the hotel.

The president's son confirmed that Joe Biden attended two dinners at Café Milano, an upscale Georgetown restaurant often frequented by politicians, in 2014 and 2015. The dinners included Hunter, Burisma business partner Devon Archer, other associates and various international oligarchs. One dinner was for Hunter Biden's birthday; the other benefited the World Food Program USA, in which Hunter Biden served as board chairman.

But the younger Biden downplayed both gatherings, saying that he ate at Café Milano "dozens and dozens of times" and that his father would occasionally stop by to "have a bowl of spaghetti."

"All I know is this: My father was never involved in any of my business, ever," Hunter Biden said. "Never received a cent from anybody or never benefited in any way. Never took any actions on behalf in any way."

Hunter Biden departs after a closed door private deposition with House committees leading the President Biden impeachment inquiry, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Washington.
Hunter Biden departs after a closed door private deposition with House committees leading the President Biden impeachment inquiry, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Washington.

Hunter's counter: A close-knit Biden family tied by tragedy

Hunter Biden argued that the relationships, dinners and meetings at the heart of House Republicans' claims of impropriety simply reflect a close-knit Biden family steeped in decades of politics and bound together by tragedy.

"My dad has been a United States senator since I was 2 years old," Hunter Biden told the committee. "My whole life has been this."

The two Café Milano dinners were nothing more than Joe Biden wanting to be with his son, Hunter Biden said.

"I can't count the number of times my dad stopped to have dinner with me and my family. He would stop over at my house and have dinner with me and my children."

All those phone calls from Joe Biden to his son?

Hunter Biden told the committee he always answers the phone when his father calls − no matter what he's doing. He said that mindset is a result of the deep losses in his family: the death of his mother and sister in a car accident in 1972, and later the death of his brother Beau in 2015.

"I'm surprised my dad hasn't called me right now, and if he did, I would put him on speakerphone to say hi to you and to Congressman Raskin and everybody else in the room," Hunter Biden said. "It is nothing nefarious literally."

House Oversight and Accountability Committee member Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., left, and House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., right, leave the O'Neill House Office Building following a closed-door deposition with Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.
House Oversight and Accountability Committee member Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., left, and House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., right, leave the O'Neill House Office Building following a closed-door deposition with Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

A heated exchange about Hunter's drug, alcohol addiction

Biden faced questions about his well-documented struggle with substance use, including during a testy exchange with Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.

Gaetz asked Biden whether he was on drugs when he served on the board of Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company.

“Mr. Gaetz, look me in the eye,” Biden responded. “You really think that's appropriate to ask me?”

“Absolutely,” Gaetz replied.

Biden fired back with a veiled reference to reports of Gaetz’s own illicit drug use.  “Of all the people sitting around this table, do you think that's appropriate to ask me?” he asked.

Biden went on to acknowledge – as he has written about and discussed publicly – he is an addict but said he has been in recovery for more than 4½ years. “Mr. Gaetz,” he said, “I work really, really hard at it.”

Later, Biden told the committee he did not remember sending a WhatsApp message to a Chinese business associate in July 2017 in which he said “I’m sitting here with my father.” Republicans have tried to use the message to establish that Biden discussed his overseas business interests with his father.

But Biden said he was drunk or high – “out of my mind,” as he put it – when he sent the message. His father was not sitting beside him at the time and had no awareness of the business he was doing, he said.

“My addiction is not an excuse,” he said, “but I can tell you this: I am more embarrassed of this text message, if it actually did come from me, than any text message I've ever sent.”

Hunter Biden, son of U.S. President Joe Biden, leaves with his attorney Abbe Lowell following a closed-door deposition before the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, and House Judiciary Committee in the O'Neill House Office Building on February 28, 2024 in Washington, DC. The meeting is part of the Republicans' impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

The Jared Kushner defense

Biden invoked the name of another presidential relative – Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner – several times to suggest that Republicans were applying a double standard in grilling him about his finances.

Kushner, who was one of Trump’s top advisers, started a private equity firm just months after leaving the White House and reportedly received a $2 billion investment from a sovereign wealth fund controlled by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“Unlike Jared Kushner, I've never received money from a foreign government,” Biden responded to questions about his finances.

Biden cited Kushner’s business dealings again when Gaetz asked how much foreign money he made while his father was vice president. Biden called the question “highly disingenuous” because the committee already had his bank records.

“I don’t think you have Jared Kushner’s tax returns, do you?” he asked.

Asked about a 2017 text message in which he suggested his father might stop by a luncheon in New York City with a Chinese business executive, Biden noted that his father, who was not in office at the time, did not attend the luncheon. Then he turned the subject back to Kushner.

“When Jared Kushner flies over to Saudi Arabia, picks up $2 billion, comes back and puts it in his pocket, OK, and (Trump) is running for president of the United States − you guys have any problem with that?” Biden asked.

What's next? Republicans want a public hearing

House Republicans have been dealt a series of blows in their impeachment inquiry of Joe Biden.

Last week's testimony from James Biden, the president's brother, failed to corroborate House Republicans' bribery claims.

And former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, whose story was central to House Republicans' bribery claims, was indicted last month and charged with lying about the Biden's business dealings. Smirnov had contact with Russian intelligence services, prosecutors say. He is being held in jail before trial and has pleaded not guilty.

Nevertheless, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is pressing forward.

Comer said "the next phase" of the investigation will be a public hearing for Hunter Biden to address the committee publicly. He said the hearing will allow Hunter to "clear up some discrepancies" between statements made by Hunter Biden and those made by his associates.

House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., arrives to speak to reporters prior to a closed-door deposition in a Republican-led investigation into the Biden family, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.
House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., arrives to speak to reporters prior to a closed-door deposition in a Republican-led investigation into the Biden family, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

"All in all, I'm very optimistic and very excited about this deposition," Comer told reporters.

Hunter Biden and his attorneys had initially demanded that he would testify only in public, in an open hearing, as opposed to a closed-door deposition that Republicans sought and eventually got.

Leaving the Capitol on Wednesday, Biden's attorney Abbe Lowell did not respond to shouted questions from reporters about whether the president's son would agree to a public hearing.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hunter Biden's deposition takeaways: Burisma, addiction issues