5 takeaways from the Hunter Biden transcript

Republicans conducting the impeachment investigation into President Biden released the transcript of their private interview with Hunter Biden on Thursday evening, one day after the president’s son huddled behind closed doors for nearly seven hours on Capitol Hill.

The younger Biden is perhaps the most crucial witness to appear before the House Oversight and Judiciary committees since GOP leaders formally launched their impeachment probe last September, and Republican investigators had fought for months for the opportunity to grill him in person about his overseas business deals.

The investigation has split House lawmakers down straight party lines, and Wednesday’s feisty testimony from the president’s son did nothing to change that.

Republicans have alleged his business ventures were tainted by corruption and influence peddling that financially benefited other members of the family, including the president — allegations they say were bolstered by Hunter Biden’s testimony.

Democrats have countered that there was nothing irregular about the business arrangements, and that Joe Biden never had a hand in, or profited from, those pursuits — a position they say Hunter Biden defended clearly.

Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s deposition.

GOP failed to score a knockout punch

Hunter Biden was the star witness of the investigation — the figure on whom their most serious allegations hung — but if Republicans were hoping he’d provide the smoking gun evidence of Biden-family wrongdoing, they came up short.

Republicans repeatedly accused Hunter Biden of accepting payments from foreign companies and transferring those funds to other family members, including the president. But Hunter Biden countered each accusation with detailed accounts of those business arrangements, never invoking his Fifth Amendment rights — all of which led to no clear knockout punch for the GOP.

ccountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.)
ccountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.)

After receiving a payment from a Chinese energy company, for instance, Hunter Biden wired money to his uncle, James Biden, who later wrote a check to his brother, Joe Biden, for the sum of $40,000. Republicans claim the exchange was evidence of Joe Biden benefiting from his son’s business deals. The Bidens say it was simply a case of James repaying a loan from his brother.

“My father was never financially, nor any other way, of benefit of my business,” Hunter Biden testified about his dealings with the Chinese company.

Another dispute came over an email to Hunter Biden from another business associate, which referenced a 10 percent cut “for the big guy.” Republicans, again, alleged that was proof that Joe Biden was receiving payments for his son’s business deals. But under questioning, Hunter Biden testified that there were five business partners and each received a 20 percent share, leaving nothing left for anyone else.

“Nothing [to] do with Joe Biden,” his son testified.

Perhaps the biggest blow to the Republicans’ investigation came days before the deposition, when an FBI informant who had accused Joe and Hunter Biden of accepting $5 million bribes from a Ukrainian energy company was indicted for fabricating those same allegations.

“This is a feckless enterprise, and a desperate attempt by our Republicans to salvage something of a totally discredited inquiry,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said.

Biden family tragedy casts shadows over testimony

Hunter Biden lost his mother, Neilia, and his sister, Naomi, in a fatal car crash in 1971, then watched his brother, Beau, die of brain cancer in 2015 — tragedies that cast a shadow over Hunter Biden’s testimony Wednesday and underscored the close relationship between the president and his son.

Republicans throughout their investigation have zeroed in on instances where Hunter Biden put the elder Biden on speakerphone during business meetings, according to former Hunter Biden associate Devon Archer, who specified the conversations were limited to pleasantries.

Hunter Biden defended his actions Wednesday, telling lawmakers “I always answer his call” while also noting that he would have his father “say hi” if he received the phone call while with friends.

“It is nothing nefarious literally,” Biden said. “You understand my relationship with my family. When my dad was 29 years old, he woke up one day, went to work, and got a phone call and lost his wife and his daughter. And, in that same accident, he also lost almost my brother and myself. And then, when I was 46 years old, my 47-year-old brother died.”

“In our family, when you have a call from — I call him or he calls me or I call one of my — his grandkids or one of my children, you always pick up the phone,” he continued. “It’s something that we always do.”

The close-knit nature of the Biden family was also apparent during discussions about dinners both Bidens and some of the son’s business associates attended at Cafe Milano, a posh Washington, D.C., restaurant that is regularly frequented by politicians. Republicans have highlighted the gatherings throughout their probe.

Hunter Biden told lawmakers he has dined at Cafe Milano “dozens” of times, including with family, friends and associates. His father, he said, would often stop by because the D.C. establishment was between the White House and the vice president’s residence.

“If my mom wasn’t there or if my mom was home in Delaware, he would, you know, stop and have a bowl of spaghetti with me or whoever I was sitting with,” Hunter Biden said.

Hunter Biden’s addiction runs through testimony

Hunter Biden has been open about his struggle with addiction, a time of his life that was invoked several times throughout Wednesday’s deposition — including during a back-and-forth with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).

“Were you on drugs when you were on the Burisma board?” Gaetz asked Biden.

“Mr. Gaetz, look me in the eye. You really think that’s appropriate?” Biden responded, prompting Gaetz to answer “absolutely.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)

“Of all the people sitting around this table, do you think that’s appropriate to ask me?” Biden asked.

“I have been absolutely transparent about my drug use,” he later added. “I’m sorry; I’m an addict. I was an addict. I have been in recovery for over four-and-a-half years now, Mr. Gaetz. I work really, really hard at it. Let me answer. I work really hard at it, under an enormous amount of pressure. Was I an addict? Yes, I was an addict. What does that have to do with whether or not you’re going to go forward with an impeachment of my father other than to simply try to embarrass me?”

It was not just Republicans who referenced Biden’s addiction. Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight and Accountability Committee, asked Biden to respond to claims from some witnesses who said the political focus on the first son may be an attempt to drive him into a relapse.

“I’m more determined than I’ve ever been in my life that the No. 1 most important thing that I can do, not only for myself but for my family and for those that love and support me, is to maintain my sobriety,” Biden said.

In his opening statement, Biden spoke about his father’s assistance during his period of addiction.

“During my battle with addiction, my father was there for me. He helped save my life. His love and support made it possible for me to get sober, stay sober and rebuild my life as a father, husband, son, and brother,” Biden said. “What he got in return for being a loving and supportive parent is a barrage of hate-filled conspiracy theories that hatched this sham impeachment inquiry and continue to fuel unrelenting personal attacks against him and me.”

Some Republicans, however, accused Biden of using his past addiction to his advantage throughout the deposition when he remembered some key details and could not recall others.

Hunter Biden
Hunter Biden

At one point, for example, Hunter Biden told lawmakers he was high or drunk when he sent a controversial WhatsApp message to a Chinese business associate in 2017 that said he was “sitting here with my father” and pressed the associate to fulfill an unspecified “commitment” — or risk angering the Bidens. He testified that he was not with his father at the time and sent the message to the wrong person.

“My addiction is not an excuse, 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,” he said.

But when asked if he had any recollection of sending the message, Biden said “I do not.”

“Whenever Hunter Biden explained payments to him, he cast himself as a brilliant & experienced advisor/attorney. Whenever he had to explain the threats, shakedowns and familial overlaps with business, he was a sympathetic addict,” Gaetz wrote on social media, along with a screenshot of the transcript.

Jared Kushner gets surprise focus

Kushner was nowhere near Capitol Hill on Wednesday. But he became a surprise character in the deposition when Hunter Biden sought to draw a distinction between his overseas business dealings and those of former President Trump’s son-in-law.

Kushner had founded a private equity firm shortly after leaving the White House, where he served as a top adviser to Trump, and six months later he scored a huge deal when the Saudi Arabian government invested $2 billion in the firm.

The transaction raised plenty of eyebrows, not only because Kushner had served as a key liaison to the Middle East under Trump, but also because it was later revealed that the advisory panel for the Saudi sovereign wealth fund had recommended against investing in Kushner’s firm, citing “the inexperience of the … management.”

Under fire from Republicans about his own business dealings overseas, Hunter Biden offered this contrast: “Unlike Jared Kushner, I’ve never received money from a foreign government,” he testified.

Republicans have disputed that claim, saying Hunter Biden’s business ventures with a Chinese energy company were essentially deals with Beijing, which controls much of the country’s industry — an argument Hunter Biden denied.

“The anomaly of the CEFC [China Energy company] was this: is that they were not state-owned,” Biden testified.

What’s next? A public hearing

With Hunter Biden’s deposition in the rearview mirror, Republicans are looking to bring his testimony to television screens across the U.S.

Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) said the “next phase” in the impeachment inquiry is a public hearing with Hunter Biden, where he hopes to “clear up some discrepancies between some of the statements [that] were made between some of the associates and what we heard today.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)

The chair did not give a date for the hearing, but said “the sooner the better.”

Hunter Biden’s team initially demanded he testify publicly rather than behind closed doors, voicing concerns Republicans would selectively leak or twist his testimony. Republicans, however, refused to give in to the request, and threatened to hold Hunter Biden in contempt of Congress when he defied his subpoena and failed to appear for a private deposition in December.

Biden ultimately acquiesced to the GOP demands, asking that Republicans reissue him a subpoena because the first one, he argued, was invalid since it was sent before the House voted to formally authorize the impeachment inquiry. They complied.

Now, Hunter may have his moment in the public spotlight.

“If that’s something that the parties agreed to, we would have no objection to it, because I suppose the whole country can see what an absurd waste of time this circus has been,” Raskin said Wednesday.

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